The Big Fish

João brought up the sack for breakfast after the morning chores were done.
I was so looking forward to eating more of those cookies — just the thought of it was making me giddy. But giddy soon turned to grumpy when I saw there were only crackers in the bag.

“No more cookies?” I asked, my hopes in the gutter.
“No,” said João, sounding as grumpy as I felt. “We finished them yesterday.”

WE finished them?  No, no, no!  You finished them!  YOU!

Each of us grabbed a cracker and found a place to sit. Gnawing on my hardened square of tasteless white dough, I would have given anything for a cup of coffee right then — sailed any ocean, climbed any mountain — for just one small cup . . . I was in the very bowels of my caffeine cold-turkey, and oh, what an impacted bowel it was.

Mamede finished his breakfast first. He got off the bench and stood at the rail, scanning the eastern horizon. The air was perfectly still and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The sea was flat as flat could be. After some minutes he turned around and said, “I don’t think there will be any wind today, so we should take care with our water.” He didn’t look at me when he said this, but I knew who the message was intended for.

“Do you think it will be windy tomorrow?” I asked; a stupid question but I was worried we’d get stuck out there for days.
“Well—uh—probably . . .” he wavered. “But you never know.”
You never know . . .  Having finished my stale cracker, I could now chew on that.
“I’m going to rest,” he said. “Do you want me to put up the awning?”
“No, Mamede. I can do it.”
“Bom. Até mais tarde, então.” Good. Until later, then.
“Até logo.” See you soon.

Ze climbed into the hold first and handed up the jib for the awning. Mamede then entered and closed the cover over himself.  João remained on deck.
“Aren’t you going to rest?” I asked him.
“Não,” he shook his head.
“Não tenho sono.”  I’m not sleepy. 

Suddenly the idea of a peaceful morning on deck by myself evaporated. It wasn’t that I wanted to be alone. I just didn’t know what being alone with João would be like. It made me a little nervous.

“What are you going to do?” I asked him.
He was giving me the eye again.
“Okay—okay . . . But is fishing any good during the day?”
“Not to catch many fish. But to catch a big fish — yes!”
O peixe grande, he called it. The Big Fish.
It was their name for a Tarpon fish.
“So, you want to catch a big fish?”
“Si,” he bobbed his head emphatically.
“Do you do anything special to catch him?”
“Just put out the lines and wait. If you are lucky, the big one comes.”
“I see,”  I said, bobbing my own head now.

Apparently he was feeling lucky. While I installed the canopy at the tabernacle, João set up camp back at the steering bench. There were plenty of little fish left over from the night before and he used these to bait his hooks. Happily chattering away to himself, he put out four lines around the jangada. Two of these he tied to the espeque posts near the bench, one starboard, one port. The other two were secured to each side of the tabernacle beam, right next to where I sat. Suffice it to say, I really hoped the Big Fish would strike one of the lines back by the bench.

Once the lines were set,  João maintained a slow circuit around the jangada to check each one. On approaching a line he would grab it first to see if a fish had taken the hook. “Nada . . .” He would then jig the line while softly calling out: “Here, big fish.” — “Take the line, big fish.” — “Come on fishy, fishy,”  and so on. After several fruitless minutes he would drop the line in irritation and move to the next one. Rarely did he bring in a line to check the bait; he preferred to let them sit. Like some of our more conservative presidents,  João believed in a laissez-faire approach to fishing.  You might even call it supply-side  fishing:  lower the bait and pray for a hit. (Funny, but it wasn’t working for him either.) While he went about his business I sat under the awning and did my best to avoid the sun.

This proved to be quite difficult: the higher the sun rose, the hotter it got. I wasn’t the only one affected by the heat. As the morning progressed,  João’s laps around the jangada became more infrequent, and he paid less attention to each line. (This is what you call lame-duck fishing.)  Eventually he stayed put on the bench, hunching down while muttering quietly to himself. It was only midmorning and the sun was already punishing. With no breeze blowing it got very hot on that deck — blistering hot — fry an egg on the planks hot — even in the shade of that dinky awning.

Next chapter: The Ship