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A history lesson for modern times

Melissa's piano music echoed the myriad of bird songs coming from the jungle.

"I wish we could go home," she mused while playing. Elijah put down the Bible. "We cannot leave the mission alone. Can we?" he added with a somber tone.

The music stopped.

He stretched his long arms, saying, "The revolutionaries are talking with the government. The radio announced it today. Strange, many years ago they were fighting for the land. Now they are fighting for the same land. These wars make me ... sort of edgy." Fearful, Melissa looked down and said, casually, "Yeh, nothing has changed."

He walked to the window. His tall lean figure stood out against the bright light. "We've made some changes here! Look, we built a hospital _ small as it is!"

"The Lord has been good to us. We've been safe, but ... it's time to see our grandchild. He's going to be 1-year-old."

"In time, my dear, in time. We're the first American missionaries these people have known. They're learning. Antonio knows first aid, and the bees are doing well. Soon there'll be enough honey for export. But we can't take off, just like that," he said, snapping his fingers.

"I'm worried. Everybody has fled from our town. We'll be left all alone, and ... " Melissa's playing trailed off, the notes sounding grave and foreboding. A few minutes later, Elijah said thoughtfully, "Okay, my dear, I'll ask the bishop for a replacement." Melissa smiled, pleased with his decision.

She walked toward him. The full skirt of her Sunday dress swayed gracefully around her pretty figure. She encircled his waist with her arms, saying, "God is showing us the way."

Through the bars of the large window, he looked at the jungle. The curves of the Usumacinta River could be guessed, more than seen, flowing through it. The breeze smelled of warm, moist earth. "I love this place," he said with sadness.

Far away, he noticed a dim cloud of dust. His body tensed. He listened intently, "Horses!"

Carmela, the maid, came running, "Senora, the soldiers! Come quick, we'll hide you in the jungle."

"But my husband! ... "

"He'll join you _ Antonio will bring him."

"Go!" Elijah yelled, "I'll stay to save the mission. Gooooo!"

Twenty cavalry soldiers dressed in dark green uniforms stopped in front of Elijah. The captain asked, "Where are the guns?"

"I don't have any, I'm a man of God."

"You three, search the house." The men dismounted and pushed Elijah aside. With the butts of their rifles they broke into cabinets. They fired at the bed. They fired at the piano. Sounds of broken chords resounded through the house. The men came back, saying, "There's nothing, Captain."

"Keep looking, check the outhouse, the basement." A few minutes later the three men returned. "There's no guns."

"Go to the stables. Bring horses and food."

The men came back laughing from the stables. They were laughing, gulping milk from buckets, their mustaches white.

"Any arms? What else did you find?"

"Lots of corn, bags and bags. Plenty of hay, to the ceiling. But no armaments."

"Let's take care of this one. Tie him." They fastened Elijah's hands and blindfolded him. The men smelled of alcoholic drinks, a smell that Elijah hated.

"Al paredon! To the wall!"

The captain cocked his head. "Take him." The men placed Elijah against the stone wall, facing the firing squad. He prayed, "Father who art in heaven ... "

"At-TEN-tion!" yelled the captain.

Zzzzzzzz ... A buzz _ a hallucination? No, it was real. Thirty years in the jungle had taught Elijah to identify sounds. A bee! He smiled secretly _ bees don't like the smell of alcohol.

The bees circled and circled. One of them went around the horse _ zzzzzz, zzzz, zzzzzzzzz ... ! The animal became agitated, stepping hard on the dusty ground. Another buzz. The men shuffled in their positions, swatting the bees with their caps. More ZZZZZZZZZ! A swarm of bees! A cloud! An invasion!

The horse swished his tail wildly, hitting the captain's legs. A bee landed on the animal's nose and stung him. He reared, neighing madly. His eyes bulged and he foamed at the mouth. Then he bucked, like a bronco in a corral.

The captain fell off the horse. On all fours, he crawled to avoid the horse's hoofs. The soldiers yelled, threw their rifles down and ran to the woods.

Elijah heard a whisper. "Reverend! It's me, Antonio."

He untied Elijah's hands and snatched off the blindfold. "To the river!" he ordered.

At the water's edge, Antonio said, "Jump in, quick."

"But I don't know how to swim!"

"Ay, caramba! Hold on to these branches." Antonio cut a reed with his strong, white teeth. "Breathe through this. Under, under the water."

Stars were shining on the velvety blue sky. Elijah was shivering. Holding on to the branch, he moved to the bank. The soil, under the decaying leaves, was warm and smelled of mushrooms.

... shuffling of ground leaves ... A panther? No, the rhythm was two-step, not four. Barefoot soldiers? He slid under the water again. White figures approached. Peasants as hostages?

A shadow crouched nearby, "Reverend!"

Elijah came out. He couldn't feel his body, it was stiff. Antonio and Carmela helped him out, pulling him by the arms. They undressed him and dried him, rubbing his body with herbs that stung his skin. He insisted on covering his private parts with his hands.

Antonio poured a fermented beverage down Elijah's throat. It burned. Sobs prevented him from speaking clearly. Finally he muttered, "But today is Sunday, I cannot drink." He bent forward, fell on his knees and, to his surprise, he broke down and cried. After he calmed down, he prayed.

Antonio and Carmela dressed Elijah in several white cotton tunics. He looked like a high priest. When he came to his senses, Elijah pointed to his wedding ring. The two smiled, nodding.

They reached a clearing. Melissa ran and covered him with her arms and kisses. Never before had they hugged with such passion, gratitude and love.

"By the way, Antonio, how come the bees got out?" asked Elijah, gobbling up a bean-filled tortilla. Antonio, Carmela and their five children giggled and laughed, covering their mouths with their hands and looking at him coyly.

Elijah and Melissa joined in, laughing and giggling.

Susana Bouquet-Chester, Ph.D., is a freelance writer and part-time clinical psychologist who splits her time between Belleair and Woodstock, N.Y.