"Brazil 2001" story # 17

Santarem, Para           June 3, 2001

"Wouldn´t that be ironic if we actually were on this boat for seventeen days?" I said to Barry on the sixth day.
     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 translate:
     "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 out."
     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!" we said.
     Amanda proceeded to make a third nothing with two lines.
     "You´ve managed to make a chop-stick nothing," said Barry.
     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 "thick."
     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 unforgettable.
     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 on ship.

Later. Modern Oddyseus.

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