The jangadeiros were very tired after eating. I could see it in their glazed eyes and rounded shoulders, the sluggish way they moved about the deck. Even Ze, Oz’s own hyperactive scarecrow crossed with the energizer bunny, was dragging his butt — though he was still smiling. He reminded me so much of my uncle Halty, who had landed on Iwo Jima as a navy corpsman during WWII. Like Ze, uncle Halty was tall and rail thin, able to harness superhuman strength whenever he needed it. And like Ze, uncle Halty was always there with a friendly smile. I can see him as a young man on that hellish beach, running like mad to get to the wounded bodies, bullets flying fast and furious, working through the terror he must have been feeling. Any soldier lucky enough to see that smiling face would have been grateful for the comfort it provided. These are the kind of guys you want beside you when the chips are down — the guys who will see you through to the very end. All cattle and no hat. All bite and no bark (though never the first to strike). Much to give and little do they take. Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough of them to go around.
“So what now?” I asked Mamede. “Are you going to fish?”
“No, we fish at night. Now we sleep. You should sleep too if you want to fish.”
He raised an eyebrow when he said this, as if posing a question.
This was the second time he had brought it up — me fishing. I hadn’t given it any thought. Did I really want to fish? Having seen how much effort it took to catch anything with their handlines, I doubted I was up to the task. This wasn’t supposed to be a fishing holiday anyway. They didn’t need me messing around like some gringo on a party boat.
“Okay,” I said.
Mamede walked the deck to check that everything was in order before lifting the hatch cover and waving me forward.
Christ, not again . . .
“No, Mamede, you go ahead. I don’t want to hold you up.”
I wouldn’t feel so trapped if I was closer to the hatch.
“No—you first,” he said. “I have to get out fast if something happens.”
“Ah, yes . . .” His logic was irrefutable on that point.
I looked at the two jangadeiros standing nearby. Ze nodded politely for me to go ahead while João just glared. Clearly there was a pecking order and you know who was low man on the pole.
“Okay—well—let’s see if I remember how to get in.”
Stepping over the coaming and into the hold, I faced aft and did the same straight-leg dip, scoot forward, lean back while tilting my head sideways to squeeze in through the opening. I then rotated my body ninety degrees and started crawling aft. The daylight coming through the hatch let me see where I was going this time, but with João hot on my heels, it was hard to enjoy the scenery. Ze entered next, followed by Mamede who shut the cover over him, plunging us all into total darkness. Groaning and shifting, we settled in for our afternoon nap.
Packed in like sardines was more like it. With the light from the hatch still burning my retinas, I reclined my head and tried to relax. I took several deep breaths hoping this would help. The problem with taking several deep breaths in a space no bigger than a horizontal broom closet — a space hot as a sauna and crowded with four unwashed men — is you quickly realize how difficult it is to actually breathe. And for a claustrophobe with an acute fear of suffocation, this is anything but relaxing!
I might have been able to stick it out (I like to believe) had it not been for one thing. Three actually: pork fat, caju juice, and the farinha, all tossing in my gut like the devil’s own brew. Oh, God. . . Please. . . Not here. . . Not now. . .
As soon as I started to think about what I had eaten — Arrrivederci! I could still taste it on my tongue, was burping it up — kept seeing that fatty glob of meat sliding slowly from the can—plop, plop—onto the mealy farinha—mush it in, mush it in . . . Christ! It was just too much.
The coup de grâce came when João turned his head in my direction, causing his greasy lunch breath to waft over me like a foul wind, amplifying everything I was trying to escape. His porky halitosis, seasoned with digestion and a generous pinch of chewing tobacco, was accompanied by a high-pitched wheezing, as if deep within his belly a litter of piglets was crying to get out. Weeee—ahh Weeee—ahh Weeee—ahh . . .
I turned my head aft, stretching for clean air, but in that broom closet of a space—no effing way. Drenched in sweat and now gasping for breath, I knew I had to get out before things got nasty. It wasn’t a matter of if but when. Having reached the point of no return, I turned forward and poked João with my elbow.
No response so I dug in harder. With a jerk he came awake.
“What?” he groaned.
“I need to get out, João.”
“I need to get out.”
“But we just got in.”
“Yes, I know, but I need to get out—NOW!”
Three spaces forward Mamede spoke with a commanding voice: “João, he needs to get out.” He then pushed open the hatch cover and started to climb out.
Immediately I rolled forward, shoving João with my body.
“I’M MOVING! I’M MOVING!” he bawled, then actually started moving. And I pushed even harder — knowing exactly what was going to happen. Already I was gulping down spit and the end was very near.
Mamede and Ze got out fast. Finally understanding the urgency of the moment, João shot forward beside the daggerboard box, giving me access to the hatch. Frantically I squirmed under the light and reached up with both hands to grab the top of the coaming, just as the first squirt of bile hit the back of my throat. I was able to swallow this back, which only caused my stomach to clinch down harder. As I wrenched myself up I started to vomit.
Inertia was with me for once. I was moving up fast enough, my head just high enough, that most of the puke went over the coaming and out. The rest landed back on my chin and neck as I slammed against the side of the opening. Still scrambling up, my chest made it over the top just as the next round hit. And there I stayed, retching and heaving, as the remains in my stomach emptied out on the deck.
Where is a wave when you need one, I thought, staring down at the mess I’d just made. My face was only inches above the steamy pile of vomit and the stench was horrific — sour, acidic. A viscous band of slaver dribbled from my lips, forming a perfect catenary between my chin and the deck. I started to retch again but nothing came out this time—the dry heaves. Wonderful . . . All pride demolished, I continued hawking and spitting, trying to clear the foul taste in my mouth.
There is no honor in puking — none, zero, zip. It can, however, generate sympathy in those observing it, provided they are able to overcome their initial shock and revulsion.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the farinha pan, now filled with seawater, being pushed in my direction. Gazing up, there was Ze looking concerned again. Good old Ze. I gave him a weak wave of thanks and reached out to pull the pan closer. Splashing the seawater onto my face felt wonderful, and the salty liquid washed out my mouth far better than fresh water could. I even snorted some of it up into my nose, flushing the pipes there.
“How are you feeling?” Mamede asked when I finished.
“Good,” he said, and then paused. “Uh—maybe you shouldn’t go back down right now. I can make some shade up here if you want. What do you think?”
“That would be great, Mamede. Thank you.”
“Okay—give me a few minutes. Why don’t you come up and have a drink of water. That will make you feel better.”
With a hand from Ze I climbed out of the hatch and made my way aft.
Hunched down on the steering bench I took several deep breaths. Though the barril was right beside me, I knew if I drank any water right then I would just chuck it up. Better to wait. Glancing forward I saw Ze standing by the hatch. He was holding the empty dishpan, looking down at my puke.
“Just leave it, Ze,” I called out. “I’ll clean it up.”
I didn’t want him cleaning my mess, and neither did he from the flash of relief that briefly crossed his face. Gently he set the pan on the icebox lid and then went forward to help Mamede at the tabernacle.
Still in the hold, João said something from below that I couldn’t make out.
“Just go back to sleep,” Mamede told him. “We’ll be down soon. You too, Ze. Hand me the sail when you’re down there.”
Ze glanced back at me one last time to see if I needed anything, shrugged his shoulders and then stepped into the hold.
Mamede quickly set up the sail canopy and then came aft.
“It’s ready,” he said. “Do you need anything? Did you drink some water?”
I shook my head.
“You should but it can wait.”
He gave me a tired smile.
“Okay, I’m going to sleep now. Try to sleep too. I’ll see you later.”
“Thank you, Mamede. Bom descanso.” Have a good rest.
“Você também.” You too.
He climbed into the hatch and closed the cover. And there I was, alone on deck.
Next chapter: Here Piggy Piggy