The Big Fish

When the chores were done,  João brought up our breakfast from the hold.
I was really 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 inside the bag.

“No more cookies?” I ask, my hopes quickly diving.
“No,” João said, sounding as grumpy as I felt. “We finished them yesterday.”

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

Each of us grabbed a cracker and found a place to sit. While chewing on my hardened lump of bleached white dough, I would have given anything for a cup of coffee to wash it down — climbed any mountain, sailed any sea (as long as there was something besides the farinha to eat). 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 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 be careful 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 without thinking.
“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.” Until later, then.
“Até logo.” See you soon.

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

Suddenly the idea of a peaceful morning on deck by myself evaporated. It’s not that I wanted to be alone. I just didn’t know what being alone on deck 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 the 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.
“So, you want to catch a big fish?”
“Si!” he bobbed his head emphatically.
“Do you do anything special to catch the big fish?”
“No. 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 João was feeling lucky. While I installed the canopy at the tabernacle, he 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, one starboard and one port, and 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 after lines.

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 of this he would drop the line and move to the next one. Rarely did João pull up a line to check on the bait. He preferred to let them sit. Like some of our more conservative presidents,  João believed in a more 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 on deck. I wasn’t the only one affected by the stifling heat. As the morning progressed,  João’s circuits around the jangada became more infrequent and he paid less attention to each line. (This is what you call lame-duck fishing.)  Eventually he just sat on the bench, hunching forward while muttering quietly to himself. Midmorning and the sun was punishing. It was blistering hot — windless hot — fry an egg on the damn deck hot — even in the shade of that little awning.


Next chapter: The Ship