It was raining outside, a rain that looked to be an endless characteristic of this green jungle world, and he was sitting atop a crooked stool in an open-air bar with no name and little roof above. The warm beer was a national make, Black Snake.
The so-called street outside was mud, holes, trash, chickens and pigs.
He had just stepped off the rickety bus, a brutal 19-hour ride from the airstrip at Riesgo Grande. His canvas bag sat at his feet, and he smelled of onions and mangoes.
He wasn’t there on vacation. There was a job, to drive a small case of nitroglycerin three days through the mountains. There were two possible outcomes: Dying poor or living rich. The latter was the least likely of the two, by a long jungle mile of leeches.
She dashed in wet from outside, a tall, dark girl in a blue dress, and he squeezed the Black Snake. He was in love again, just the second time in his 48 years.
* * * *
Outside, moonlight swooped through limbs of towering kapok trees, and silhouettes of bug-hungry bats sailed silently this way and that.
A fine mist was all that remained of the earlier rainfall. They lay on the hard-packed floor atop a wide pad of reed fibers covered with purple cloth.
She spoke little of his language, but he had come to understand she was tied to the Matipu people and her name was Pira-Tapuya. Her eyes were strangely green.
Light came only from a kerosene lamp near the door. It was nearly dawn, and his mind shifted a second to nitroglycerin and then to her caged scarlet parrot.
And to Pira-Tapuya’s bare, sweaty backside and the sweet, juicy guarana. Suddenly, she stood and walked to a small, low table on which sat a sliced, dry gourd.
She lit a match to dry leaves within that gourd, and smoke rose that smelled faintly of cinnamon, or was it something far different?
He inhaled, and Pira-Tapuya, her back toward him, stood still a moment. Then she turned and smiled, and her eyes were now as indigo as a blue-winged pitta.
What is happening? he asked of no one.
And no one answered.
* * * *
Pira-Tapuya became feathers of blue and green and scarlet. Her raised arms became wings, her beautiful body a small touch of her former dimensions.
It happened in an instant. Before flying through the open window, she made an uncaged jungle sound and then was gone.
He remained motionless, eyes wide, and naked on the floor, atop the pad of reed fibers covered with purple cloth.
The kerosene lamp still burned, but dawn was creeping through the door frame and the window through which she had flown.
The smoke that smelled faintly of cinnamon kept its hands on his mind, and he smiled. A warm, soft rain started anew, and he wondered on what branch she would sit it out.
Birds are most active at dawn and dusk. He would wait till dusk.
The blue dress still lay on the floor. She would return.
* * * *
He opened his eyes, and it was dark. The damp skin of her naked, sleeping body was next to him.
It was night again, and the rain had ceased. Moonlight entered the window and the open door. The kerosene lamp was unlit.
He heard monkeys.
The cinnamon smoke was gone, and his head was nearly clear. He wondered if mañana was the day he had to drive nitroglycerine through the mountains.
He looked at her again, the dark skin that mingled with shadows. The blue dress still lay upon the floor where she had dropped it, precisely when he could not pinpoint.
That’s when he felt it, and he reached up and pulled a small green feather from his forehead. It was a remnant from another world.
* * * *
Nitro, he thought, or was it dynamite or perhaps — and a strange word came to him — stielhandgranates?
He lay face up on the pad of reed fibers wrapped in purple cloth, and Pira-Tapuya was beside him brown and naked, her eyes open and smiling. The jungle was still. The kerosene lamp unlit.
The scarlet parrot was motionless in its cage and quiet. But there was moonlight through the open window.
All was utterly silent.
Pira-Tapuya said nothing as her hand came to his uncovered chest. She pushed, he gasped, and her hand slipped through his skin and ribs. She stroked his bloody heart within, which was wonderful.
Tears of joy and relief ran down both sides of his face, and he knew he would stay in this sweet green jungle forever.
And he would never be alone again.
The doctor sighed, not for the first time that long and difficult night, and pulled the blood-stained sheet over the young man’s face.
From the foot of the cot, he took the clipboard and read the slip of paper. John Phillip Hudson, corporal, age 24.
Pulling a pen from his breast pocket, the doctor scribbled:
Time of death 11:24 p.m.
2 November 1917.
Cannon thundered in the distance.
* * * THE END * * *