What goes up usually comes down. Blame it on energy. Having risen to the task of getting us off, the jangadeiros now stood in numb silence around the icebox, eating their bland bolacha crackers for breakfast. We still had plenty of those left, and gnawing on a particularly tough one, I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad about that. On the one hand they provided some needed calories (empty as empty could be). On the other they made me wish for a toaster, fresh cream butter, and some of my homemade, thick-cut marmalade to slather on top.
Oh, oh, oh . . .
And this, of course, only made me think of that other thing. The thing I was trying so hard not to think about — Coffee! How I longed for a cup, just one — Please . . . Hot or cold, black or white, bitter or sweet, espresso, cap-puccino, Turkish, French press, freeze dried, percolated, drip, cold brewed, boiled — ANYTHING! Anything but decaf. I would have even settled for flavored coffee right then—God forbid—hazelnut or vanilla, an abomination if ever there was one, worse than fruit flavored beer. And would you like some sprinkles with that?
JUST STOP FUSSING AND GIVE ME THE CUP!
At least the sun was up and warming my backside, and the heat felt soothing. But I knew it was just a matter of time before soothing turned to uncomfortable, which would then be quickly followed by really fucking hot! When breakfast was over both Ze and João went below to get some sleep. Mamede also needed the rest, but it was his responsibility to get us back to the beach.
He had only slept about twelve hours in total since we started the trip, none of it for more than a few hours at a time. And when he wasn’t sleeping he was on his feet working, like then, steering us home. With no compass to guide him or land in sight, he used the sun’s position and his instincts to sail us back to the village. Having done it for more years than I’d been living, I wasn’t worried about his aim — he would get us back to Prainha. My only question was when.
Through most of the morning the breeze remained light and the jangada crept forward at only a knot or two. As we were sailing with the wind and almost as fast, you could hardly feel the movement of air on deck. And it got hot! At first I was able to hide in the shade beside the icebox. But as the sun climbed higher, the shade grew more scarce. I wasn’t so worried about getting sunburned, was wearing my large straw hat and had enough sunblock gobbed on that my eyes stung from the fumes.
I was so lubed up (with a gooey gel named for a popular amphibian), if I died like that they would need to bury me in a toxic waste dump in Nevada or New Mexico, with permits and a special protocol required to haul my oily carcass across state lines. It wouldn’t be cheap, but thousands of years in the future a young anthropologist would discover my body in near perfect condition, and wonder what embalming methods had been used to preserve my flesh. I’d become her life’s work, spawn countless scholarly papers, and would even be featured in a three-part documentary titled, DOWNFALL —
The Complete Story. (It would later become a reality TV series that would run for six seasons before reaching syndication.) But first I would tour the world in a climate-controlled display case made especially for me. I’d be famous (dead, yes, but famous!), with crowds of adoring fans circling the block just to see me: Americanus Candidum (Large White American). They’d awe at my incredible size and shiny white color. Eventually I’d end up in a place like the Smithsonian as the centerpiece of a whole new wing devoted entirely to Homo Sapiens: “A violent species, long extinct because of their inability to protect the environment that sustained them.”
I had to remember to get my teeth cleaned when I got back home and buy some new underwear.
Back at the steering bench Mamede had no shade. Though his chestnut skin was tougher than mine (his and everybody else’s), it was still punishing for him to be out there. And he was already exhausted from days of work. Hunched over on the bench with his hand on the tiller, I would have sworn he was sleeping. But then the tiller would scrape back and forth, keeping the jangada true to its course.
I wasn’t too worried about him, he just looked so tired.
“Mamede,” I finally called out, mostly from guilt. “I see where you’re going. Let me steer so you can rest.”
“No,” he murmured, his head snapping up. (Yep, he was napping.) “Maybe later when I see where we are.”
He sat quiet for a bit and then asked, “Can you throw some water on the sail and deck?”
“Sure.” I jumped up, chastising myself for not thinking of it sooner.
The farinha pan was down below, so I grabbed the aguador from the tabernacle lines and started walking around the jangada, scooping up quarts of seawater and dumping them over my feet mostly — the deck was so damn hot. I had less success shooting the water up on the sail: more of it wound up on me than the canvas. This wasn’t all bad. My total lack of coordination brought a grin to Mamede’s weary face.
It felt good to see him smile, as if I was helping in some small way. On the jangada of life some of us play the mestre, others the able first mate. If you can’t be one of those then try to make them laugh. You will do all right if you just make them laugh. Enjoying the moment, I tossed some water aft so it rained over Mamede’s head, causing him to chuckle and duck.
Next chapter: Slip—CLUNK!