I’ve never been a fan of whistling. To be perfectly honest, I actually kind of hate it. I will go even further — be more politically incorrect — and declare right here that I also hate the people who do it — the whistlers — but only when they are near me, whistling. Otherwise I’m sure they are very nice people, though maybe a little too smug. To further clarify my feelings: I am only annoyed by whistling men. When a child does it — no problem — it’s pretty darn cute. And when a woman whistles — well — I’ve been known to go weak in the knees. But a man whistling — NO! Real men don’t whistle, at least not around other real men. It’s just that simple.
Why I have this irrational dislike for whistling men is also pretty simple: I can’t whistle myself and never could. Even now when I’m alone and sure that no one can hear me, I’ll pucker up and blow, praying for something to come out that doesn’t sound like the hiss from an espresso steam wand. I’ve even been to various video sites for pointers — Useless! Maybe I just don’t have the whistling gene, like those people who can’t curl their tongues.
I can do that!
My inability to whistle was particularly depressing as a child because I am the son of a woman who whistled beautifully; was known throughout the neighborhood for her two-fingered blast which she frequently employed to call back any one of her five sons, four of whom can whistle just fine. But now that I’m grown up I’m not so bothered by this particular deficiency, unless, that is, I am close to a man who is whistling.
I bring this up so you better understand my irritation right then, sitting on the hatch cover next to Ze, who at that very moment was demonstrating his prodigious whistling ability while splitting branches for the fire. Ze was the worst kind of whistler — the happy warbler — dipping and diving and soaring away. He was actually quite good at it, which is the main problem with this type of whistler: they think the whole damn world is just dying to hear them.
Why Ze had waited so long to exercise his precious gift was anybody’s guess. Had I known he was a whistler before leaving on the trip, I might have not gone. Stuck on a raft forty miles at sea, it was impossible to get away from the noise. I couldn’t just say, “Later guys,” give a snappy little salute, then jump into the water and swim to shore. I was forced to put up with his chirping. Clearly Ze was not a superstitious man. Had he been, he would have known that whistling at sea is just calling for a storm. Considering this — realizing that a storm would shut him up and blow us back home — I decided not to say anything.
I like to think my impatience with Ze was largely due to my physical condition at the time. I wasn’t exactly in tiptop form. Being tired and hungry are enough to set anyone on edge. But layered onto this were a number of issues, none of them very serious, but when lumped all together had me feeling like a wreck.
Standing for hours at the rail had left me stiff and sore. My muscles, if you could call the trembling mass of tissues that, seemed wholly disconnected from the rest of my body. Even the most elementary command required a mental focus that was altogether disproportional to the task. (e.g. Right hand, scratch left knee. NO! I said the LEFT KNEE, you dummy.) And my hands, having held that torture device all morning long, felt as if they’d been scoured by 30 grit sandpaper. To open my palms was like rending flesh — my own flesh!
Underlying these pains, lurking in the wings you might say, was a gastrointestinal system that still wasn’t right. (No, not that again!) Despite the recent purging (i.e. my barking to the deck) there were other, more specific issues at play that I just couldn’t fix. Which of them was worse — take your pick: a stomach that felt as if it had been used as a punching bag at Rooney’s Gym; an esophageal lining etched by bile and the abrasive power of coarse farinha; or a large intestine that was still in a quandary about what to do (do).
Every so often it would rumble down there — trapped gas passing painfully from one part to another, or around some calcified turd creeping along like a small mammal through a sleeping python. I had gone several days without pooping before and the result was never pleasing — testing the boundaries of venous elasticity.
Have you no shame, sir? Have you no decency?
Higher up I was equally a mess (so to speak), with a sore neck from my recent whiplash awakening, and an aching head — stopped yet again by another piece of tropical lumber — the name of which eludes me (I just can’t remember). Any more bangs like that and I’d have to get in line with all the NFL players, boxers, hockey enforcers, soccer head-butters . . . for one of those Stanford University brain tissue studies.
João’s hardhat was looking better and better.
All these pains paled, however, when compared to how my right foot felt just half an hour after the sting, or bite, or whatever the fuck it was! Though I had laughed with Ze and João when they came on deck and demanded to see the “little red spot” that had caused such a fuss — I wasn’t laughing now.
What had started as a small but intense burning sensation at my instep, had grown so my entire foot felt as if on fire. The little red spot had turned into a big red spot, flushing most of the foot. Since the inflammation appeared to have stabilized and the flesh wasn’t too swollen — just red and little puffy — I wasn’t all that worried. (And if you buy that, I have a bridge painted International Orange for sale.)
Not being religious, and only slightly superstitious (knock on wood), I’m not a big believer in divine causality. But sometimes it just feels like the universe has it out for you. And at those times I’ve found it best to keep my head down, avoid power tools, and don’t mess around with sharp knives.
Wincing, I glanced at Ze wielding his own sharp knife only inches away. He noticed me watching and stopped whistling just long enough to give me a big, fat, that’s okay grin. And fool that I am, I smiled back, which encouraged him to whistle even louder. João, washing vegetables at the rail, looked up and gave me a withering scowl. For a brief moment our eyes met in flinty unity. (It was the closest I’d felt to him yet.) Shaking his head and grumbling, he returned to his scrubbing with a vengeance. Seconds later his hand jerked out and he exclaimed, “Hey! There’s a big dourado going under the jangada.”
Next chapter: Peixe Dourado