Your Humble pilgrim (part 3)

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The Mountain Gods’ curse brings new trials for Pablo

 

Chapter two: The Mountain Gods’ curse

The cursed air of the Mountain Gods, which combines magic with reality, has become trapped in the cabin of Señor Jairo Alvaro’s truck during his countless trips to the coast spanning three decades. Because of this mixture of air from the interior and the coast, his cabin now serves as a sort of decompression chamber protecting its passengers from experiencing shock at the stark change of life. Passengers can imbibe the cursed magic air gradually. Travellers by plane from the interior however have still to realise that rapid change, without decompression, is the source of their confusion and unpleasant headiness upon arrival at the coast. Many find the transition impossible to deal with and soon return home.

From time immemorial the “Elder brothers” of today’s “Younger brother” coastal dwellers have lived in service to the Mountain Gods, living in communion with and as a mirror-image of their land. Whereas the city streets mercilessly claim their helpless dwellers, and had indeed begun to claim Pablo, the Elder brothers’ way of life has always reflected their deep eternal gratitude for their absorption and adoption by the mountains, the fertile lands and lush vegetation of the coastal region. Disappointed by their Younger brothers’ reluctance to harmonise with their surroundings, the final straw, which ended the Elder brothers’ otherwise inscrutable patience, came with the first of the beach building projects. Until then the Younger brothers had built small modest homes from which to tend their farms and small-holdings. The beach was understood to be a sacred place to be shared with and enjoyed by everyone. Holidays and day-trips to the beach by interior-dwellers were a reward for hard work. The beach and shoreline was therefore treated with respect. As time passed however the Younger brothers’ entrepreneurial spirit, much admired and valued by the Tribe when combined with fellowship, became, in the view of the Mountain Gods, focused on short-term self-serving gain.

Greed led to apartment buildings and hotels rising along the coast, most of which were started without planning permission let alone consultation with the Elder brothers. These buildings were placed on land which belonged to the Elder brothers through respect of long-held tradition. More importantly the buildings blocked the ley-lines which serve as an essential guide for the regular journeys from the mountains to the coast to collect sacred shells with which to blend a sacred plant to form a paste contained in the pouches carried by all Elder brothers. The shells also enabled leaders of the Elder brothers to connect with their ancestors. Equipped with the shells they perform divination rituals which indicate, among other things, where their dead should be buried so as to ensure their rightful passage to the after-life where they would eventually take their place among the mountain spirits and provide eternal wise counsel to their descendants.  

Furious with this blatant disregard for fellowship and disrespect for the status of their Elder brothers in favour of material wealth, the Mountain Gods set about their work. Being Gods of the mountains, as in ancient tradition, they had no patience for teaching and learning, they knew only how to use blunt instruments and simply punished the many for sins of the few. The Gods had hoped that the Younger brother would learn the benefits of solitude and contemplation from their Elder sibling but following an urgently convened summit it was decided that hope had passed and now vengeance was called for. At first they caused lengthy storms during the usual dry season the water from which washed away topsoil and made unstable the new buildings’ foundations.

When they observed no discernible improvement in behaviour a further summit of the Gods was held where more drastic action with long-term consequences was called for. It was also decided to call upon the Sea Gods who agreed to erode specific sections of the coast to release sacred Ley lines from the threat of the Younger brothers’ violent attack on the land. So the behaviour of the few errant Younger brothers resulted in what had been a two-tier wisdom structure of God and mortal to become a three-tier hierarchy of God, Elder and Younger brother.

This new wave of disrespectful behaviour reminded the Elder brothers of the mistreatment their ancestors had suffered at the hands of invaders from the Northern east many centuries before. The Invaders forced the Elder brothers to move from coastal settlements to high ground and the sanctuary of their parents the Mountain Gods. Outraged by the violent incursion, which destroyed many interconnected settlements, the Gods released cursed and poisoned air causing death in great numbers and suffering among the new arrivals. Sufficient numbers managed to survive however by invoking help from their own Gods across the ocean where they had been exiled for angering the Great Mother shortly after the Earth’s creation. The Younger brother’s most recent behaviour therefore reinforced the belief in the mind of some senior members of the Elder brother, that their Younger sibling was in fact the living embodiment of The Invader.

Making no offerings or entreaties to the Mountain Gods to appease their anger, the many Tribes of the Elder brothers watched at first and then turned their backs on their misguided Younger sibling.

The Gods once again released cursed unfavourable airs from the mountains to the young upstarts’ surroundings. The result was a lack of fellowship among the coastal dwellers leading to corruption, disrespect, confusion, chaos and unpleasant – at times unbearable – heat. In more recent times, as if to atone for their wrong-doing, the sinful few of the coastal-dwellers named their new commercial buildings after local Elder brother Tribes, however the curse remained and was passed on through the generations.

During the seventeen hour journey Pablo notices gradually the transition. He becomes vaguely aware that something is becoming different. At first it is the condition of the roads from which potholes, often the size of craters, emerge more frequently. After dark they encounter unlit obstacles in the road carelessly marking road-works undertaken with the remaining non-pilfered monies left in the Public Purse. Then the behaviour of drivers becomes erratic and discourteous; a number of times Señor Jairo Alvaro uses expletives to express his obvious frustration, which offends Pablo’s sensibilities.

Unaware at first of the benefits to be had from engaging Pablo in conversation, Señor Jairo Alvaro listens to the radio and occasionally comments on places through which they pass. He explains that Pablo will find life very different outside of the Tribe’s fellowship.

They’re not all bad of course but if you fall on hard times up here you’ll have to learn to survive on your wits lad. I’m not saying that they’re all lazy either but my clients prefer people from the Tribe. They say that they are more reliable and respectful of their colleagues you see. I mean I’m not one for lazy stereotypes but I do notice the coastal people working slower and taking more breaks. And then there’s the noise. They shout, sing, speak incessantly and on the roads they sound their horns all the time. Yes, says Pablo, my father said that as nature abhors a vacuum the coastal-dwellers abhor silence. Señor Jairo Alvarolaughs aloud so that his face becomes red and his whole body shakes.

Pablo is always reluctant to reveal his capacity for intelligent and witty conversation fearing that sympathy and pity could quickly turn to embarrassment and then anger when he reveals his well-read and contemplative mind. He feels at ease with Señor Jairo Alvaro however and that he has broken the ice, so he decides to take a risk. My father believed that people will respond to how they are treated by others. Señor Jairo Alvaro was quick to respond. I dare say that your father never had the pressure of moving men, machines and tons of fruit and coal across the country lad. When there’s so much at stake you can’t afford the luxury of high-minded ideals. While Pablo senses a little irritation in Señor Jairo Alvaro’s voice he also thinks he senses pleasant surprise in Pablo’s comment. Perhaps he could press on and take the risk further. Well, that’s true sir, but I’ve always believed that the fellowship which binds the Tribe is based on mutual respect. Señor Jairo Alvaro lights the remains of his cigar before carefully blowing out and placing the spent match in the ashtray. You know what lad, I agree with you. Then a pause for reflection and change of thought. But we won’t change the world just the two of us. No sir, Pablo continues feeling that Señor Jairo Alvaro has invited further contribution, not me sir but someone of your standing who is clearly respected by good people such as Señora Maria Del Pilar and her family. Now, they are fine good people, Señor Jairo Alvaro asserts while turning his face away from the road and towards Pablo for the first time and emphasising his point by hitting the steering wheel with the palm of his right hand. Pablo presses on further. Yes sir indeed they are people who respect and value their fellows.

The conversation’s momentum eventually gains Pablo an equal footing with Señor Jairo Alvaro who is, as usual by this time in the journey, almost completely decompressed and therefore adopting a different manner and behaviour from that that he expressed in his own Tribe’s land.

Your dad sounds like a wise chap, what does he do? Pablo hesitates for fear or returning Señor Jairo Alvaro to sympathy and losing his status in the conversation. He was indeed a wise man sir and brave in his stance against the gangs even though he knew that his stance may place him in mortal danger. Intrigued Señor Jairo Alvaro asks what has become of him. Well sir, Pablo explains with more gravitas than previously, he was killed along with my mother and five sisters. They are all now in the grace and hands of our Lord. Bloody hell lad that’s terrible! Then comes the inevitable hesitant pause as Señor Jairo Alvaro considers how to ask tactfully, but couldn’t find the words. So, were you hiding or out of the house or something? How did you survive? I was spared, no “saved” as father Tomas put it, for a purpose. Señor Jairo Alvaro sounding decidedly unconvinced presses his questioning. Right, I see, a purpose, did he say what the purpose might be? No sir that can only be revealed by our Lord thanks to God who saved me and it is now my duty to search for my purpose as all pilgrims have before me. But when I found you, continues Señor Jairo Alvaro, you were in a right old state, just about ready for the mortician’s slab lad. Yes indeed sir. It is with the help of people like your good self and Señora Maria Del Pilar and her blessed daughter that I shall find my purpose. This is what father Tomas predicted. Well you seem determined lad I’ll give you that.

Determined is indeed a most appropriate description of Pablo. He explains how he had since the age of 9 years old, following his family’s death, adopted the life of a recluse or perhaps a hermit would be a better term. Pablo became an avid reader perhaps to escape the material world that had served him so severely. After reading about the Anchorites and encouraged by Father Tomas and a missionary cleric, from a church in a wealthy suburb of one of the North’s major cities, Pastor James, Pablo converted his family’s already modest one-roomed house to resemble an anchorhold; a simple plain-walled cell in the style of the dwellings of anchorites. He asked the priest and pastor to perform a religious rite of consecration that closely resembles the funeral rite. This would mean that Pablo would be considered dead to the world, ideologically, at least, a state from which he could pursue true solitude and find solitary communion with his God. On the walls Pablo etched carefully “A symbol perfected in death. And all shall be well and All manner of things shall be well.”

In Pablo’s modified dwelling (now essentially an anchorhold) there was a shuttered window, known as a "squint", in the wall facing his parents’ graves. Through this small squint Pablo would receive food and other necessities from kind neighbours. He also received books and pamphlets from Father Tomas who recognised Pablo’s great capacity for absorbing written text and interpreting it in his own words.

Señor Jairo Alvaro Sanchez Escobar of course holds religious beliefs, it would be otherwise unthinkable to call oneself a member of the Tribe. However he is driven to silent contemplation by Pablo’s account. Was this withdrawal from the world an understandable reaction to his family’s terrible death, encouraged by the misguided advice of clerics at a time when what he really needed was psychological support? Or was it a mark of a true believer and the action of a devout to which perhaps Señor Jairo Alvaro and his fellow Tribesmen should aspire? Aided by a residual of the air from the country’s interior Señor Jairo Alvaro thinks pragmatically. Is he taking a deeply disturbed young man to his client? His reputation is his most valuable asset; is it at risk?

Pablo fears he has said too much so decides to emphasise the material benefit of his time as an Anchorite. Sir, my time in solitude was well spent and has served me well so that I can now take part in intelligent discourse. Once a month I would visit the only place in which I felt at home in the world outside of my cell; the library built by the vision and grace of the Tribe’s leaders. This expanded my reading widely and I feel has given me a balanced perspective on the spiritual and temporal world.

What an inspired move this is by Pablo to praise the Tribe’s leaders and present himself as a product of their vision and philanthropy. Señor Jairo Alvaro is a patron of the library complexes and other worthy projects in the poor districts. This puts Señor Jairo Alvaro’s mind at rest so that he relaxes for the rest of the journey. He continues to discuss a range of topics with Pablo and is, by the journey’s end, perhaps aided by the magical air, both confident in presenting Pablo to his client and proud that he is thought of as a chosen guide for Pablo’s pilgrimage.  

Don Eduardo Juan Toro Florez is the extremely wealthy owner of the largest palm oil mill in the coastal region. At 90 years of age he is also the oldest person still to be working in the business despite his family’s insistence that he retire and enjoy the “fruits” of his life’s dedication. Like Señor Jairo Alvaro, his reputation has been hard-earned through honest dealing and fair treatment of his employees and business associates. While he loves his work and business dearly, which of course contributes to his longevity and relatively good health, his main reason for not relinquishing his position is his lack of faith in his son from his second marriage; a disappointment he never attempts to conceal. His son’s reputation is built on a reckless hedonistic lifestyle and arrogant disrespect for anyone who has the misfortune to encounter him. How the fruit could have fallen so far from the tree is a mystery. Don Eduardo married his first wife Margarita Liliana when they were both teenagers and remained deeply in love until her death twenty five years ago. Popular belief is that the cause of her death was the despair of not being able to bear Don Eduardo the male heir he so longed for. His daughter Alejandra Carolina was sent to boarding school in the Northern east at the age of 9, where she excelled academically going up to university and subsequently marrying a Count. While her education was funded by the palm oil business she became wealthy in her own right and visited her parents, who held strong suspicions that she was embarrassed by her roots, only occasionally. Countess Alejandra Carolina did not attend her mother’s funeral but sent an ornate card of condolence bearing a wax seal of what is now her ancient royal house.

Desperate loneliness and a broken heart soon filled Don Eduardo’s small number of hours outside of work so that when his young ambitious superintendent Yuly Carolina Jimenez Laro offered herself and her fertile body, he was a sitting duck.

When Señor Jairo Alvaro and Pablo arrive at the mill at a little after 10.00am Don Eduardo has been at his desk for a little over four hours as usual after completing his rounds of the plant and meeting with his supervisors. It is time for Señor Jairo Alvaro to brief Pablo on what to expect and how to behave although on this latter point he feels a lengthy explanation to be unnecessary. Sitting in the cabin now completely full of the cursed air, Señor Jairo Alvaro begins. You must always refer to him as Don Eduardo, look him in the eyes when he speaks to you but remember he is a man held in great esteem. The problem is that he has a stoop because of his tremendous age so don’t stand too upright, try to keep your head and posture lower than his. It’s difficult but I always feel uncomfortable when I look down on him so I try to hold all conversation while sitting. He carries a smartphone which is connected to 32 CCTV cameras around his plant, as is the laptop on his desk, so don’t worry if he seems distracted or suddenly leaves. It’s probably because he has seen something which needs his attention. Oh, and don’t sit until he asks you to. I understand completely sir, Pablo says reassuringly. Don Eduardo remains seated when Pablo and Señor Jairo Alvaro enter his office escorted by his personal assistant Ana Katheryn. He sits back in his beloved burgundy high-backed studded Chesterfield seat, which shows surprisingly few signs of the many repairs it has received over the decades since he purchased it from a small antique shop in one of the North’s Southern states. Clean clear worktops surround Don Eduardo the only visible instruments of work being his smartphone and laptop placed neatly in front of him on his desk. Volumes of leather-bound books fill the dark mahogany shelves which line the rear wall. Above the shelves hangs a painting of the Elder brothers sitting and working by their round-house dwellings. Depicting their daily chores, they are surrounded in the painting by their parents in the background. The Elder brother’s resemblance to their parents, the mountains and landscape, is made clear by the artist. They are, like all sons and daughters, a human image of their parents. Their headgear a stony grey inherited from the exposed mountain slopes; their long black hair luxuriant as the vegetation, and their flowing grey and black shawls the image of their mother, the rivers, which flow to the sea. While Don Eduardo is of course subjected to the same cursed air as all coastal-dwellers he understands, from his own father’s guidance, the folly of the Younger brothers. Don Eduardo received the gift of solitude in recognition of his quest for harmony from the Mountain Gods. Solitude and loneliness of course being very different states of mind.

Pablo stands in front of the desk at a suitable distance awaiting instruction. Don Eduardo studies him staring long into his eyes before rising slowly to inspect his purchase in silence. Taking his cane from beneath the desk Don Eduardo moves slowly around to Pablo after shaking Señor Jairo Alvaro’s hand. Although Pablo stands at 5 feet eight inches and Don Eduardo at over six feet Pablo remembers Señor Jairo Alvaro’s advice so he stoops slightly so as not to stand taller than Don Eduardo. First Don Eduardo inspects Pablo’s teeth and then his upper body strength by flexing his arms and pressing his stomach. He then takes a step back to see the full view of Pablo’s distorted left leg. He touches it with the tip of his cane first at the twisted ankle and foot which is constantly on tiptoe. Then he draws an outline with the metal tip of his cane up past Pablo’s knee which turns inwards and finally resting at his left hip, which is pushed backwards causing a rolling action when Pablo walks. Don Eduardo looks back into Pablo’s eyes and says, I have served my time young man. On the plantations in the mills. This business and the buildings you see around you were built with my sweat, tears and pains and those of my comrades, most of whom have since passed over to the grace of God. I expect no more of my workers than I expect of myself. Señor Jairo Alvaro is astounded by Don Eduardo’s words. He has never heard his most powerful client explain himself before to anyone. In fact this feels more like a justification which is truly extraordinary. Precisely why the powerful and influential Don Eduardo Juan Toro Florez feels the need to explain or justify himself does not occur to Pablo.

Don Eduardo returns to his throne-like seat before gesturing to Pablo to sit. At this Señor Jairo Alvaro takes the seat next to him both noticeably lower than Pablo’s prospective employer. Don Eduardo speaks with the voice of a much Younger man; a steady deep modulated tone. Long journey? You must be tired young man. He presses a button on his laptop with slender bony fingers. Their translucent skin reveals veins through which blood pulses to feed the well-developed brains between them. He asks for some refreshments. Immediately Ana Katheryn enters carrying a silver tray on which iced tea and small cane sugar cakes are arranged on paper napkins. A separate tray then arrives bearing Don Eduardo’s small plain white cup containing strong coffee which he always takes at 10.30am. Señor Jairo Alvaro nudges Pablo to respond. Yes sir, err Don Eduardo, the journey is long indeed but thanks to God we arrived safely. The mention of God causes a minor but noticeable reaction in Don Eduardo as he pauses momentarily while lifting his coffee cup. He drinks the strong thick liquid in one swift slurp, returns the cup to the tray and says, so you are a man of God and from the Tribe. Well that makes two of us, he smiles revealing yellowing teeth through which years of wine and coffee have passed. His teeth are however, remarkably enough, his own. He continues, you’ll be working in the main yard at first where we take delivery of the fruit bunches. It’s easy enough. Once the inspector has accepted the load you remove the fruit bunches onto the conveyor with a hook on the end of a long pole. Is standing for long periods a problem? Err no sir, err Don Eduardo. I’m sure I will be fine. Well, that’s it then, I’ll get someone to show you your quarters, there’re not exactly a five-star hotel but clean and comfortable enough. We have inherited bureaucracy from our conquerors in the Northern east and paranoia from our role models in the North so there’s a mountain of paperwork to complete of course. Don Eduardo presses another button and asks someone to show Pablo to his quarters. Promptly a tall powerfully built man enters. Sebastian! Yes Don Eduardo. Show Pablo to his hut and give him a tour of the yard where he’ll be working! Of course Don Eduardo. Let him start tomorrow he could use a rest today. Of course Don Eduardo.

Sebastian David Martinez Ramos looks directly at Pablo’s left leg as though that is all that stands before him. Come with me then. Do you need a hand with your bag? No, thank you, that’s fine replies Pablo as the two move toward the door. Before leaving the room Pablo turns to Señor Jairo Alvaro and says, thank you Sir for your kind assistance, for this appears to be the end of your duty as my guide. Please take my thanks and the thanks of God for your kindness. Señor Jairo Alvaro looks moved as he shakes Pablo’s hand and watches him walk through the door. Pablo can hear the start of the conversation between Señor Jairo Alvaro and Don Eduardo as the door closes slowly. Don Eduardo says, you’ve done well, he’s just what we need.

As part of the incumbent President’s re-election campaign he presented a manifesto on prime-time television, the contents of which, research suggested, represent the most popular policies among the electorate. Among those listed was an item requiring all employers (other than micro-businesses) to adopt a policy where people with disability would represent a minimum of 5% of their workforce.

Don Eduardo is extremely well-connected with local, regional and national politicians and is often held as a prime example of an enlightened employer who leads in adopting Government policy though genuine belief. His face is to be seen on brochures for the party which has been in power for over fifty years. Rumours are rife about the legitimacy of politicians in the coastal region. The general consensus seems to be that corruption is part of the fabric of life here and politicians are expected to embezzle from the Public Purse just so long as they leave enough to repair the roads once a year. Education and Heath are other matters which inexplicably don’t occupy the minds of those who could muster sufficient enthusiasm to vote. Voter apathy is evidenced by turnouts rarely exceeding 20%. Don Eduardo’s impeccable credentials and reputation make him an invaluable asset to any ambitious politician. In return Don Eduardo expects very little save for higher than average Police protection for his men and vehicles, and those of his suppliers, from the Guerrillas, paramilitaries and criminal bands, as his well-organised fleets move fruit-bunches and finished products around one of the most dangerous parts of the region.  

In recognition of Don Eduardo’s affinity with his environment, the Mountain Gods have been kind to his land. They could not spare him entirely from the cursed airs of course but a nourishing blend of sun, heat and rain falls more favourably upon his land than in most other parts of the region. When the Gods vent their anger and anguish he stands on the porch of his office building and watches in awe and empathy of their fury flashing throughout the mountains and between the clouds. He understands and empathises with their anger at their errant sons. Through careful and forward-thinking management Don Eduardo’s land has always been able to withstand the worst of the storms which elsewhere wash away much fertile soil. Coastal erosion is also noticeably kinder to Don Eduardo’s land so that he has always been able to rent land where farmers could plant and cultivate much closer to the shore than most other farmers and plantation owners. People of wisdom do business with Don Eduardo.

Sebastian David is Don Eduardo’s long-trusted supervisor. At the age of 37 he yearns to be called “Engineer” like his father was by his peers and people of his small hometown of the Eastern planes. For Sebastian David the title carries great prestige and esteem. As a child he would watch the admiring faces of the townsfolk as they greeted his father; “Good day Engineer” they would call, the men lifting their hats while some women blushed in his presence.      

Sebastian David spends the day guiding Pablo around the mill as instructed. At first keeping the conversation to brief responses to Pablo’s questions however as is always the case with Pablo’s encounters, Sebastian David soon discovers the benefits of Pablo’s observations. He explains that there would be a visit to the mill the week after next by the Elder brothers and Don Eduardo has asked for Pablo to meet them. This was indeed an honour particularly for such a new arrival to the mill however Sebastian trusts without question the wisdom of Don Eduardo and gives it no further thought. Pablo on the other hand, ever vigilant of signs sent to assist his search, sees the proposed encounter with the Elder brothers as an important step on the path of his journey.

The day begins very early on the mill, at much the same time as it did on the streets and with Señora Maria Del Pilar and her family. The difference now is the start of a daily routine of which Pablo is a small yet essential part. This gives Pablo a sense of belonging and purpose he hasn’t felt since his days as an anchorite. The dormitory of the mill workers is a round simple wooden construction with roof-thatching made from the local flora. Hammocks strung between the rafters form a cartwheel around a central area containing a round wooden table where the workers eat and play dominoes each night. Beside each hammock stands a wooden cupboard for personal belongings and a wooden stand from which hang overalls and gloves, both bearing the company name; Harmonious Palm Oil Products and the company logo. Beneath each cupboard stands a pair of boots; Pablo’s are modified for his left foot. Finally a long wooden pole topped with a metal hook, rests against the wall behind each hammock. Sebastian sleeps in the hammock next to Pablo’s and therefore witnesses his prayer ritual, which he contemplates with silent still curiosity, immediately before sleep and after rising. Pablo senses Sebastian’s curiosity but makes no comment and draws no attention to it. Pablo does not see his pilgrimage as part of a proselytising mission and therefore seeks neither to influence nor question others in their beliefs.

Next morning sees Pablo preparing for his first day. Perhaps now is a good time for Pablo to share his thoughts. It was touch and go for a while but he seems to be returned to good health.

Dear reader. I am truly blessed that you continue to share my journey and witness the many guides who have been sent to help my pilgrimage. Señor Jairo Alvaro and Don Eduardo have been so kind in taking over from Señora Maria Del Pilar and her daughter Yolanda Adriana.Angel is among my prayers, who is now secure in the grace of our Lord, and now I find security in the rock Sebastian David who is the latest to earn the benediction of our saviour. My mind is turned to my duty to Don Eduardo’s organisation and I pray that I serve it well. Excuse me dear reader as I leave to fulfil my first day’s diligences.

As wisdom is passed from parent to child so each day’s first light emerges from the mountains.

Pablo’s image as he emerges from the dormitory silhouetted by the day’s first hopeful light holds the other workers transfixed as they prepare to take delivery of the day’s first load of fruit bunches, their tools at the ready. Quite what they see in Pablo’s rolling gait, supported by what appears to be a Shepherd’s crook, is not clear to them however some sense of otherness moves between them. Sebastian David feels a unique sensation pass through then over his body immediately evoking vivid memories of his childhood. He envisions a scene of himself at his father’s knee as if he were a disembodied observer floating above and around his familial home. His father counselling against what he saw as the dangers of religious belief. As Sebastian David floats above the scene his father says, “Learn to think for yourself son, pursue the truth and if you decide on God then always be mindful that religion has the power to divide men and their families.” Pablo stops in front of Sebastian David, who remains in a trance-like state, and asks where he should start. Pablo recognises the sacred moment of learning through reflection entering Sebastian David’s mind and does not press him further. Eventually Sebastian David returns to the Temporal world and guides Pablo to his station; a point between where the Lorries reverse and the conveyor belt on to which he would drag and haul the fruit bunches. Pablo learns by observation the technique of his colleagues as they wait for the angle of the truck’s back to start the fruit bunches rolling and then transfer the inspected fruit bunches to the conveyor. The work is hard and repetitive which soon induces a prayer-like state in Pablo. He takes initiative to remain occupied, sweeping debris from the yard between loads and guiding the drivers, drawing on the inner confidence of the unofficial parking attendants he saw during his days on the streets.

Sebastian David is instructed to escort Pablo to Don Eduardo’s office at the end of the long day’s shift. Pablo removes his overalls and the worst of the dust before entering the office building but apologises profusely to Ana Katheryn for the trail of debris he causes. Don’t worry says Ana Katheryn, Don Eduardo will see you now; I’ll take you through. Without looking up from his laptop Don Eduardo asks how Pablo’s first day has been. It has been most rewarding sir, err Don Eduardo. Good man! He replies. I can see that Señor Jairo Alvaro’s faith in you is well-founded. I notice that you work hard and with harmonious rhythm; that can’t be taught you know! Don Eduardo has been observing Pablo though the five cameras that scan the delivery and loading yard. He was also moved, even when separated by technology, by the vision which visited the workers as Pablo emerged that morning. Sebastian David has told you, Don Eduardo continues, about the visit in two weeks? Yes, Don Eduardo, and I am truly honoured and will represent your enterprise with my whole heart. Well, it will be an even earlier start than usual tomorrow as I would like you to attend classes before and after your shifts. You see we have a building here which we call a centre of learning. I want you to learn, among other things, the English language. It is one of my policies that all employees learn at least a little as it is a useful asset to us to have someone who can converse with our customers from the North and the Northern east. It will also put you in a good position for the future. So best get some rest young man. As Pablo turns to leave he is overwhelmed by an urgent need to share his dream from the previous night. Don Eduardo, please excuse my unprompted and impertinent behaviour however I feel compelled to share with you my vision. Don Eduardo looks up momentarily startled. You were standing with the Elder brothers by a riverside where they assured you of a peaceful passage. To where? Don Eduardo asks, staring in amazement while forgetting Pablo’s impertinence. They said it was to your rightful place in the arms of your parents whom you share with them. I’m unsure if this means anything to you Don Eduardo but I felt duty-bound to share this. Good night sir. Silence accompanies Pablo as he exits leaving a transfixed expression on the weather-tanned furrowed face of Don Eduardo.

Don Eduardo knows instinctively that the Ley lines are crucial in guiding the Elder brothers as they in turn support the harmony of new creation in the world. By remaining in this spiritual realm with the Elder brothers Don Edwardo is, among other things, aiding the essence of agriculture. He is insistent for example — by inserting a clause in all of his contracts — that all seeds are blessed by the priests of the Elder brother’s tribes before being planted, to ensure they grow and retain the harmony of new creation. These blessed seeds, forming the essence of the palm oil fruit bunches, are also the essence of Don Edwardo’s business and therefore his way of life. He encourages all of his workers and business associates to have their marriages blessed to ensure fertility, also before performing tasks such as harvest, new construction, purchase of machinery or indeed any part of the process that contributes to the end product of Don Edwardo’s business. The symbol of the Elder brothers – a marking found by archaeologists at all of their ancient and modern settlements — has become famous as the brand logo adorning all of Don Edwardo’s palm oil products. It is in fact his personal seal and guarantee. Each and every product bares this symbol along with the legend “quality born of harmony” and of course Don Edwardo’s signature.

The day of the visit arrives. It is part of a regular monthly schedule designed to protect the Ley lines. Representatives of the Elder brothers’ high council inspect the work on Don Eduardo’s land to ensure nothing encroaches on or indeed blocks their power and smooth flow. The High Council representatives advise on such things as future plans for buildings and planting by Don Eduardo and his tenants. No detail is too small and the Elder brothers’ wishes are always followed to the letter.

Two timeless images of silently flowing and swaying hair and robes appear from the mist before first light. A priest and a young member of the Elder brothers’ tribe are greeted by Don Eduardo, Sebastian David, Ana Katheryn and Pablo who wait outside the main security office which guards the entrance to Don Edwardo’s land. Dressed in the traditional shawl, headgear and carrying the woollen shoulder-held pouch of the Elder brothers, the priest blesses those present and performs a brief ritual over the entrance sign of Harmonious Palm Oil Products. As the group walks along the dry pulverized path leading to the main office building Pablo is struck by the beauty and elegant grace of the young man. He walks behind and central to the priest and Don Eduardo as they talk animatedly as old friends do. Don Eduardo walks supported by the priest’s arm on one side and his ornate cane on the other. Pablo catches brief snippets of the conversation; how have you been my friend? Enquires the priest. Fine, thanks to the grace of our parents and how are your family and loved ones? Replies Don Eduardo. As they approach the building a large black vehicle with darkened windows fires into life. The party climbs aboard and it moves away to begin the tour of Don Eduardo’s immense mill and plantation. Pablo sits next to the young man who studies him carefully with an inscrutable facial expression. When his eyes land upon Pablo’s left leg he stares for a moment as if in contemplation and then returns to his duties by sitting forward in order to record any points of action or agreement that pass between Don Eduardo and the priest. Precisely what Pablo’s role is for the day doesn’t occur to him. The day is spent travelling to prearranged sites on Don Eduardo’s land identified by the air conditioned black vehicle’s on board satellite navigation system. At each site the party disembarks and the priest takes out divination tools from his pouch. After satisfying himself that the Ley line in that area is clear he marks the location by programming his own GPS devise carried within his woollen pouch. Eventually they arrive at a large fast-flowing river which has always served as a source of nourishment to the region and a vital means of communication and transport for the Elder brothers, flowing as it does from the mountains to the ocean. From the extended and more elaborate ritual the priest performs it is clear that this site is of great significance. For the first time in any of the rituals the priest speaks, first in his native tongue and then the language of the Younger brother. Great Mother hear the entreaties of your devoted children. Nurture us we plead and guide us with your wisdom towards harmony.

Pablo is stilled and struck by how similar the sentiments are to the prayers of his own priest. How similar the words sound to those spoken each Sunday in the little church of his neighbourhood. The priest studies the ground for a long time before starting to chant in a deep rhythmic voice his lips hardly parting. Then the ritual appears to be concluded as the location is once again set in the priest’s GPS devise.

Pablo can hold his curious mind no longer. He waits for what appears to be a pause in the proceedings while Don Eduardo and the priest are in conversation while sitting in the shade of a mango tree.

Excuse me may I know your name? Pablo asks of the young tribal member. Samael he replies, and you are? Pablo, my name’s Pablo. The two shake hands making a connection that the young Samael feels from one tribal member to another. Do you have to record in both languages that must be a difficult task? This is my purpose, replies Samael, I was appointed as the Bridge-builder’s assistant; that’s what I say. Pablo has so many questions coursing through his enquiring mind however he respects Samael’s sense of duty and simply asks about the Priest’s study of the ground, hoping that he will have opportunity later to speak more with his new acquaintance. What is he looking for? Pablo asks. The Bridge-builder is studying the arrangement of the dark-coloured stones. This is the sign of how the Great Mother receives us. Noticing Pablo’s confusion, Samael continues, what the stones tell him is whether the land is being treated with respect and in a way that will retain harmony; this is what I say. Thank you, you are so kind to indulge my questions with such patience says Pablo. I hope you don’t find me impertinent. Of course not replies Samael, I had many questions when I was sent to study in the Younger brother’s world and their priests were always kind and helpful, offering comprehensive responses to my many questions. Like you Pablo, I am also curious about what others believe. In this way I hope to explore and challenge my own beliefs; those are my words.

The Bridge-builder’s work complete, the party returns to the office building where Don Eduardo escorts his Elder brother to his office accompanied by Ana Katheryn and Samael. Sebastian David tells Pablo to wait until invited to enter and sits with him in the waiting area. Ana Katheryn appears from the office and asks Pablo to go in as Don Eduardo wants to speak with him. The three turn to Pablo as he enters and stands just inside the door. My dear friend, says Don Eduardo gesturing to the Bridge-builder, must leave for his village however Samael has asked to stay the night and observe our work tomorrow as part of his education. He will billet with you young man and Sebastian David. Pablo makes no attempt to disguise his delight. Precisely why he has been chosen does not occur to Pablo. It will be a great pleasure and an honour Don Eduardo. He leaves the office with Samael and informs Sebastian David of the wonderful news. For the first time since Sebastian David has worked at the mill he has received an instruction from a third party and not directly from Don Eduardo.

The three spend the evening playing dominoes with other workers before they are left alone as the others head out for the evening to a local bar. Soon Sebastian David finds himself as an intrigued observer as Samael and Pablo explore and exchange their respective experiences. Samael recounts how he was taken at birth and put in a dark cave for the first nine years of his life to begin training as a tribal priest. Pablo could relate to this from his own experience as an anchorite. For both it had been a time of profound learning which formed them creating the people they are today. Pablo explains to Samael that the Bridge-builder’s invocations were strikingly similar to his own teachings. Sebastian David finds himself transfixed by this exchange. So many similarities in lives so far removed from each other. As Sebastian David feels safe in their company for the first time in his life he tells of how his father had placed doubt in his mind. Is your doubt about what you believe or in the way men portray their beliefs? Asked Samael. He told me that religion divides men and is the cause of conflict in the world. He told me of a song called “Imagine”, Sebastian David continues. In the song the singer asks us to imagine a world without religion where people could live in peace and harmony. I believe that religion has the power and potential to divide but also to unite and create harmony, says Pablo. It seems to me, adds Samael that the decision is between those who lead and preach and those who follow. To follow without exploring one’s true beliefs is surely a blind faith which removes one’s power to decide. If it is the case that preachers and leaders of religion are corrupt then those who follow through unthinking obedience are surely complicit in the corruption. The approach of my tribal leaders encourages, indeed places obligation on me, to explore my beliefs by asking searching questions of those I intend to follow. Unless and until I can explain my reasoning I cannot be considered as a true follower and believer. You mean to say that no question is seen as impertinent? Asks Sebastian David. Quite the opposite, Samael continues, without exploring and fully understanding my own beliefs I cannot consider myself to be a tribal member let alone a priest or leader. The role of a tribal priest is to engineer an environment where learning can take place. Without exploring my own beliefs I would be ill-prepared to create an environment where other young tribal members could learn. This is the wisdom passed from our parents to the Elder brothers.

Sebastian David notices the reference to engineering, which has been his life’s passion and ambition. If he could be referred to as “Engineer” by others he feels that he would have fulfilled his father’s wish for him. Why do you say “engineer” a place of learning? He asks. I have learned that many ideas are held in common and could unite the Elder and Younger brother, Samael explains, however because of the historic divide between them I also observe that they often use the same word to represent different ideas. The original idea of an Engineer in both cultures was someone who is ingenious and applies their ingenuity for the benefit of others. What do you take the word to mean? He asks Sebastian David. Well, I see an engineer as someone similar to how you describe but someone who works with engines and construction, not a teacher, that’s a very different job. This is an example of the difference in thinking which continues to divide the Elder and Younger brothers. It may only seem like a semantic point however such words influence ideology profoundly, those are my words, concludes Samael.

What about your religious learning Pablo? Asks Sebastian David. Are you encouraged to question the teachings of your leaders?

Pablo reflects long and hard on Sebastian David’s question. So long in fact that Samael senses discomfort within Pablo. Samael sees the discomfort as a sign of new learning entering Pablo, a moment that the Elder brother’s tribe considers to be a sacred moment. So when he senses Sebastian David about to speak he holds his arm with one hand and places his other close to Sebastian David’s mouth with a smile in a clear while polite gesture to remain silent. Eventually Pablo speaks. During my time with father Tomas I was indeed encouraged to ask questions and to explore my faith. However I don’t think I was always given satisfactory answers. Mostly in response to my more searching questions it was suggested that the mind of God is unknowable, which left me with great confusion about the source and foundation of the belief of my religious teachers. This has, I now see from your question, left me with doubts. About what? Asks Samael. I reflect on what you said about blind faith, responds Pablo, I see that I have questions still to explore, questions about who I am and what precisely is my purpose. The purpose that father Tomas told me I must seek and then fulfil. What is clear in my mind is that I have a purpose and the guides sent to support and advise me on my pilgrimage have all been true, just as father Tomas and my visions told me they would. He told me about the fellowship of the Tribe and how it would sustain me. I thought until recently that the Tribe was the one into which I was born but now I have met fellowship in people from outside my Tribe I question exactly what the Tribe is and who its people are. Is it mine or yours Samael? Or yours Sebastian David? Or all three, interjects Sebastian David, maybe the Tribe is what we decide it to be; our own kind or human kind? Samael looks up from his seated position with head bowed, one he usually adopts when contemplating. Perhaps we all have a desire to belong to the Tribe you mention Sebastian David? Perhaps there are barriers within us which prevent us from recognizing our Tribal brothers? This is my thought.

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