Without a Net
“Another cachaca, please,” I requested in my student accented Portuguese. The crushed ice/lime/sugar drink invigorated my taste buds. I paid with a few reals then raised the cold glass to my feverish forehead.
My botany work in the Amazon took longer than expected. Thus, I returned to Rio de Janeiro a week after Carnival. The hangover from their two-day party left the Brazilians cranky. Like a deflated balloon, the city went limp. Weary of tourists, shopkeepers opened stores after noon, closed early, and restaurant hours were haphazard. I desired a plate of black beans, rice, and pork, but my favorite haunt proved deserted. No sign on the door. No aroma of meats stewing. I shivered despite the humidity. Nausea erased hunger pangs. Dengue fever.
Did I have enough data for my dissertation? “You fool,” I shouted. People on the street gave me a wide berth and I staggered a bit. Not unusual during Carnival, but my appearance this week alarmed the mothers herding children home from school. I sought to reassure them. “Not drunk. I have the dengue. I must lie down.” They clucked their tongues to speed up their broods.
Why did I slog through that last remote area? I gathered fine specimens of plant life three weeks ago, but I shouldn’t have napped under that tree without unpacking my netting. I now paid the consequences of stupidity and laziness. Elements of the blood of an infected mosquito entered my body as I slept that afternoon. They seeped into my soul, sapped my strength, and engaged my body in battle.
I wandered into a church and splashed water from the holy font on my face then sank to the marble floor. Cool tile on my cheek. I opened my backpack but forgot what I was looking for. Leg cramps overtook me and I crawled to a corner to curl up. I swooned, gave over to the sweeping pain. Jostled awake, I screamed at the sight of a skeleton.
“Am I dead? No?” I realized my fever had subsided. I shifted on a cot and gratefully accepted a sip of soup from a woman. A young child, wearing a costume mask stood at the foot of the bed.
“Senor, I clean for the church in exchange for this room. Father Guillaume asked me to help you. Your cries unnerved the believers at evening mass.”
‘Blue bag…where’s my bag?” I panicked.
“Senor, here it is.” The child lugged it closer.
“You had the correct plants for the soup to soothe your fever. Soon you’ll recover,” the woman explained.
I howled at the saints who saved me, but cursed their cure and my sloth.
First published: November, 2008
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