I must have dozed off while leaning against the icebox. 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. Then suddenly, without warning, I felt a little prick. “Ow,” I murmured. Was it just a dream? The prick was soon followed by another, only this time the pain was much, much sharper. In an instant I was wide awake, knew exactly where I was and, most importantly by far, realized that my feet were still dangling in the ocean — an ocean filled with hungry fish.
There is no better testament to our survivability as a species than our ability to perceive a mortal danger when fast asleep, and to rise up and deal with the threat in 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 over 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.
Damn that movie!
I have heard it said that sailing on the ocean is 99% boredom and 1% stark raving terror. While I’ve never kept track and I don’t like to generalize, 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 subsided I was flat on my back with my legs in the air, knees splayed out like a dog wanting a belly rub. This dog, however, had a very sore neck from his head snapping back, and a new lump on 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.
But something was wrong with the bottom of my right foot. So I reached up and pulled it in for a closer look. “What the . . .” Right at the center of my neon-white instep was a red spot the size of a chickpea. While the skin wasn’t broken it was very painful to touch, as if I’d been burned with a hot poker.
Suddenly the hatch flew open and Mamede’s head shot up. I had completely forgotten I wasn’t alone on that little boat. My scream must have woken them all up and it probably had scared the hell out of them. I felt like such a fool 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, he looked as if he had just caught me doing something naughty. He blinked a few times and rubbed his eyes, then blinked some more and tried to stifle a yawn. 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,” turning and jabbing my finger at the rail, “and—and I think something bit me!” This all came out very fast and was not spoken in the proper Portuguese. Lacking a better explanation I thrust out my foot 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 stupid.
“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!”
Somebody from the hold asked a question.
Mamede looked down and said, “No, Ze. He’s okay.”
Ze said something else but I still couldn’t make it out.
“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 this ever end?
“No, no. It’s just a red spot. On his foot.”
“A RED SPOT?” Both Ze and João together now.
“Yes . . . A small red spot . . .” Mamede said slowly.
There was a 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 sore neck. When he was finished stretching, he turned to the tabernacle and started to take down the canopy.
I walked forward to help him. “I’m sorry I woke you,” I said.
“No, no, don’t worry. We had to wake up anyway. It’s time for dinner.”
He stopped what he was doing and gave me a serious look.
“So how are you feeling now?”
“Better . . . Thanks.”
His eyes narrowed slightly.
“Do you think you can 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 and fries. (Oh, please, please, please . . .) But I knew exactly what he meant. He was asking if I was hungry for their food — for their farinha? And the answer to that very specific question was still a resounding NO.
“Sure, Mamede,” I lied.
Next chapter: Big Red Spot