I am running down the beach as fast as I can. It’s nighttime and I smell something burning. Eventually I stop and lean forward. My breathing is heavy, I’m drenched with sweat. After several deep breaths I look at my hands. No blood. . . Both hands are clean, clean and normal.
I turn back to the building but there is no building, just palm trees scattered on the shore. Most are broken and bare — bulging tumors that once held fronds. Cut by the horizon, a huge moon dazzles the water. I wait to see it rise but it doesn’t move. It’s fixed in space.
There are people in the distance and I head for them. Three old beach vendors are sitting side by side on the sand. Each is wearing the same white hardhat. Approaching, I see why. Three Joãos — triplets, leaning forward on their bundles, fast asleep.
As if on cue they sit up as one and break into grins, seeing me — Um gringo! I’m not going to buy anything — No money, no money — but I am strangely drawn to their bundles. Each one is different. 1) A block of metal, hundreds of cans crushed together. 2) A bale of paper, thousands of pages also pressed together. 3) Two pieces of Isopor, bound with cheap string. Fascinated, I pause on the Isopor bundle.
João 3 pushes it forward, starts flapping his arms and cackling. He’s crazy. . .
I grab the bundle and it’s light as a feather. Lifting it up, the string falls off and the pieces unfold. Now I see what they are. Two wings! Wings of Isopor. I turn back to the men but the men are no more. Vanished.
Each wing has a hole at the base. On a whim I stick my hand into the right wing and —SHOOP— my arm is sucked in. The same with the left — I now have wings. Beating them slowly I laugh out loud. Like a boy I start running down the beach into the wind. A gust catches my wings and lifts me off the sand.
Quickly I rise, terrified at first. But the higher I go the smoother it gets — soon I gain control. I’m over the waves now, dipping and diving like a seabird. I beat my wings to carry me higher — Up to the clouds — and zip around them like gates in a slalom. I soar even higher — Look at the stars — when something below catches my eye. The beach has turned into a bright band of light, running on and on.
I sail down to see what it is. There are many small lights packed closely together. Some of the lights are out on the water. Lower still and I see what they are. Candles! Each one held aloft by a person. There are millions and millions of them.
Seeing the people fills me with joy. I’m gliding just above them now, glimpse their smiling faces and feel the warmth from the candles as I pass overhead. An opening appears and I drop to the sand, stalling my wings as my feet touch down. As soon as I land, everyone vanishes. What?
I’m holding my wings, feeling old and tired. And I’m thirsty — very, very thirsty. As if answering a prayer a drink hut appears down the beach. There’s an old woman behind the counter. She’s waving at me.
Hello, she says as I draw near. I saw you flying up there. So beautiful, so free. Put your wings down here and have a drink on me.
She’s smiling so sweetly.
I can’t. They’ll blow away.
They’ll be safe in here, she says, pointing behind the counter.
Something isn’t right but she seems so nice. I give her my wings and she sets them beside her.
Now what would you like? Pinga? Whiskey? Or maybe a nice cold beer?
Do you have any water?
Why, yes. Of course. Her voice is like honey.
I’m guzzling from a small plastic bottle. The water tastes foul but I can’t stop drinking it. Setting the empty down on the counter, I suddenly feel dizzy. And my vision is blurry. And the woman looks different — She looks like a man. . . The man starts laughing.
I see him in the distance, carrying my wings under one arm. It’s him! I know it’s him. Well dressed with a swagger. I can even hear him whistling. He steps onto a long pier floating over the water.
I’m running on the blue pier, trying to catch him. I’m walking beside him, looking down at my wings. They’re tangled up in fishing line.
I’ve been expecting you, he says, without slowing down.
Give back my wings, I hear myself shout.
We are nearing the end of the pier. A fence is there with a gate at the center. He wants to reach the gate — I need to stop him.
Only a few steps left and I jump to tackle him. When my arms come together they close in on air. I slip and fall on top of my wings. I try to get up but just keep slipping — slipping and falling — slipping, falling — hard on my wings. They’re crying out in pain.
I’m standing now, holding my wings. They’re bruised and dented and covered in line. Miles and miles of plastic line. I try pulling it off, it gets more tangled. Each line I remove, ten new ones appear. Stop! Stop!
Now I see where all the lines lead. To the hand of the man standing at the gate. He seems so relaxed and he’s smiling. It’s a confident smile, a winning smile, a smile revealing all of his teeth — row upon row of sharp little teeth.
Don’t worry, he says, his a voice so alluring.
Really, he assures me, it will be all right.
I step back slowly and the lines between us tighten. Still holding on, his fist inches up. When I see the lines are cutting into my wings, I stop.
We stand perfectly still, staring at each other. He with his fist up, gripping the lines — me with my hands out, clutching my wings. One wrong move and my wings will be shredded!
Sweat is streaming down my face. It’s burning my eyes and blurring my vision. I’m blinking, blinking — trying to clear them, trying to stop what I’m seeing — seeing but not believing. It can’t be true. . . It can’t be true. . .
I can finally see his face.
Me! It’s me. . . Me at the gate looking so calm. Me with my fist up gripping the lines. I am the one smiling so smugly. I am the one who knows he has won.
And in a slow moving horror I helplessly watch. Watch as I start to laugh out loud (me laughing at me). Watch as my fist slowly rises up, then quickly jerks down. Watch as I step through the gate without looking back, but still laughing, laughing, laughing — as the wind picks up the pieces — the infinite Isopor pieces — and scatters them all to the heavens.
I am a piece of Isopor looking down at me — watching me fly away.
Don’t worry. It will be all right. It will be all right. It will be all right. . .
Next chapter: Thursday Morning