What Goes Down Can Come Back Up

The jangadeiros were very tired after our lunch. 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 when 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 later.”  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 they fished with their handlines, I doubted I was even up to the task. This wasn’t supposed to be a fishing holiday. They didn’t need me messing around like some gringo tourist 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. I have to get out if something happens.”
“Ah, yes. . .” The logic was irrefutable.
I looked at the two jangadeiros standing nearby. Ze nodded politely for me to go ahead while João just glared back.
“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. This time I could actually see where I was going, which was nice, but with João hot on my heels, it was difficult for me to enjoy the scenery. Ze entered next, followed by Mamede who shut the cover over him, plunging us into total darkness. Groaning and shifting, we all settled in for our afternoon nap.

Packed like sardines was more like it. With the image 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 broom closet — a space as 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…

As soon as I started to think about our lunch — 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 mound of farinha—mush it in, mush it in. . . Christ!  It was just too much!

The coup de grâce came when João turned his head so his greasy lunch breath wafted over me like a foul wind, amplifying everything I was trying to escape. His porcine 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 way! Drenched in sweat and now gasping for breath, I knew I had to get out before something nasty happened. It wasn’t a matter of if  but when. Having reached the point of no return, I faced 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.”
What?
“I need to get out.”
But we just got in!
“Yes, but I need to get out — NOW!
Mamede spoke in a commanding voice: “João, he needs to get out,” and pushed open the hatch cover.
Immediately I rolled forward, shoving João with my body.
“I’M MOVING! I’M MOVING!” he bawled, then actually started moving. And I increased the pressure — the alternative was much worse. Already I was gulping down spit and knew the end was near.

Mamede and Ze climbed out quickly. 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 swallowed this down, which only caused my stomach to clamp even 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 onto my chin and neck as I slammed against side of the box. Still scrambling up, my chest made it over the top just as the next round hit. And there I stayed, retching and heaving in full Dolby sound, as the remaining contents of my stomach emptied onto the deck.

Where is a wave when you needed one, I thought, staring down at my puke. My face was only inches above the steaming pile and the stench was horrific — sour, acidic. A viscous band of slaver formed 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 from the back of my mouth.

There is no honor in vomiting — 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. I gave him a weak wave of thanks and reached out to pull the pan closer in. Splashing the water onto my face felt wonderful, and the salty liquid washed my mouth out far better than fresh water could. I even snorted some of it up my nose, flushing out the pipes there.

“How are you feeling?” Mamede asked when I finished.
“Better, Mamede—thanks.”
“Good,” he said, 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.

I sat on the steering bench, hunched down on my spine. Though the barril was right beside me, I knew if I drank any water, I would only throw it back up. Glancing forward, I saw Ze standing by the hatch. He was holding the empty dishpan while looking down at my pile on the deck.
“Just leave it, Ze,” I called out. “I’ll get it.”
I didn’t want him to clean up 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, shrugged his shoulders and then stepped into the hold.

Mamede quickly set up the canopy, then came aft.
“It’s ready. 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.

In a few steps he was gone. The hatch cover was closed and I was alone on deck.

 

Jangada sailing by with lobster traps. Jangadeiros waving.

 

Next chapter: Here Piggy Piggy

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