Having begun on such a sour note, I only hoped the afternoon would be sweeter. I should have known better. As I’ve already mentioned — the afternoon is not my favorite time of the day. It demands more explanation. If the hours between 1:00 and 5:00 PM involve a function done solely for the purpose of fiscal remuneration (work), then the time is usually spent yawning and staring at a clock on a wall or a screen. If, however, the hours can be dedicated to any one of the three important R’s we learned in school: Reading, Resting, and Recess, then it’s time well spent. As the first and last of these were not possible out there (as I had no book), that left only napping. But in the blazing heat of the afternoon, even the napping was fitful at best.
It would have been cooler down below, out of the glare of the imposing sun. But I would have crawled into hell on hands and knees before crawling back into that hold again — so soon after lunch. I’d eaten enough of the Tuna Surprise to know exactly what would happen if I followed that path. All it would take is a few wheezy breaths from João’s fishy lips and you know who would be blowing again.
Had I asked them to let me stay closer to the hatch, I’m sure they would have consented. Anything to give the poor man access. But I didn’t want to take any chances. And besides, they deserved to rest in peace without having to worry about me tossing up. No doubt my recent disgorging was still fresh in their memories, as it was in mine. I could see it in their furtive glances as they quickly stuffed themselves into the hatch before I had a chance to change my mind. Nobody wanted a repeat performance of that, except maybe the few chub loitering opportunistically around the hull.
Mamede had left my nemesis (the farinha pan) on top of the icebox and asked if I could water the deck. I was happy to oblige, both to be of service and also to dump some of the seawater over myself. I was amazed by how quickly the deck dried off after wetting — wisps of steam rising from the planks. Starting forward and working aft, the bow was ready for another dousing by the time I reached the transom.
Drenching myself with seawater did cool me down, but it came at a price. Like the deck, the water on my body evaporated quickly, leaving behind a micro-dusting of salt. Normally I love the feeling you get at the beach after swimming — like your body’s been shrink-wrapped. But at the end of the day you can wash the salt away, making your skin feel even better. On the jangada this was not possible. Fresh water was only there for drinking and cooking. To waste it on something as frivolous as rinsing off my body would be a stupid, stupid luxury.
Even more uncomfortable than the salt on my skin was the salt in my shorts. Clothing wet with seawater never fully dries out. The leftover salt holds in moisture, leaving the cloth feeling clammy and damp. This dampness was not cool or soothing against my flesh. It had the opposite effect — rubbing against me, chafing my tender skin, making it feel like I was wearing sandpaper for underwear.
Then why not take off your shorts? you might be thinking.
Forty miles offshore—it wasn’t like you were on Wall Street protesting the bankers stealing the clothes off your back.
Truth be told, I have never liked disrobing in front of strangers. There was that retreat in Mendocino I went to with my girlfriend once — a two-day quest for the nearest rock or plant to stand behind while I smiled at other guests: Hello! Yes . . . Beautiful day, isn’t it? To be caught padding around the deck — starkers — would have been embarrassing for me, as it would have been for the jangadeiros — to catch me padding around said deck starkers.
While we are on the subject, let me set the record straight. There is a prevalent misconception that Brazilians, because of the skimpy bathing suits they wear, their tangas, love to let it all hang out (ao ar livre, as they say). Well, nothing could be further from the truth. Brazilians, in general, are no fan of public nudity, except maybe at Carnival time. And even then the parade of flesh is never extreme or gratuitous — more artistic, enthusiastic — a bright display of the beautiful human body. And beautiful it is — just add glitter.
Brazilians are fundamentally a modest people, a respectful people, a devotional people. Yes — devotional. They are devoted to their families, as they are to their church, as they are to their national sport — futebol — which they love with a passion. True, they do have those funky Love Motels all over the place where you can rent a room or carport by the minute (and much fun is made of this along with the whoopee). But the motels actually serve an important function (fill an urgent need, you might say) in a society that has a fairly rigid moral structure. In a country where it is common for unmarried children to live at home through their twenties, such liberal behavior would never be condoned inside the house. The Love Motels provide a simple solution to this. They are the result of yet another devotional act — one that is usually performed behind closed doors.
Above all, Brazilians are devoted to life. They simply love life. And life is meant to be lived. Otherwise — why bother? How had Mamede put it:
Out here — you know you are alive.
So there would be no disrobing on the jangada. And thank God — I hadn’t brought enough sunblock for that!
Unable to practice any of the three cherished R’s, the afternoon quickly descended into a long secession of B&M (Bitching & Moaning). I can’t say I’m proud of it — would rather portray myself as a strong man out there, a stoic man — a manly man. But truth be told that wasn’t the case. Surrounded by four brothers, two up and two down, I learned a lot about the weakness of men while growing up. And believe me, I would rather not go there.
I will only say that we were not a close-knit family. More a pack of wolves thrown together for the sake of survival — punching and kicking and biting. And we had a knack for discovering each other’s faults and using those faults to our best advantage — physically and psychologically.
Even now when we get together for Thanksgiving or Christmas (that is, those of us who can actually stomach it) we have a hard time lowering our guard. We tend to keep our knives and forks close at hand. Though we may smile and say all the appropriate things one is supposed to say at such holiday festivities, behind it all we are more likely thinking: What did he mean by that? Why is he looking at me that way? That was my piece of meat, dammit! Where this is going, I haven’t a clue — I guess I just needed to get it off of my chest. Oh, yes — weakness! My weakness on the blistering deck of that jangada.
To be honest, it was the self-pitying kind, the whining kind, the Bitching & Moaning kind, the why, oh why, oh why did I ever ask to go on this fucking trip kind. It was not very pretty, but what weakness is? What can I say? It’s not like I’d turned into some pathetic lump of quivering flesh (a very irritated lump of quivering flesh), raising a bandaged finger to the heavens and begging for deliverance. But close, pretty darn close.
And still I have not yet mentioned the biggest irritant of all during that long and trying afternoon; quite possibly the biggest burden of the entire trip. The one that makes the others pale in comparison. The one that makes the others contract, peristaltically you might say, in contraposition.
Yes — that one!
Oh, let’s get it over with.
Next chapter: If I Only Had a Toilet