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There was no one waiting for me that day. The day I quit the jungle for good. The day I went back to civ-i-li-za-tion. Nope. Santarem was my new dead-end and it felt even more stupid for being a surprise.
“You look like a bum!” was the greeting I got the last time. Of course, the telephone from the outpost on Bom Destino didn’t help. The disappointing results of Lucia’s inquiry on how much gold I was bringing in paved the way.
Lucia had always expected me to cover her in gold. And I mean literally. Serra Pelada, La Pampa, Kaiapos, you name it. Wherever the word “Ouro” was shouted or whispered I was there. Every despicable hole in the universe, it seemed. Digging and biting and scratching and cheating to find the richness that would make her mine forever, you know. Like a for real “Til death due us part.”
My other life had started with Pedro, a childhood buddy whose father, a mining engineer, had been murdered in Carajas. Pedro evoked our long friendship and so I put my physics Ph.D. at hold and at risk, ignoring my own father’s repeated warnings, and we went.
We flew and rode and walked and trudged. On small planes, buses, cars, mules, Scania freighters, Ema birds. And before we knew it, we were in a parallel universe. The Amazon Universe.
Fruits, beasts, trees, names, scents, everything was different. And women. Oh, yeah.
Lucia was one hell of a brunet, Indian-descended like most up there, with the fire and the hips to bare you an entire week without faltering.
We never found out what happened to Mr. Carlos and we never took south again.
And the gold? Well, that’s kind of funny. Of all the much-advertised oddities and commodities of the jungle, the one you see the less is gold. And for every ounce you get, there’s a free coupon of Armadeiras, Surucucus, Malaria, Leishmaniasis, hunger and despair. I’ve spent three months without seeing a hint of yellow, but not a week without a damn spider or snake or jaguar. Or a guy walking around with no nose. Up here noses are easier to lose then the gold fever, my friend.
It’s another infection.
So, yeah, I looked like a bum!
Lucia’s scorn had been plain in every gesture, in every glance. In the excuses for not going to bed. All I got from her now is the dreams and the memories to jerk off for. It still burns me like a fever.
“Cachaca, amigo!” (Booze, friend!)
I wanted to get brainwashed. Ethically lobotomized. I cussed and muttered and roared like a lunatic in every Santarem joint I could get my bum-self in for the good part of a whole week, sleeping on the river-washed marbles of the port. And I took special pride, though little, in spending all the gold powder on booze and Cubans.
For days my mind drifted in the haze of ethylic clouds and they were pink and orange and sometimes Indian-descended and the conversations floated around me like a convention of aliens races mingled with the maddening chant of tanned mermaids.
Then one night I saw her. Under the vaporous clouds of pirarucu barbecue and the lurid glare of the dim lamps.
It was her! Lucia! She had forgiven me!
She called me and teased me and I followed her out of the joint and into the streets and chased her like a hungry jaguar through the gloomy streets of Santarem. She kept looking back and laughing and smiling and I was going mad with lust. She looked so young!
At the docks, she finally stopped and I grabbed her and kissed her wildly. Her body was so firm. Her mouth was sweeter than the Jaca fruit and I was in heaven. And even the dreadful sting of the punhal knife that was suddenly plunged deep into my back couldn’t take that fever away from me.
Father would be proud. I had the taste of her lips in my mouth.
Lucia was mine.