I must have dozed off while sitting by the box. Something started to tickle my foot. The sensation wasn’t continuous but came and went in a random fashion, and it was slippery, as if I was being licked. I don’t know how long it lasted — a few seconds, a minute, maybe longer. The feeling was soothing. But then suddenly, without warning, I felt a little prick. “Oww,” I murmured. I might’ve been dreaming. The prick was followed by another, only this one was much, much sharper. In an instant I was wide awake, knew exactly where I was, and most important by far, realized that my feet were still dangling in the real, live ocean!
There is no better testament to our survivability as a species than our ability to not only perceive a mortal danger when fast asleep, but to also rise up and deal with it in an almost superhuman fashion (if only to scream bloody murder and run into the bushes).
In less than an adrenaline fueled heartbeat my eyes shot open, my head snapped back, and I let out a hair-raising scream that must have carried across miles of ocean. This was all done as I yanked my feet from the water, or what I dearly hoped were still my feet, and not some bloody stumps.
I have heard it said that ocean sailing is 99% boredom and 1% stark raving terror. While I’ve never kept track of the ratio, and try my best to avoid any generalizations, for the first time in my life I knew exactly what it felt like to be part of the 1%.
When the “shock and awe” finally ended, I was flat on my back with my knees in the air and my thighs splayed open, looking like a dog that wanted a belly rub. This dog, however, had a sore neck from his head whipping up, and a brand new lump on the back of that head where it was rudely stopped by the icebox frame. Despite these pains he was a very happy dog. Because waving above him, just as they should be, were his two lower paws.
Still, something was wrong with my right foot. So I reached up and pulled it in for a look. “What the . . .” Right at the center of my neon-white instep was a red spot the size of a chickpea. The skin wasn’t broken, but it was very sensitive to touch, as if I’d just been burned with a hot cigarette.
Suddenly the hatch flew open and Mamede’s head shot up. Oh, no . . . I’d completely forgotten that I wasn’t alone on board. My scream must have woken them all up. I felt very stupid right then. And it didn’t help that I was flat on my back with my foot in my face, my ass in the air pointing straight at Mamede.
Bleary eyed and squinting, Mamede looked like he’d just caught me doing something naughty. He blinked a few times, rubbed his eyes, then blinked some more. After several seconds he cautiously asked, “Uh—are you all right?”
Instantly I rolled to a sitting position. “Mamede! Yes! I’m fine! I—uh—I was sitting there with my feet in the water,” jabbing my finger at the rail, “and—and I think something bit me!” This all came out very fast and was not spoken in proper Portuguese. I thrust my foot out to show him.
Look daddy—a boo boo.
He stared at the foot, incredulous, then bent down to take a closer look. More squinting and blinking, finally he raised his hand and pointed a muscular finger at my arch. “You mean that little red spot?”
Now I really felt embarrassed.
“Yes . . .”
Mamede was at a loss for words. He leaned back and scratched his head. After what felt like an eternity he said, “Well, maybe it was a jellyfish.”
This hadn’t even occurred to me.
“A jellyfish,” I repeated. “Of course—a jellyfish!”
A voice came from the hold below, but I couldn’t make it out.
Mamede looked down and said, “No, Ze. He’s okay.”
Ze said something else but I still couldn’t hear it.
“No—I don’t know. Maybe he was stung by a jellyfish.”
“A JELLYFISH!” (This was very clear.)
“Yes, a jellyfish . . .”
Ze then asked another question.
My God—will it ever end?
“No, no. It’s just a red spot. On his foot.”
“A RED SPOT?” (Both Ze and João now.)
“Yes . . . A little red spot . . .” Mamede nodded slowly.
There was long pause while all parties considered the situation. Finally Mamede reached for the mast and pulled himself out of the hatch. And I grabbed the icebox frame and hauled myself up. He did his little stretching routine while I rubbed my neck. When he finished, Mamede went to the tabernacle and started to take down the canopy.
“I’m sorry I woke you, Mamede,” I said walking forward.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We had to wake up anyway. It’s time for dinner.”
He stopped what he was doing and gave me a serious look.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
His eyes narrowed slightly. “Do you think you can you eat something now? Are you hungry?”
Ah. . .
This last question was harder to answer. Technically speaking I was very hungry — would have murdered for a juicy hamburger with fries. Oh, please, please, please. . . But he wasn’t asking me that. Mamede was asking if I was hungry for their food — for their farinha. And the answer to that very specific question was a resounding NO!
“Yes, Mamede. I’m hungry.”
Next chapter: Big Red Spot