ROUGH AMAZON RIDERS
It was early in the morning and Scott was already sweat soaked. He felt as if he were inside a greenhouse. The air that came into his nostrils felt so hot and damp, he thought that the greenhouse effect had finally become real. The rainforest hadn't been wiped out, however; it was here where he and his wife were, in the Amazon. This native greenhouse effect, he figured, must be as natural as the starving mosquitoes.
"How far is it?" he said, trying to walk as fast as Amy did. She was always two steps ahead of him.
"We're almost there." She pointed at the end of the crowded street. There was much more people than cars in this street near the harbor. Manaus was a crowded city.
"I'm talking about this weirdoes' community," he gasped.
"Here." She stopped in front of a kiosk. Then she turned to him. "Mario is not a weirdo."
"Of course not," he chuckled. "I am."
She smiled. "You married me..."
It was turning out to be a quite unusual honeymoon trip, the way his wife wanted. Hoping that this was not going to be a routine, Scott had agreed with Amy's plan. The idea was to get married again in a hippie-like community owned by this Brazilian college friend of hers, Mario. Scott knew nothing about Mario's rainforest cult, except that they did not sacrifice animals in it. Nor ate them, for that matter.
Scott stood watching the kiosk. A couple of Indian-faced Amazonians was cooking some kind of soup and selling it in small bowls. It must be a popular breakfast, for many people were buying it in this morning.
Amy ordered two bowls. She knew Spanish, so she could grasp Portuguese.
Scott stared at the soup. There was shrimp in it. And also some leaves with a sticky stuff. He turned to Amy. "Ask them what this is."
" Tacacá ," the Indian cook answered.
"This gum is manioc," she translated, "and these jambú leaves will dope your tongue."
Scott grinned at the Indian and put the leaves aside. They resumed the walk toward the harbor with the tacacá bowls in their hands.
The riverboat they were about to board seemed battered. Too battered, maybe. This boat hadn't been painted, Scott thought, since the eighties. It was typical Amazonian shuttle; the three-story wooden boat the caboclos used as their means of transportation.
He and Amy had already bought their tickets and were about to step into the boat when a man stopped them asking, " Cadê as redes ?"
Scott frowned and turned to Amy. "What did he say?"
The man made a gesture. She nodded. "Oh, he's asking about our hammocks."
"It seems we've got to bring our own."
Scott glanced around and noticed that the other passengers were really bringing their own hammocks.
The man pointed at a woman selling hammocks in the harbor. Scott smirked. Quite convenient , he thought. They bought a couple of them and finally stepped into the wooden Amazonian shuttle.
The inside of the boat was packed with passengers fighting for a place to hang their hammocks. Scott and Amy had to hurry, too, in order to hang theirs on a couple of steel pipes that crossed the ceiling of the second floor.
Scott hung them and lay down. Lying beside him, Amy gestured toward a caboclo woman. Like most passengers, she had brought their belongings together with the whole family, as if they were moving. Although she looked worn-out, Scott figured that she must be in their early twenties or late teens. She had four kids: the big, the little, the baby in her arms, and the next one in her womb. Her man, meanwhile, carried nothing but personal belongings: two bottles and a knife.
He turned to Amy with a derisive grin in his face. "How many children you said you want?"
She grinned back. "Not as many as your boss."
He pushed her hammock. "He's a very old-fashioned man."
She held on to his hammock to stop hers. "I pity his wife."
"She is like him," he replied. "Have I told you that he laughed at me when he learned that our honeymoon would be in here?"
"Sandrich is a cynical bastard." She shrugged. "If he really worships Teddy Roosevelt as he keeps saying, he should love wild places as much as T.R. did."
Amy was right. Scott's boss, Representative Sandrich, worshipped T.R. for political purposes only; he never cherished T.R.'s lifestyle. Scott was his aide; he knew that better than anyone else.
"He has been in the Amazon," he said.
"Sandrich? I though he'd never crossed the Rio Grande."
"Not Sandrich. Another Republican, T.R."
She nodded. "He wrote a book about it."
"Yes. His book describes the many species of animals he found in the rainforest," she said. Then she smiled. "When he was not slaughtering them, he described them."
As the boat engine was started, it became impossible to hear anything unless they screamed in each other's ear. Scott looked for his walkman in the bag.
* * *
It took more than two days to reach the village of Manicoré in the Madeira River, a tributary of the Amazonas. But even with a faster boat they wouldn't get here much sooner. Amazonia was so big that Alaska seemed a frozen dwarf in comparison.
As they stepped into the village's docking place, Scott saw an olive-skinned, brunette guy waving at Amy. It must be Mario.
She handed her bag to Scott and hugged the host. Scott glared at them.
Turning back to him, she said, "We attended some classes together in college. I told you."
Scott raised the palms of his hands. "I didn't say anything."
Mario shook his hand. "Nice to meet you."
Scott gave a mocking smile. "It's a long way from a Florida college to this spot in the jungle..."
"Self-revelation always leads us through a hard, long way," Mario said, gesturing at the neighboring jungle. "I used to be like you, Scott. I used to bleed for money and power." He sighed and shook his head. "Not anymore. Living here, my only ambition is to be in harmony with the environment."
"Good for you," Scott shrugged.
As they walked toward a neighborhood of colorful huts built on stilts, Mario asked Amy, "So, are you ready to marry over?"
She smiled and looked at Scott. Scott said, "Well, that depends."
Mario frowned. "On what?"
"On how weird your ceremony is."
"It couldn't be less weird. Through self-revelation you'll be able to encounter the real Amy--and Amy will be able to encounter the real Scott. You'll get The Identity; you'll live in harmony with Amy."
Thank God the boss was on the other half of the planet, thought Scott. If he knew that one of his aides was going to marry over in a hippielike ceremony...
* * *
In the next morning, the ceremony took place inside a wooden hut painted in bright yellow. It was some sort of church. Scott could see, right in front of him, an altar of wood. Above it was a trinity-shaped star within a Star of David--the Trinity of Nature, he'd been told, as the sun, the moon, and the stars were called. The final touch in this mass of religious and mystic symbols was the root of a local plant.
"This is the root of daime ," said Mario, pointing at it.
Mario was dressed in white-- everybody was dressed in white, including the bridal pair and thirty members of Mario's community. Half of these guests was native, or half-Indian caboclos ; the other half was Mediterranean like Mario.
The ceremony began with men and women dancing around the altar and singing rhythmic songs, while the bridal pair remained sitting before the altar. Then Scott saw Mario bringing two urns and placing them before he and Amy.
Mario looked into their eyes. "Are you ready?"
Scott frowned. "What is this?"
"The Daime ."
Amy and Scott looked at each other.
Mario said, "Drink all of it and you'll reach the place where you can get The Identity."
"Where is this?" Scott asked.
"You will go somewhere else," Mario answered with a soft voice.
Scott raised the urn and smelled it. "What kind of drug is this?"
"Daime is not a drug. God created it for our soul because He wants us to get The Identity."
That is, daime is a drug , Scott thought. He knew he would regret it. But then, as he'd been wearing diapers in the Sixties, this could be a good opportunity to know something about this moral slump that kept obsessing the boss.
Mario went on. "Okay. Now, hug each other with one arm and reach for the daime with the other. Drink it all."
Scott looked into Amy's eyes. The drink was bitter. They downed it quickly.
"Breathe in and stay with the vibration of the music," Mario said.
They kept hugging each other and listening to the music. Then Amy muttered, "I can't feel my legs..."
"Me too," Scott replied. All of a sudden, he could see the forest everywhere around him. He closed his eyes. He felt that he was drifting away...
* * *
Scott opened his eyes. The rainforest. The Brazilian rainforest. I am in the Brazilian rainforest . His right arm was holding the waist of a pretty girl. He knew her name, Amy. She was marrying him. He couldn't remember why he was here, though.
"What are we doing in here, Amy?"
"We're here to marry."
"Aren't we, already?"
"I'm not sure."
He pointed at the trees in front of them. He heard shrieks coming from these trees. "What are these fucking noises?"
"Birds, monkeys...and your boss."
He laughed. "That's not possible; the boss is--"
Just then, Scott heard a gunshot. Then another one. When he turned around, he saw a plumpish man coming from behind the trees. He was wearing old-fashioned safari clothes and an antique pair of wire-rimmed glasses. And he carried the smoking rifle, too.
The man stepped closer to them in a quite noisy way. "Bully!" he yelled. "Delighted you're here!"
" Me ?" yelled Scott. "You know me ?"
The man nodded. "Indeed. Indeed."
"And who are you, may I ask?"
"You know who I am," the man chortled. "You stare at my picture everyday in Sandrich's office."
Scott chuckled. "Teddy Roosevelt died eighty years ago."
"Indeed. Indeed. And since then I have, say, existed in the Amazon," the man said. Then he shrugged, "I can't complain."
Amy stepped toward the man. "I've read your book about your Amazonian expedition--I mean, if you are who you say you are--"
"I am ," he yelled. Then he lowered his voice. "I used to be, in any case. But I did not say the whole truth in this writing," he sighed. "That's why I had to come back here."
The man went on. "Did you read about the then-unknown river we explored?"
"The 'River of Doubt'?"
"The Brazilians call it Roosevelt River now."
Scott turned to Amy. "Where is it?"
She shrugged. "I don't know."
The man gestured at their side and said, "Right behind you."
As they turned around, Scott suddenly realized they were on a riverbank facing a waterfall. They turned again. T.R. was gone.
"Where are we?" Scott asked.
Amy shrugged. "In a river fall?"
He pointed up the river. "Hey, there's something up there!"
There was a canoe with a pilot striving to escape from the fall. His only passenger looked frightened.
"Who are they?" he asked.
"I think that..." She stared at the canoe. "Hey, that scared guy is T.R.'s son, Kermit!"
The canoe plunged into the fall. A minute later, Scott saw the pilot swimming toward the riverbank, toward he and Amy. The passenger didn't show up.
"Jesus! Let's do something!" said Scott.
"Wait." She gestured at a group of men that came walking along the riverbank. The group stopped near them, behaving as if they were invisible. T.R. was with them. He was calling out, "Kermit!"
From behind them, T.R.'s voice said, "Turn to me."
They turned. Scott noticed that they had somehow returned to the same place. The river had disappeared.
"That's how my son died," the man said.
Amy frowned. "But I learned that--"
"That the pilot died while my son survived, I know," he sighed. "Yet it was the opposite."
"How come?" asked Scott.
" How come ? I had to make a deal, my boy!" the man yelled, making frantic gestures. "'No free lunch,' as you say. When Kermit died in that river fall, I was shattered. Kermit was only beginning his life--and I had promised his mother and his bride that nothing would happen to him. It was my responsibility. But then, there was a Pareci Indian medicine man accompanying us. He made an offer to me: the life of Kermit for the life of the boatman, Simplício, plus a century in the Pareci limbo. I know I did a terrible thing to Simplício, but...well, I accepted the Indian's offer without thinking twice."
Scott stood staring at the man's chubby face. He was trying not to laugh at him when he suddenly remembered that he'd been taking some sort of drug in some weird ceremony. He closed his eyes and rubbed his hand on them. As he opened them, T.R. still was standing in front of him.
He turned to Amy. She was looking at the man and chuckling. "So, you're doing time in the jungle," she said.
"Twenty more years in this Indian limbo and that's it. But I cannot say I don't like it. It's a good place for a Rough Rider," the man said with a grin on his face. Then he took a small sheet of paper from the pocket and handed it to Scott. "I can see that your time in this Indian limbo is running out, so I must give you this before you go."
Scott took the paper and frowned. "What's this?"
"Hand it to Sandrich, please. Better still, hang it on the wall before his desk."
Scott glanced at the piece of paper. Looking ahead, he saw T.R. fading out while yelling, "Bully!"
* * *
Scott had recognized the noise: it was the Amazonian shuttle in the Madeira River, arriving at Manicoré. He placed the bags on the wooden quay and turned to the host, stretching out his hand.
Mario pulled and hugged him. "I hope you enjoyed the ceremony, Scott."
"It was an enlightening experience. It sure was."
"I'm glad to hear this. Come back anytime. Bring your friends."
Mario then turned to Amy and hugged her. She said, "Thanks for everything, Mario. It was a great."
As they stepped toward the boat, Mario yelled at them, "I hope you preserve this communion with the environment throughout your life."
Scott grinned and tapped his pockets. Then he froze. Where had he put it?
Amy frowned and turned to him. "What happened?"
"The note . Where is it?"
"You've put it in my purse, remember?"
"Let me see it."
It still was hard for him to believe that the note did exist. She handed it to him. He unfolded the sheet of paper. There was a handwritten phrase on it. It read,
Leave my big stick alone, yellow.
And it was signed, "T.R."