فصل 07

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فصل 07

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متن انگلیسی فصل

CHAPTER SEVEN

Alligators and Indians

Nate spent the morning reading. Jevy joined him for coffee.

“So what do you think of the Pantanal?” he asked.

“It’s magnificent. Were you born here?”

“I took my first breath in the hospital in Corumba, but I was born on these rivers. This is my home.”

“You told me your father was a river pilot.”

“Yes. When I was a small boy, I began going with him. Early in the morning, when everybody was asleep, he would allow me to take the wheel. I knew all the main rivers by the time I was ten.”

“And he died on the river?”

“Not this, but the Taquiri to the east. Five years ago he was guiding a boat of Germans when a storm hit them. Only the deckhand lived.”

He was quiet for a moment, then he said, “A lot of people want to destroy the Pantanal. Big companies that own big farms. They are clearing large sections of land for their crops. The soil is not good, so the companies use chemicals to grow crops and the chemicals get into the water. They run into the rivers, the rivers eventually run into the Pantanal. Our fish swallow them and die.”

“Doesn’t the government help?”

Jevy gave a bitter laugh. “Have you heard of Hidrovia?”

“No.”

“It’s a big ditch. It will be cut through the Pantanal to link Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay. It is supposed to save South America. But it will drain the Pantanal. And our government supports it.”

Nate wanted to say something deep and serious about taking care of the environment. Then he remembered that his countrymen had destroyed large areas of the United States in the name of “progress.”

“It’s still beautiful,” Nate said.

“It is. Sometimes I think it’s too big for them to destroy. There is a small trading post a few hours away. We should be there before dark. Fernando is the owner, and he hears everything on the river. Maybe he will know something about the missionaries.”

Jevy emptied his coffee cup and stretched his arms. “Sometimes he has beer for sale. I think we should not buy any.” He walked away.

“Fine with me,” thought Nate. A cold brown bottle of beer. Excellent beer. He began to sweat, though the sun was hidden and there was a cool wind. He buried himself in the hammock and prayed for sleep, a deep sleep that would take him past their stop and into the night.

He was wide awake when the boat stopped. There were voices, then a gentle bump as they docked at the trading post.

Nate swore he would remain on the boat. He would stay on the deck. The coldest beer in the world couldn’t pull him away.

There was no such thing as a short visit in Brazil, but finally Jevy bought thirty gallons of fuel and started the engine.

“Fernando says there is a woman missionary. She works with the Indians.” Jevy handed him a bottle of cold water. They were moving again.

“Where?”

“He’s not sure. The Indians don’t move on the river, so he doesn’t know much about them.”

“How far is the nearest settlement?”

“We should be close by morning. But we can’t take this boat. We must use the little one.”

When the Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral first stepped on Brazilian soil in 1500, the country had five million Indians. After five centuries of European “civilization,” only 270,000 survived. It was a sick and violent history. If the Indians tried to live with the Europeans, they caught strange diseases and died. If they fought the Europeans, they were killed by weapons more deadly than poison arrows.

They were the slaves of ranchers and rubber farmers. Men with guns drove them from their homes. Priests murdered them, and armies hunted them.

Now the government was also the enemy. In 1967, the agency in charge of Indian affairs used chemical weapons to kill Indians. They gave the Indians clothing that was infected with diseases. Using airplanes and helicopters, they bombed Indian villages and land with poison gas.

In the 1990s, the government wanted to open up the region to the north of the Pantanal, but the Indians were still in the way. The abuse of Indians was growing as ranchers pushed deep into the Amazon, with the support of the government.

Nate read this sad history for four hours, then went to drink coffee with Jevy.

“Do you have any Indian blood?” he asked.

Jevy smiled. “All of us have Indian blood. Why do you ask?”

“I’ve been reading the history of the Indians in Brazil. It’s pretty tragic.”

“It is. Do you think the Indians have been treated badly here?”

“Of course they have.”

“What about in your country?”

“Not much better, I’m afraid,” Nate said. It wasn’t a matter he wanted to discuss.

It was still dark when the engine stopped and Nate woke up. Welly was loading the small boat. Three large gas tanks were arranged neatly in the center of the boat.

“These should give us fifteen hours,” Jevy explained.

“How far away is the settlement?” Nate asked.

“I’m not sure.”

Jevy packed a small tent, two blankets, two mosquito nets, some food, and bottled water. The last item he packed was a large knife.

“This is for the alligators,” he said, laughing. Nate tried to ignore it.

Nate took the copy of the will, folded it, and placed it in an envelope. He wrapped the envelope in a piece of cloth, taped it to his T-shirt, and covered it with a sweater.

They waved goodbye to Welly. Mist settled just above the water, and it was cool. Since leaving Corumba, Nate had observed the river from the safety of the top deck; now he was almost sitting in it.

They entered the mouth of the tributary that would take them to the Indians. The water there was much calmer. On Jevy’s river map, the tributary was called the Cabixa. It curled like string out of Brazil and into Bolivia, and apparently went nowhere.

Jevy slowed the boat as they approached the first fork. A river of the same size branched to the left. Which route would keep them on the Cabixa? But all the rivers led back to the Paraguay. If they took a wrong turn, the currents would eventually lead them back to Welly.

An hour later, they approached a little hut with a red roof. There were no signs of humans or animals.

“In the flood season, many people in the Pantanal move to higher ground. They load up their cows and kids and leave for three months,” Jevy said.

“What about the Indians?” Nate asked.

“They move around too.”

“Wonderful. We don’t know where they are, and they like to move around.”

Jevy laughed and said, “We’ll find them.”

Nate had completely forgotten about being eaten when they went around a bend and came close to a group of alligators sleeping in shallow water. The boat frightened and upset them. Tails moved and water splashed, but the reptiles didn’t attack.

Two hours later, they entered a large lake with more than a dozen little rivers twisting into it. Jevy didn’t know which one was the Cabixa. They saw a man fishing at the side of the lake.

When they were a few meters away, Jevy began talking to him. Finally, he said goodbye and they paddled away.

“His mother was Indian,” Jevy said. “There’s a settlement a few hours from here.”

“A few hours?”

“Three maybe.”

Nate moved lower in the boat and found a spot on the bottom between the box of food and the fuel tanks. The boat slowed. Engine trouble wasn’t something he’d worried about. Suddenly Nate was really scared.

Then they were off again, the motor roaring as if nothing had happened. It became a routine; every twenty minutes, just as Nate was falling asleep, the steady beat of the motor would stop. Jevy played with the engine, then things would be fine for another twenty minutes.

The first sign of the settlement came seven hours after they left the Santa Loura. Nate saw a thin line of blue smoke rising above the trees, near the foot of a hill. Jevy was certain they were in Bolivia. The ground was higher and they were close to the mountains.

They came to a gap in the trees and saw two canoes. Jevy guided the boat to the bank. Nate quickly jumped out, anxious to stretch his legs and feel the earth.

“Stay close,” Jevy warned. Nate looked at him. Their eyes met, and Jevy nodded toward the trees.

An Indian was watching them. A male, brown-skinned, barechested, with a grass skirt hanging from his waist, no visible weapon. He had long, black hair and red stripes on his forehead. He was very frightening.

“Is he friendly?” Nate asked without taking his eyes off the man.

“I think so.”

“Does he speak Portuguese?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you go find out?”

“Relax.”

Jevy stepped from the boat. “He looks like he wants to eat you,” he whispered. Nate wasn’t amused.

Jevy spoke to the Indian, but it was obvious he didn’t speak Portuguese. He looked young, probably not twenty.

There was a movement behind the Indian. Three of his tribesmen appeared. They weren’t friendly folk; there were no smiles or hellos.

A young female suddenly appeared from the trees and stood next to the first Indian. She too was brown and bare-chested. Nate tried not to stare. She seemed to understand Jevy.

Speaking slowly, Jevy asked to see their chief. She translated his words to the men, who talked among themselves.

“Some want to eat us now,” Jevy said to Nate under his breath. “Some want to wait until tomorrow.”

“Very funny.”

When the men finished talking, they reported to the woman. She told Jevy that they must wait by the river. Jevy asked if a woman missionary lived with them.

“You must wait,” she said.

The Indians disappeared into the wood.

“What do you think?” Nate asked when they were gone.

“They catch diseases from outsiders,” Jevy explained. “That’s why they’re careful.”

They returned to the boat. Jevy cleaned the engine. Nate looked at the papers under his sweater. They were still dry.

“Those papers are for the woman?” Jevy asked.

“Yes.”

“Why? What has happened to her?”

“Her father died a few weeks ago. He left her a lot of money.”

“How much?”

“Several billion. He was very wealthy.”

“Did he have other children?”

“Six, I think.”

“Did he give them several billion?”

“No. He gave them very little.”

“Did she love her father?”

“I doubt it. She was illegitimate. It looks as if she tried to get away from him, and from everything else. Don’t you think?” Nate waved his arm at the Pantanal.

“Why did he leave a fortune to a child who didn’t love him?”

“Maybe he was crazy. He jumped out of a window.”

This was more than Jevy could understand. He looked at the river, deep in thought.

The Indians were Guato, who preferred no contact with outsiders. They grew their food in small patches, fished the rivers, and hunted with bows and arrows.

After an hour, Jevy smelled smoke. He climbed a tree near the boat, and Nate joined him.

They could see the tops of three huts. Was he so close to Rachel Lane? Was she there now, listening to her people and deciding what to do? Would she send an Indian to bring them, or would she simply walk through the wood and say hello?

“What do you think they’re doing?” he asked.

“Talking. Just talking.”

“Well, we need to leave soon. We left the boat eight and a half hours ago. I’d like to see Welly before dark.”

“No problem. We’ll go back with the current. And I know the way. It will be much faster.”

Back on the ground, Nate had settled into the boat to sleep when Jevy saw the Indians. They slowly approached the river behind their chief. He carried a long stick. It didn’t appear sharp or dangerous.

The chief directed his comments at Jevy. “Why are you here?” he asked in Portuguese. His face wasn’t friendly but he wasn’t aggressive.

“We are looking for an American missionary, a woman,” Jevy explained. “We’ve come from Corumba. This man is an American. He needs to find the woman.”

“Why does he need to find the woman? Is she in danger?”

It was the first hint that the Indians might know of Rachel Lane.

“No.”

“She is not here.”

“Have you ever seen a woman missionary around here?” Jevy asked.

At first there was no response, then a slight nod. The man pointed, somewhere off to the north and west.

“She’s with another tribe?” Jevy asked. “Guato?”

“Ipicas,” the man said.

“How far away?”

“A day.”

Jevy opened two maps and spread them on the ground. The Indians were very curious. The chief told Jevy that they hadn’t come in on the Cabixa. They’d taken a wrong turn onto the River Guato. Jevy whispered the news to Nate. Nate was worried; he was trusting Jevy with his life.

The Indians talked among themselves. They couldn’t agree on a route to get to the Ipicas. Finally, they turned again to Jevy.

“There is a settlement of Ipicas at the edge of the mountains,” Jevy translated.

“How do we get there?” Nate asked.

“I think we go back to the Santa Loura, and go north half a day on the Paraguay. Then we use the little boat again to get to the settlement.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” Nate asked, standing and smiling at the Indians.

Jevy said thank you to their hosts. The Indians offered food, which Jevy declined. He explained that they were in a great hurry because they wanted to return to the big river before dark.

It was almost 4 P.M. With luck, they could reach the Cabixa before dark. Welly would be waiting with beans and rice. As Nate did these quick calculations, he felt the first raindrops.

The motor shut down completely after fifty minutes. The current kept them moving, but they went very slowly.

Jevy tried to fix the engine. He pulled the starter rope, as Nate said a prayer. On the fourth pull, the engine started, though not as smoothly as before.

“We’ll have to go slower,” Jevy said.

“Fine. As long as we know where we are.”

“No problem.”

The storm crept over the mountains of Bolivia, then roared into the Pantanal. Nate was sitting low in the boat, watching the river to the east, when he felt the wind. The rain suddenly fell harder. He slowly turned and looked behind him. The sky was dark gray, almost black.

Nate felt completely helpless. There was nowhere to hide. There was nothing except water around them, water in all directions. A strong wind swept in behind them, driving the boat forward as the rain hit their backs. Nate wanted to curl up and hide.

They came to a fork in the river, then to a meeting of rivers. They could hardly see through the rain. Nate was certain they were lost. Jevy quickly turned the boat around. Now they raced into the storm, and it was a frightening sight. The sky was black. The current was stirring up the river.

Just before dark, Jevy chose another small river, one of several. Then lightning came and for a while they could almost see where they were going. The rain wasn’t so heavy. The storm was slowly leaving them, “We should make camp,” Jevy said. “We might get lost if we keep going in the dark.”

“We’ve been lost for three hours,” Nate wanted to say.

Jevy guided the boat to a bank and tied a guide rope to a tree. When the wind stopped, the mosquitoes arrived. Nate rubbed repellent on his neck and face, even his eyelids and hair. The mosquitoes were quick and vicious and moved in small black clouds.

Around 11 P.M. the sky cleared, but there was no moon. Nate tried his best to get comfortable. As he stretched his legs, his T-shirt rose slightly and a dozen mosquitoes attacked his waist.

Sleep was impossible.

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