It was indeed a dark and stormy night. The locals of Cuzco would later claim that they had never known a storm like it. The storm swept over the city, rattling its storm shutters, shaking the church bells atop the towers such that they echoed wanly like last rites, and cowering the inhabitants under the grand awnings of the Plaza de Armas. They had never known anything like it. Was it the end of the world?
Great sheets of rain fell earthward, creating rivers and fresh ponds. The water filling the city gutters to bursting, and flooding the low-lying areas of the city. In the grand old house of the old quarter; residence of one Cesar Branco, the storm whistled through the cracks between the window frames, rattled the windows, shook the beams, and made eery sounds in dark corners. The old house seemed to be moaning in agony. Cesar, was huddled over a candle that was blowing in his library – reading. Save for the feeble candle glow, all was dark, except the shards of lightning that occasionally jumped into the room, followed by the roar of thunder.
Hakheem, the busy-body, had been kind enough to drape his master in a warm shawl and had prepared a cup of strong coffee, to help see him through the night, before himself retiring for the night. The candle lit up an old parchment. It was a desiccated yellowed roll of paper that on close inspection resembled the dried-up and shriveled skin of a mummy. On it; in a fine copper-plate hand, was scrawled, the ‘Chronicles of a Father Omassi’ – of the Franciscan Order.
It was these chronicles that Cesar was huddled over, and completely absorbed in – for the tale they told was most strange indeed. But what made it even stranger was that it had been suppressed at the time, by the greatest power of the land: The Vatican.
The storm outside continued to tremble in rage, it shook the windows and made the old walls of the house creak and moan. The rain lashed against the windows and pelted against the roof. In the library, Cesar continued to read, entranced. The library itself seemed to mirror the current faith of Father Omassi, as his ship heaved and sighed, on the great boiling waters, of the Ocean Sea (the south Atlantic).
The Chronicles of Father Omassi – by Father Omassi – circa 1568
[Seal of the Vatican] – entrusted to their archives by order of his holiness Pope Pious XI – Order 1576)
6th March – 1542
May our father bless us this day. Oh! How it heaves and boils and tumults! Though it is noon time, it is blackness outside. A mighty storm has been dashing us hither and thither on the boiling ocean sea, and my entrails are sick! And empty! I have emptied them all over the box that goes by the name of my lodgings! Be brave! Be brave! There is solace in knowing my life is in the hands of our Lord, and yet, when I go to take a peek outside, I fear Him! I who was taught to love Him!
What majesty nature commands! Never a sight have I seen where the ocean entire seems to boil so angrily. Our little craft, as if a fly in the great grand ointment. Hark! What mighty thing it thinks itself mankind, who durst and defies nature. Yet, surely under the tyranny of nature angry and bold.
I can barely write! My pen bleeds all over this paper! We seem to be heaving about as if in the stomach of a giant! I think I will be sick anon! Where is that dastardly chamber pot?
9th March 1542
Three days and nights! Oh! for three days and nights the tempest raged. Raged like Achilles. The poor men sought refuge in their prayers. They summoned me to request amnesty of the almighty. They didst think it was the end, and the ocean sea would swallow us whole. So I did my best and – see! I sought His compassion and mercy – and see! The thick clouds parted, and let the sun through – and now? Now we are becalmed, on a glassy sea. Glassy and still – not a zephyr or wind in sight! Not going anywhere! I sometimes wonder at the workings of our Lord. But I must not doubt His infinite wisdom. His workings are beyond the fathoming of petty Man.
11th March 1542
The wind has finally picked up and we are headed due South-West. My sea sickness has somewhat abated, but my ‘lodgings’ stink of the devil. I think it is the young man Joseph whom I share it with. He has a most horrible miasma emanating from his orifices. How to tell him? There’s the rub. How to tell him to have a wash? I will be sharing our bunk with him for many weeks to come, I must learn to ignore my nose. How can I?! – It so big and sensitive!
15th March 1542
I have gotten to know these sailor men a little. What a smelly and vile lot! And their tongues like whips and their minds vacuous! Lord forgive me! One must not judge on appearances alone but heart too. I will see to it the contents of their hearts, and then pass judgement. But who am I to pass judgement? There is only one judge, and I merely, a faithful servant.
I have had time to think. Oh, how much time to think! T’is not a good thing. At night, when it is black and hot and terribly damp, I lie on my back unable to sleep in my bunk. The darkness seems oppressive and suffocating and I find it difficult to breathe. So I get out and take a walk on the bridge of the ship. Oh! The stars! Never have I seen the sky so merry with their glitter and laughter! It speaks of wonder and the infinity of His creation. The ship seems to easily carve its way through the dark sea, and at every moment; I realise – I am farther away from home. Home sweet home. Will I ever see you again? I think I am about to cry.
I am running away!
24th March 1542
The sailors are an obscene lot! Drink and gambling and other vices have rotted them to the core. I am finding it difficult to get along with them, their company seems to leave a taint on me. And they seem to be full of innuendos and remarks aimed at my back. I don’t know! I don’t know! Universal love right? Is that not the message of our Lord. I must learn to love them for they too are His creations and they have mothers too. I will make a grand effort. Yes! There is one among them whose company I find strangely less bothersome. I think he has some education in him and is of good breeding stock.
4th April 1542
Why did she leave me? My beloved Ana? I have been thinking these thoughts many times these days – for time is endless, the sea vast, the firmament distant – and my heart, little and weak. I am running away! But from what? Memories, pain, heartache. I must forget.
Oh! How can I forget! Her smile – oh, that smile that in happier times, would carve a magic spell on me. A smile! Just a smile – yet, it spoke of tender love did it not? That smile, that seemed to probe my very fibre, and return back to its maker – satisfied, with me. To be loved – ah! To be loved by another for who you are, is that not beautiful! And life affirming! An affirmation of you! And then the smile followed by a kiss. What great times! – Yet, now all I have, are these wan tattered memories. Ever weakening the further the sea between us. There is no point in wallowing in such murky depths. The world is cruel! I hate the world! Oh! SO cruel! I hate, no – I renounce all! I will only live for one other. The world is cruel!
But I must be crueller! To my heart. I must forget and cast off.
I am running away!
[to be continued….]