Sweat dripped from my brow as I trotted down the jungle path with Nwargo on my back. As I jogged, he murmured, “ Regain your endurance you must, for the race is long.”
We stopped in a clearing and I collapsed into a heap. Nwargo hobbled around on his bad leg, stopping periodically to flex his toes and stare at his leg as if his force of will would cause it to heal faster.
The monks have been good to us. An old favor repaid. Brother Soleto (as he calls himself now) joined the monastery after watching his squad die on that long campaign in Cambodia. He and his fellow monks have been excellent hosts.
The malaria had passed and only the haunting memories of the nightmares remained. Reading my mind Brother Soleto had asked me when I would turn away from the path of violence and destruction. I smiled at his happiness, but also at his naivety. But was it naivety to follow the Cross as I follow the Maple Leaf? He would die for Jesus just as I would for Canada. I could only nod, clutch his hand and reply, “Some day, there will be rest. But the enemies are too many at the moment.” “The only enemies are those within yourself” he countered.
His words found their mark. I flinched, then laughed, “You sound like a Buddhist monk, my friend, not a Catholic one!” I moved away, clapping him on his shoulder as I passed him.
Physical exhaustion clears the head and brings peace of mind. General Calrissian taught us this. So was it that I had carried Nwargo on my back to this place in the jungle.
Standing on my head, I watched Nwargo’s muscular arms pull his chin above the low-lying branch. He bobbed up and down while murmuring something in his native tongue.
“What are you saying?”
“Eh? Ah, it is a prayer to the God asking him to protect my wives and children while I am away.”
“Do you think He will?”
Nwargo shook his head, “Your head is full of spiders!” and let himself fall from the branch. His bad leg buckled, but he caught himself. He hobbled over to me and squatted in front of me waving a finger in my face, “My friend. Everywhere are ghosts. We must honor the God. You can kill a ghost? The God can kill a ghost.”
Nwargo always was practical. I had no response. He rolled his eyes at me, “You make too many ghosts, and they haunt you.” He cocked his head to the side while maintaining eye contact. He grunted and left towards the monastery, leaving me standing on my head in the jungle.
I left the monastery to escape the questioning then brought it back upon myself here. Brother Soleto was right. The enemy was within. I cut myself. Blood ran down my finger. I watched it form a drop then hit the ground. Another drop formed and fell. Another drop formed and fell. Another drop formed and fell.
“What are you doing?”
Nwargo’s voice shocked me out of my trance. He took my knife and sliced off one of my sleeves, binding the cloth around my finger. He put my knife back in my sheath. “If you want to punish yourself, carry me back to the monastery!”
In my cell Brother Soleto looked at my finger with pity then looked at me. “You still think of her?”
“You loved her?”
“Let her go.”
I closed my eyes and saw her. Had she seen what I was? Had she seen what I would become? The truth was that I ran from her, not she from me.
“Ubi pus, ibi evacua.”
I put my knife on the table with the handle towards him, and spread my arms, “Evacuas.”
He took the knife and left. As he left he spoke tenderly, “The past cannot be changed, but do not abandon hope for the future.” His tone became firm, “Matins are at three. I will see you there.”
I went. I couldn’t sleep anyway.