"Wouldn´t that be ironic if we actually were on this
boat for seventeen days?" I said to Barry on the sixth
Our boat puttered on towards Manaus.
Night came. And, it brought with it a
controversial episode of "Justin´s Game." Barry,
Allison, Amanda, Brazilian Samí, and I huddled around
pen and paper, ready to draw.
After my monkey, Allison´s monkey wrench (assumed
to be a banana), Barry´s saw, Amanda´s lumberjack, and
my flapjacks (believed to be clouds), Amanda
proclaimed, "I understand the game!"
I looked at her, so shocked my face lacked
pigment. "You do!?"
Barry leaned in disbelief. "You mean you
understand it?" He and I exchanged baffled looks.
The non-understandable game´s first problem
occurred later, when Amanda didn´t understand the size
restrictions. A mountain she drew was thrice the size
of a traditional drawing. "Are you making a life-size
mountain?" I said.
Allison drew a bicycle, which Barry
mis-understood. "It seems to be two wagon wheels and
a cat," he said and proceeded to draw an ice cube.
(You have to understand - we´d been drinking a bit.)
Amanda´s next drawing began to resemble the top
of another big mountain. "Smaller! Smaller!" we
urged. In the end, her drawing resembled to me only
an angel´s torso stabbed by a clothes-hanger.
"Now, see, you´ve drawn nothing," said Barry. We
tried kicking her out for this, but she made the
ridiculous argument that it was something.
I struggled through this move and made a devil.
Allison - a McDonald´s Happy Meal. Barry - a crown.
From our fan section, a Brazilian pointed to
Amanda´s past drawing and asked questions. I took
advantage of my Portuguese reputation and pretended to
"He says it´s nothing ... he says it looks like a
baby had drawn it."
"É?" said the fan.
"He says, ´the worst drawing he´s ever seen."
Amanda caught on to my lying. She followed
Samí´s (heavily-argued) angel with the bible. Me -
Moses on the mountain. Allison - the burning bush.
Barry eyed this with lip-curling, eye-narrowing
confusion. "It´s a burning hedgehog! I don´t recall
reading anything in the bible about a burning
hedgehog." He learned the word "porcuspinho" and
explained to Samí what he thought it was. "If you´re
trying to tell me the bible says to burn hedgehogs, I
don´t think I´m playing anymore!"
He drew a zebra. Samí - a cage. Amanda - a
second nothing. The paper was passed to me, and I
stared blankly at a tilted, scribble-filled rectangle.
"He´s trying to make something out of nothing
again," said Barry. He complemented Amanda, "I like
how you made two nothings, so they cancel themselves
I drew a shiny smile from the (toothpaste?).
Amanda erupted, claiming hers had not only been
something, but a non-toothpaste something as well.
Barry wasn´t listening to her. Pointing to each
of us and ending in Amanda, he said, "1 point - 1
point - 1 point - 1 point - 0 points."
I poked fun at Amanda for her drawings´ girths
again, pointing to her first nothing. "Couldn´t you
have made a SMALLER nothing?" I pointed out her
drawing and mine to Samí, who also had a size problem.
"Nao grandíssimo." (Not enormous.) I indicated her
nothing. "Pequeno!" (Small!) I showed him my devil,
which was only a tiny bit smaller.
Barry had had enough. "I do believe you´re out!"
He left his chair, squatting and pointing his
fore-arms away from the table. I joined in and made a
wind-up, dramatic, umpire´s "You´re out!" motion.
Calm restored, through Amanda wasn´t going
anywhere. The first person to be expelled and
actually except it, as it turned out, was Allison.
She followed a person snorting coke with a person
snorting coke, a blatant same-picture violation.
Barry followed this with two gay, male stick-figures.
"It was the only thing left to be done."
This time, accusations were brought against
Barry. Amanda wondered why Barry wasn´t out for
drawing things with absolutely no link.
"What do you mean? I linked the ice cube to the
ice-making machine." He indicated Allison´s bike.
He pointed to Amanda´s two drawings, then his gay
men. "Nothing ... nothing ... something!"
"You don´t know anything!" said Amanda.
"Yes, but not knowing anything is knowing
everything in this game!" I said.
Amanda kicked Barry out. He bowed his head and
left. But, he returned in time for his next go.
Samí followed Barry´s picture with the Union
Jack. Amanda - the Brazilian flag. Me - a penguin.
Allison, re-instated - a sheep. Barry - a sweater.
Steve wandered by and spotted Barry´s last
picture. "Who drew that? Fantastic!"
Erstwhile, Samí messed up his picture. Steve
said, "He´s made the Headless Horseman without a horse
and with a head."
Discouraged, Samí scribbled out his Headed
Horseless Headless Horseman, admitting defeat.
Amanda took the pen. She said she´d draw from
the scribbles Samí had made.
"But it´s nothing! You can´t draw from nothing!"
Amanda proceeded to make a third nothing with two
"You´ve managed to make a chop-stick nothing,"
I drew a china-man. Barry and Allison cracked
up. Amanda called us stupid.
Allison´s Stonehenge nothing to follow ended the
game, though Amanda´s argument went on for some time.
She called her first nothing "a drunk guy vomiting,"
her second nothing "dollar bills," and Barry and I
We responded by slanting our eyes and pretending
to eat with fake, air chop-sticks, which we continued
until she frustrated off to bed. Barry and I
congratulated ourselves on our shared victory and
awaited the next, cooler-headed Justin´s Game.
There would be time for more. On the sixth day,
we´d just reached the journey´s midway point, a
hill-perched city, Santarém. Here, our brown river
host had its unfriendly meeting with the black
Tapajós, whose clarity and darkness stole the eyes and
refreshed the soul. At "Encontra das Aguas," the
black kicked, swirled, and fled for land in an effort
to stay pure, but it was all eventually corrupted by
the Amazon monster.
As our days on the river increased, the boat
transformed into a familiar community. The Brazilians
took an interest in me and the non-Portuguese-speaking
English. We enjoyed the country´s playful,
worry-less, smiling, and positive Northerners. The
men played our games. The women talked about life.
The kids made us laugh.
Some of the characters we got to know included:
Ivo was a balding supermarket-stocker with skin
several shades lighter than really dark. He loved a
good meixe-meixe. He didn´t talk at first, but only
offered a bashful, head-nodding, eye-fluttering,
rectangular smile when we laughed with him. After
gaining confidence, he became known as the most
impatient meixe-meixer. When other players took long
turns, he pounded the deck and threw the top card at
them, indicating they should pass and let him go.
Leaving family on work, he would travel to various
cities of Amazonia for two months by boat.
Yezley, a small, shaggy-haired fifteen-year old,
talked from his throat and yelled, "Steve!" or
"Amanda!" whenever he saw us. An easily-agitated
dominoes player, he played with the big boys. Once, a
guy framed him for cheating by hiding a domino.
Yezley, angry at the accusal, pounded the table and
stomped off, screaming, before he learned the hoax and
laughed. Though poor and moving with his large family
to the unknown in search of prosperity, he´d learned
to politely refuse our offerings.
Ivagna just might´ve been the world´s cutest
girl. Eight years old, she had dark tan skin. Her
eyes were "preto como um bebe," her mother said.
(Black as a baby.) Her eyebrows were thick and
rainbow-shaped. Short, sun-greyed hair fell about her
head like octopus tentacles. She seemed to know
nothing but to smile, twinkling her dark eyes
constantly as if a star lay within them. Everthing
she looked at gave her another reason to make her
vampire-fanged smile bigger. Her round mouth leaned
forward, ajar, and it was weighed with such happiness
it could´ve anchored the boat. I couldn´t stop
looking at her. She hammock-swung with her siblings,
letting out a fountainous "huh-huh-huh-huh." The trip
was her first time leaving her country town of 136
people. She went to study with her father.
Samí spoke with us the most, using Engliguese.
He was moving to his father´s house to study as well.
We assured the eighteen-year old he´d have no problem
making new friends.
The rest of the boat´s great passengers also had
practically zero "maldade" (a word meaning "personal
badness). They rarely crossed our paths without a
kind word or smile. It was their life-loving
attitudes that really made the looong journey
At the trip´s end, we finally watched the Amazon
fade into the cosmo-black Rio Negro. Manaus was here.
Saying good-bye to the fellow transitters was tough.
After nine days on-board, we almost wanted to get back
Later. Modern Oddyseus.