4. Part 6 Seven-days-of-coincidences-and-the-incidental-guide-dog-sete-dias-de-coincidencias-e-o-cao−guia-incidental

Day 6. Money from heaven – Dinheiro do céu

Kris was awake when Tanja awoke the next morning and his face told the whole story. He was still pissed at her from the night before and his mood seemed ugly as sin. He acknowledged her with his squinted eyes but nothing more.

“So, are we still going to Dois Rios today,” she asked trying to break the heavy and pregnant air.

“Sure,” he replied curtly with no hint of humour in his voice. “Why not?”

“I just wanted to check because I can see you are still pissed from last night,” she told him frankly.

“Don’t worry about it,” he responded icily. “Shit happens, or as they would say in Brazil if they used the same expression, merda acontece.”

Although his words sounded warmly humorous on the surface, his voice was icily cold.

“I told you I’m sorry about last night,” she told him, trying to cut the heavy air between them. “It really was out of my hands and I’m sorry I had the keys with me and you couldn’t get back in the room.

“Forget it,” he said frostily. “As I said, shit happens.”

She decided to drop it. What else could she do? And she really was upset about the situation she had put him in.

Breakfast was a similar affair to the previous two mornings only this time Kris didn’t sit with Tania, instead taking his black coffee outside with him to go with his cigarette. Tanja tried her hardest to reconcile things with Kris, but he was being obstinate and stubborn, so she broke her fast alone until Isabella came in the room and joined her with a plate full of bread, cheese and fruit.

“I don’t blame Kris for being pissed with you,” Isabella exclaimed after Tanja had told her the tale. “I’m sure if I had a boyfriend and the same thing happened, he’d be pissed too.”

“But he’s not my boyfriend!” Tanja exclaimed exasperatedly.

“If you say so,” Isabella responded sarcastically. It was obvious to her that they were a couple.

Tanja told her how she had met Kris and described their platonic relationship. Isabella eyed her somewhat suspiciously, but decided she had to be telling the truth. There would be no reason for her to lie to her that she could think of, but you never know.

“Even still, I don’t blame Kris for being pissed at you. Leaving him waiting on the beach was bad enough, but keeping the key with you as well …”

“I know, I know; I feel rotten enough as it is, you don’t need to rub it in,” Tanja bemoaned. “As I said, I didn’t do it on purpose.”

At that moment, Kris walked into the dining room in search of another cup of coffee and noticed Isabella sitting with Tanja.

“Morning,” he called out to her, seeming more cheerful than he had been earlier.

“Morning,” she replied waving at him.

Once he had poured himself a cup of coffee, Kris wandered over towards them.

“She’s right you know,” he said by way of an opener. “We’re not a couple. We only met a few days ago.”

With that, he turned and made his way out of the door, coffee in hand.

Isabella looked at Tanja with a baffled expression on her face.

“Was he listening to us talking?”

“I really don’t think so,” Tanja said shaking her head doubtfully. “We’d finished talking by the time he came in and I really don’t think he would have been able to hear us.”

That guy is spooky,” Isabella said shaking her head, but she didn’t mean it in a negative way. “How do you think he does it?”

“I have no idea and neither does he, but I want to know,” she said. “He said he’s been looking for an explanation his entire life and still has no clue, so what chance have I got?” she asked rhetorically.

Kris came back in the dining room a few minutes later, empty coffee cup in hand, and his entire bearing was completely altered; he was obviously not the same person who had crawled out of bed that morning  all surly and churlish. His entire mien now radiated peace like the pale morning sun radiated its gentle glow. It was as if he had resolved some internal issue that had been bothering him.

“Hi,”  he said to the girls, with the familiar grin that Tanja had grown accustomed to in the short time she had known him.

“Hi,”  she responded with equal warmth, glad that the dis-ease that had blighted their night and early morning now appeared to be behind them.

“So, what time are we hitting the trail?” he asked with a gleam in his eyes.

“Steady on cowboy,” Tanja responded playfully, smiling cheerfully at him. “Can I just finish my breakfast first?” she asked rhetorically, although her plate was already empty and her coffee cup drained.

“Take your time; I’m only doing nothing,” he responded cheekily, his lantern jaw stretching into a mischievous grin.

Isabella smiled at the easy rapport between the two and again wondered if they were being honest with her; they seemed like the perfect couple. It was almost inconceivable that they had only known each other less than a week. It was if they had known each other for years and years. As she pondered this thought, her mind wandered to the possibility of past lives. She could offer no other explanation for the easy and effortless grace between the two. Her belief in reincarnation was not a subject she had shared with anyone else before, secretly harbouring it until a soul mate sailed into her life; it simply wasn’t a subject you could publicly talk about without the glazed look of ridicule in people’s eyes. One day, she thought, sighing to herself.

“Well, I’m gonna leave you two, erm, friends to it,” she said impishly, further enhancing her pixyish appearance.

Tanja frowned at her, but only playfully, with mock indignation.

“Have a great day with your friend,” Tanja said, all trace of her previous negative mood now as apparent as the stars in the bright blue skies.

“I will,” Isabella responded, waving at the reconciled couple as she left the dining room.

“Ready?” he asked when he was ready.

“Almost,” she responded,” but there’s one thing before we go.”

“Really?” he asked, but his cheeky grin suggested he knew exactly what it was she was referring to.

“Really!” she said with finality.

“Oh, ok then, come here,” he said, opening his arms wide like Cristo Rentor atop Corcovado.

“Thank you,” she said simply, wrapping her arms around him in a strong affectionate embrace.

“Think nothing of it,” he said, a huge grin on his face. “As I said, merde acontence!”

They remained entwined in each other’s arms for what seemed an eternity, although neither of them feeling anything more than the joy of pure friendship; this was certainly the most powerful platonic relationship either of them had ever shared. This again set Kris’ mind to pondering the purpose of their partnership as the energy of their bond coursed through him; something powerful and palpable.

“Right, well let’s go,” she said finally, disengaging herself from his strong arms, again at one with him, life and all its beauty and glory.

The sun had already removed the chill from the crisp morning air and was shining down brilliantly from the clear blue sky. The day promised to be warm and the tough trail through the dense forest promised to be sweaty, hot and arduous and the pair were dressed accordingly in light summer tops and shorts, although their feet were encased in thick socks and good hiking boots.

Kris and Tanja, with their foreknowledge gained from their previous hike, decided to stop at the closest store to stock up on things they thought they might need to sustain themselves throughout their day’s hike. They chose plenty of carbohydrates in the form of bananas and savoury crackers to provision their backpacks; the potassium from the former and the sodium from the later chosen to alleviate the problem of cramping due to mineral loss from excessive sweating, and they both doubled up on the quantity of water they had brought the first day. Not that Kris was bothered about drinking the fresh mountain water, but he was not certain he would find any today. Kris was somewhat bothered by the mineral water in the supermarket – every single one had fluoride added. He could find not one without added fluoride! What was this all about? Was this the same throughout Brazil?

He had a friend whose father was a dentist back in Canada and specialised in the treatment of dental issues in communities with a high concentration of native peoples. Obviously, these were poorer areas and the regular cost of maintaining dental hygiene was comparatively high and the poorer people suffered severely from poor dental health. His friend’s father had told him the incidence of fluorosis was very high; a consequence of high levels of artificially added fluoride in the local drinking water. He had also read of the link between fluoride and the pacification of the human brain; something that had been studied and implemented in Nazi concentration camps according to some sources. Why was it that he was unable to buy bottled water that was unfluoridated? He assumed that the town drinking water was fluoridated as well, and for this reason he avoided it, but why would they insist on adding fluoride to bottled mineral water? Was it because the poor people drank the town supply and the wealthier drank bottled mineral water and the government wished to have all the population receiving the benefits of fluoride? And Kris, due to his connections with current dentists, was aware that it had nothing to do with the stated objective of reducing caries! He had seen studies showing that the incidence of caries differed not one iota statistically in areas where the town water supply was fluoridated and those where the water was not.

With their backpacks fully loaded, the newly reconciled couple set off for their day’s adventure, both with no idea what the days exploits would bring and both glad of that. That was what made life so interesting for the intrepid duo – no 9 to 5 routine for this pair. These two craved different experiences, not content to simply sit in front of their computer screens to experience the world, but to actually go out there and experience it for themselves first hand – unfortunately, a rare and dying breed amongst their modern day peers.

Providentially for them, the heavy canopy of the forest kept the sun well and truly off them as the trail they traipsed was fully in the shade, but they paid a price for this with the humidity that the selfsame canopy not only generated, but also retained and they had soon worked up a sweat; Kris more than Tanja due to his inherent lack of fitness, but the torturous trail to Lopes Mendes had lifted his fitness level a few notches and he found even the steepest climbs on this track a touch easier and less arduous than similar stretches on the way to Lopes Mendes.

There was an easy, comfortable silence between the two as they hiked. Not a silence born of the need to conserve energy and breath, but a silence born of the comfort of being able to retreat into the mind and reflect without having to worry about the need to be constantly talking. Tanja’s brow however, was knitted as though wrestling with some inner turmoil when she suddenly broke the silence.

“Hey Kris, I’ve been thinking about all these weird things that you’ve been talking about and the crazy coincidences that I’ve seen for myself,” she said.

Kris was intrigued, wondering what was coming next.

“Uh huh,” he muttered simply, waiting.

“Well, from what you’ve said and what I’ve seen, you never seem to benefit from this, right?” she asked, trying to understand the whole scheme of things.

“Wrong!” he responded, much to her surprise.

“Wrong? What do you mean wrong?” she asked.

“Well, let me give you a few examples,” he started simply. “I already mentioned the episode with the rain; I certainly benefitted there by not getting wet, but let me tell you another story. Once, when I was in first year at university, I was so broke I had no money for food, cigarettes, beer, nothing and I refused to sponge off my parents, and was wondering where on earth I could get some money, I was standing outside the university, and I kid you not, I saw something falling gently from the skies, like a leaf dropping from the trees, and it landed right between my feet. I bent down and picked up a $50 note…”

“You cannot be serious,” she said, eyes and mouth open wide.

“Yep, totally serious. I looked around to see where it had come from and I have no idea. To this day I don’t have a clue where it came from. It was just there exactly when I needed it and, to top it off, it fell right between my feet!”

“Wow, that’s amazing,” Tanja said.

“Yea, but I think it manifested because I asked for it,” he explained.

“Asked? Asked who, God?”

Kris shrugged his shoulders.

“Hmm, that I don’t know; I don’t believe in God per se, at least not in the traditional sense, and it’s not as if I was praying with a religious fervour. But I have found that if I just vocalise a desire it seems to somehow manifest itself, although not always in the way I expect. I just have no idea who I’m asking – God, a god, Gaia, Mother Nature? I have no answer!”

“But that doesn’t make sense,” Tanja insisted. “That’s just an old fashioned belief in magic.”

Kris laughed. “Well, it may sound like that, but it works. All I know is that we are the ultimate creators. What we think, we create,” He told her.

“How so?”

“Well, it’s like that story I told you of the guy who said he was gonna fall when abseiling and created that reality.”

“Yeah, but that’s different, that’s with his own belief system. To create something out of thin air is something totally different,” she stated.

“I didn’t say I created the money, but perhaps I created the conditions for it to happen.”

“Bullshit!” She spat sceptically. “Ok, prove it to me. Make some money appear right now,” she insisted.

Kris sighed heavily.

“I don’t think it’s quite that easy. Back then I had a real urgent need and my mind was totally focused on the necessity,” he tried explaining. “I don’t have the need right now.”

“That’s what I thought; totally untestable; fails scientific analysis every time.”

She was getting very haughty and self righteous and Kris likened her to James Randi, the arch Skeptic, and drew a deep draught of air into his lungs to calm himself.

“Ok, I will try and believe that I really want it, but I can’t guarantee anything,” he told her.

He stopped in the middle of the path, closed his eyes and focused his mind for a few minutes in total silence. Tanja merely looked on observing silently. He then opened his eyes and raised his arms heavenwards.

“I really need some money,” he said to the skies in a clear and calm voice.

“So, how long do we have to wait? Does it happen instantly like in the movies?”

Kris wasn’t sure if she was playing with him or being serious, but he tended towards the former.

“It usually takes some time, but that time I had the money fall between my feet it was virtually instantaneo…” he stopped mid word and laughed, a huge smile breaking out on his face.

“What?” She asked, wondering what could have caused his change of mood so suddenly.

“You are so not gonna believe this, in fact even I’m struggling,” he told her.

“What, what?” She asked becoming impatient.

“Look,” he said pointing to the ground just behind her feet, where she had moments before trod, and bent down and picked up a fifty real note.

“Oh, come on. You can’t expect me to fall for that. You just threw it there. I’m not stupid you know,” she said, more than a hint of exasperation evident in her voice.

“Have a look at it if you don’t believe me,” he said handing here the note, which was folded and damp, the heavy morning dew beading on its surface.

Her mouth moved as if to say something, but only strange, strangled sounds  came out. Kris noticed this, a triumphant look on his face, but said nothing, having no desire to rub it in. If Tanja’s world view had been somewhat rocked by some of the previous things she had seen and heard from Kris, it was now completely shattered. This latest demonstration would irrevocably change her and she would need to construct new paradigms by which to live her life.

Even Kris could not explain what had just happened. Surely it would be too much to just put this down to coincidence; that would be stretching the odds far too much, but if not coincidence then what? Thoughts of the non linear nature of time came to mind. In the past he had believed in the nature of cause and effect, but many things had happened to make him re-evaluate this position including the latest discoveries in quantum physics. As ever, he simply admitted he didn’t know and left it at that.

The pair continued on the trail in silence, but it was a different silence than before. The silence was now heavily charged and pregnant with many unspoken and half-formed thoughts as Tanja struggled to comprehend the world anew.

The quiet  air was gradually being invaded by a noise that grew steadily louder and louder. It was the sound of people; lots of people. The source of the sound soon became apparent when the two friends rounded a bend and almost walked straight into a large group of young people. They bid good morning to the group and squeezed past them on the narrow trail.

“There’s a research station from the Federal University of Rio here on this part of the island,” Tanja explained, which obviously accounted for these people. They had the look of biology students, Kris thought.

Shortly after the hubbub of the students disappeared, the end of the trail became visible and both were surprised by what lay at its end. There, beyond the clay surface of the trail, lay what appeared to be a small town, obviously military in nature and obviously in serious need of some repairs as there was peeling paint on many of the buildings and some even had broken windows with rotten wooden frames and tiles missing from some of the rooves. They passed a sentry box with a military policeman stationed inside.

“Bom dia,” they both said to the sentry as they passed.

He wished them both good morning and called them back to him.

Com licence, vocês precisam se cadastrar,” – Excuse me, you need to register yourselves − he informed them.

This was typical of Brazil. People need to register themselves to enter many places, including some shopping centres. Brazil likes to regulate everything and even has rules for its rules.

Quais são os seus nomes?” – What are your names? – He asked them genially enough, however they both found the pistol at his side a little disconcerting.

“Tanja Radic,” Tanja told him and Kris noticed that he simply wrote Tania on the sheet on the clipboard in his hand.

“John Person,” Kris told him and Tanja gave him a sharp look, but said nothing and the policeman simply wrote João.

The officer started giving them information, but Kris struggled to understand everything that was being said and simply nodded and smiled, offering the occasional where he thought appropriate and the two were soon on their way again towards the beach.

“What did he say?” Tanja asked. “I couldn’t understand him properly.

No, idea,” Kris replied laughing, “neither could I.”

“And what’s with this John Person?” she asked, hands on her hips, a sharp expression creasing her features.

Again he laughed.

“I hate giving my information out if I don’t have to and John Person was the most anonymous name I could think of.”

She shook her head disapprovingly at him, but said nothing further on the subject and they wound their way around the short streets in the direction of the beach.

Despite being further from the pousada than Lopes Mendes, the pair had covered the distance far quicker and arrived in  much better condition. The trail had been nowhere near as torturous and rigorous. Once they reached the beach, they received a double dose of disappointment; the beach was incredibly narrow, only about 3 feet wide and there was a cold howling gale blasting along the beira. There would be neither swimming nor sunbathing for the two today.

By silent mutual consent, the pair drifted along the narrow shore, their backs protecting them from the biting wind that blew, whipping the sand up like a sandblaster. Presently, they arrived at one of the rivers for which the place was obviously named. The dark orange brown water wound its way to the sea where the two waters mingled. There was a flock of ugly urubu – vultures – feasting on the carcass of something at the water’s edge and Kris wandered towards them to have a closer look. Although he found the birds physically repellent, he found himself conversely at the same time attracted to them. What the fascination was he couldn’t say.

The urubu continued feasting on the carrion as Kris approached, but they kept a very watchful eye on him as he did so. When he was within ten feet, their courage finally failed, or was it hunger and greed that kept them there so long? and they lifted off into the air with heavy and slow flaps of their wings. Kris investigated the carcass to see if he could identify the species, but the carrion eaters had ripped the creature to pieces, scattering bones all around, and torn the fur and flesh off making identification very difficult. He then noticed that Tanja had joined him and seemed to be equally interested in the remains.

“Any idea what it is?” she asked bending down to have a look, not seeming in the slightest disgusted or revolted by the remains.

“It’s a bit hard to tell,” he said, “but I would guess that it was probably a gambá – opossum – I can’t be sure, the greedy bastards have done a great job on it.”

“How do you know what they’re called in Portuguese?” she asked, a puzzled expression on her face.

“That’s easy,” he said with a gentle laugh. “I did some research on what species I could expect to find in Rio.”

The urubu had settled on a nearby monolith and were keeping a close eye on the pair and their lunch and were eagerly awaiting their departure so they could return to their meal. Not wishing to keep them waiting any longer, the two ambled away, Kris wading in the warm dark water of the river and Tanja treading the pale sands on its side. Without either being consciously aware of it, their trajectories diverged until they were some distance from each other; each though, perfectly comfortable with this.

In his own thoughts, Kris found his mind drifting back to Tahlia again and questioning as to how come, in light of the events of the past week with his knowing and the coincidences, he didn’t have an inkling that she had been betraying him? The answer, he finally concluded, was that his premonitions and associated paranormal phenomena had been in abeyance until he had met Tanja. Only then had they returned as strong as they had ever been, and perhaps he had been too blinded by his feelings for her to pick up on the subtle cues.

The individual paths of the pair again crossed and the urubu had settled back onto their midday feast anew now that the duo were no longer threatening to steal their meal; the sun was warm on their bare flesh, but the wind was still whipping up the sand along the beach. Kris suggested that they seek shelter from this howling gale behind the row of trees that had obviously been planted as a wind break and where some grass had also been planted and was well maintained.

After laying out their respective towels, eating a simple meal of fruit, cheese and biscuits, they stretched out in the glorious sunshine, sheltered from the harsh, howling wind and Kris found his thoughts drifting to his newly encountered buddy, Chris and wondered how he was getting on with his Brazilian babe. He felt an ominous knot grow in the pit of his stomach and thought that things were perhaps not going too well for him. He felt convinced that their relationship had suffered the same fate as his own and thought it decidedly odd how their lives had paralleled each other’s and he pondered the significance of this, but didn’t dwell on it because he was sure he would never find out.

Feeling an overwhelming urge to call Chris, he took out his cell phone. Although his Canadian phone was roaming enabled, it was useless without a signal. It was no real surprise that there was no signal in his remote island hideaway and he put the cell phone away vowing to give Chris a call at the earliest opportunity.

As the sun disappeared behind the trees and hills, Kris and Tanja decided to hit the trail and return to their pousada. The guard in the sentry box, asking the pair their names, checked them off on his list.

“I wonder what he’d do if we didn’t come back past here today,” Tanja mused.

“Probably send out the search dogs and hunt us down,” Kris responded with a laugh, but he was only half joking.

They had not seen a single dog since leaving Abraão that morning, when suddenly, out of the blue, two dogs came bounding around the bend almost crashing into them a few minutes later. The two dogs were very well kempt, but bore no collar around their necks; too well groomed to be strays, Kris thought as he reached down to give them a stroke when they came to a halt and graciously allowed him this boon.

“Now, where the heck did they come from?” Kris asked rhetorically.

“No idea,” Tanja answered with a shake of her head, reaching down and stroking them as well. “Perhaps they were kept ready to hunt for us,” she ventured.

The two dogs were of indeterminate breed, both medium sized, but both very friendly like the other dogs they had encountered on the island. After a few moments of affectionate playing, the four travellers continued on their hike back to Abraão, the air thick and humid beneath the dense forest canopy,  the thin clothing of the two humans sticking to their skin, soaked with sweat. The canines, on the other hand, showing no indication of the sultry conditions, merely panting and lolling their tongues as is the wont of their species.

“I wonder if they have toucans here,” Kris suddenly asked rhetorically.

“I have no idea,” Tanja responded.

“I know they have them in the city of Rio, but I’m not sure if they have them here, but you have to wonder about them though.”

“What do you have to wonder?” she asked.

“Well, I’m a firm believer in biological and evolutionary adaption to the local environment…”

“Yeah, me too,” she said interrupting him.

“Well, take the hummingbird for example. Its long, thin curved beak is perfectly adapted to reach down into the bottom of the deepest flower to drink of its nectar, but what of the bill of the toucan? Why the heck is it so huge?”

“All the better to eat you with,” she said with a playful grin.

“Indeed,” he responded wryly.

“In Croatia, we have a story about the bad wolf…”

“Yeah, we’ve got the same story,” he said interrupting her.” In fact, I think the whole world has the same story.”

Both of them quickly turned to the dense canopy as something large, dark and heavy disturbed the foliage.

“What’s that, a monkey?” Tanja asked excitedly.

“Knowing my luck this week, it’s probably a damned toucan,” Kris rejoined wryly.

A dark shape could be seen hidden behind the uppermost branches and it suddenly leapt from one branch to another and then one tree to another. A bright, colourful flash of orange was suddenly visible through the leaves.

Courtesy Teja Muha

“Fuck me, I don’t believe it,” Kris said shaking his head. “Well, I do believe it, but you know what I mean.”

Clearly visible in the upper branches was a magnificent black toucan with an enormous bright orange/yellow and black bill. Suddenly, like two fighter jets engaging in a dog fight, two smaller birds swooped on the hapless toucan, barely missing its flanks. The toucan hopped to another branch and the two aerial fighters launched another attack. This time the toucan took to the air, begrudgingly flapping its huge wings as it departed, thwarted by the midget invading air force.

“What the hell, I don’t believe I just saw that,” Tanja exclaimed exasperatedly.

“Saw what, the toucan as I was asking about it, or the smaller birds attacking it?

“Well, both actually,” she answered honestly, “but more so the two small birds attacking it.”

“That is far more common than you might imagine,” he informed her. “It’s usually a defensive/aggressive reaction from the smaller birds. I read somewhere that although mainly frugivorous, toucans will also eat insects, small birds and eggs and those smaller birds have obviously developed the tactic of ganging up on the toucan to protect their nests.”

“Makes sense,” she said, “but those little birds seem so brave.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” he said with a short laugh, “but it’s a big bad world out there; eat or be eaten.”

The rest of their trek on the trail back to Abraão passed without further incident, the two humans accompanied by the two guide dogs at their side, and they arrived back at the main beach with still about another hour of light left in the late afternoon sky.

“So, that is Pico Do Papagaio,” Tanja told Kris, indicating the rocky crag rising high above the green blanket of trees.

“Looks more like a dog’s head,” Kris said dryly, “and bearing in mind what’s happened with our inadvertent guide dogs so far on the island, I’d say that would be a better moniker – Dog’s head mountain – montanha de cabeça de cão,” he said rolling the words around his mouth, reaching down to stroke the pair of guide dogs at his side.

“So, are you climbing up there with me tomorrow?” she asked hopefully.

Courtesy Teja Muha

Kris was not sure; such physical exertion was not really his thing. Sure, he had spent a lot of time on the ski slopes of the Rocky Mountains, but most of that had been on the way down and the way up had always been made easy, travelling by the cable cars and ski lifts. This would be something wholly different altogether; this would involve real physical exertion and his hike to Lopes Mendes had been sufficient to prove that his fitness level left a lot to be desired.

“I’m not sure,” he said finally. “Let’s see in the morning.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter,” she replied stubbornly before softening her tone a little. “I’m going up there with or without you, but I’d like your company though.”

They reached the sand and the couple removed their shoes and stepped onto the shore, paddling in the shallow water of its edge. The two guide dogs accompanied them, splashing happily in the cool clear water.

Absent mindedly, Kris bent down, scooped up a stone and skimmed it across the slick surface and was somewhat taken aback when one of the dogs charged into the water after it. He was further surprised when it dived below the surface and retrieved a stone from the bottom and brought it back to him, dropping it at his feet. Kris was unsure if it was the exact same stone, but it certainly seemed to be. He picked up the stone and another besides, with which he scratched an X across the
surface of the other and again hurled it out to sea.. Again, the now soaking wet dog leapt after it, again diving beneath the surface and retrieving a stone and dropping it at his feet again. Kris scooped up the stone and was pleasantly satisfied to see the X scrawled across its surface.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiHPcAugBtQ&feature=endscreen&NR=1

“Well I’ll be damned,” he said shaking his head. “These damned dogs continue to surprise the hell out of me.”

Tanja said nothing, just simply stood there shaking her head in silent shock and awe as well. After a few minutes, Kris finally tired of the game and, much to the dog’s disappointment, finally left the stone on the wet sand. The dog, in an effort to encourage him to continue, picked it up again in his slobbering mouth and dropped it at his feet. Kris merely kicked it a short distance, nonetheless the dog still chased after it excitedly, but realised the game was over as Kris walked off and it gambolled after him, shaking the salt water from its fur in a big spray, wetting disgruntled beach goers in the process.

A few minutes later, as they were passing an orelhã0 – big ear – as the local public phone shells were called, the phone within began ringing. A cheeky, childish grin grew on Kris’s face as he ran over to answer it. He loved to answer public phones when they rang, especially in foreign countries, and confuse the hell out of the person at the other end of the line.

“This is Kris’s phone,” he muttered mechanically. “I’m sorry; Kris can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave your name and number and he will get back to you at his earliest possible convenience,” he finished pompously.

“Kris, stop being an asshole,” the voice on the other end said with obvious irritation. Kris let out an almost girlish shriek and practically threw the handset away.

“What’s the matter?” Tanja asked, eyes wide with concern.

“I’ll tell you in a minute, but you ain’t gonna believe this,” he said, shaking his head, disbelieving his own ears.

“… you stop being an asshole, Kris,” he heard as he brought the receiver back to his ear.

“Chris, is that you?” He asked, although it was patently obvious that it was.

“Of course it’s me, who else would it be?” Chris responded, a serious note of irritation in his voice, but with a darker undertone.

“You know where I am, buddy?” Kris asked, still not believing the evidence of his own ears.

“I assume you’re still on that damned Island,” he responded tersely.

“I’m in a fucking public phone booth,” he yelled incredulously.

“What are you talking about?” Chris asked, wondering what all the confusion was about.

“I was walking along the beach when I heard the phone ringing in a public phone booth, picked it up and you’re on the other fucking end!” He was still struggling to come to terms with the sheer magnitude of this current coincidence; the odds against it were just so staggeringly small as to be beyond comprehension.

“For fuck sake, Kris, now is not the time to be fucking with me.”  He was rapidly losing patience with Kris’s bullshit and was just not in the mood for this crap.

“I called your cell phone, now will you shut the fuck up and listen to me.”

“Buddy, I am not shitting you, I swear,” Kris responded desperately.

He managed to get Chris to read back the number he had dialled and Chris finally accepted that he had indeed dialled incorrectly and by a billions to one chance had reached him at exactly the same moment he was walking past the very phone booth he had accidentally called.

“So, what’s up?” Kris asked once the shock had finally worn off and he realised that his friend was not in a good way.

Chris told him!

He finally replaced the receiver in the cradle and recounted what had just happened to Tanja who had been eagerly waiting for him to hang up the phone and tell her just what the hell was going on. He told her everything, from his meeting with Chris to the way their lives had eerily paralleled each other’s, down to the similarity of their girlfriend’s name and ultimate betrayal.

This was yet another blow to her former way of thinking and she knew without a shadow of a doubt that she would be spending a very long time searching for some explanation for the things that had happened, just as Kris had had to do. She wondered if she too would have to resign herself to never knowing, never finding an answer, but she knew she would start searching as soon as she could.

“Come on, let’s go get a drink. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell could use one,” Kris told her, leading her to the nearest bar, not even waiting for a response.

She followed meekly, suppliant to his will.

They sat at a slatted, rickety table on the calçada and a waiter promptly arrived, cardápio in hand. Kris had a quick look through it and ordered two double aged cachaças and a garrafa de cerveja. Again, Tanja made no comment, simply allowing him to order for the two of them, sitting there composing her thoughts.

The drinks arrived in good time and Kris asked the waiter to leave the menu as he would order some food in a while.

“Here’s to high end weirdness and coincidences,” he said raising his glass.

“To complete and utter total weirdness,” she responded, raising her own glass.

Kris swallowed half of his drink in one draught whilst Tanja merely sipped at the fiery golden liquor.

“Get it down you,” Kris urged her. “I’m sure you could use it.”

She took a much larger swig as he finished the rest of his glass with a noisy expulsion of air. A fly chose this moment to circumnavigate Tanja’s face and her attempts to shoo it away were totally ineffective.

“What the hell,” Tanja shrieked as Kris lunged across the table, swiping the air in front of her face.

“Just getting rid of the fly,” he said with a grin, shaking a closed fist at her.

“You’re not trying to tell me you caught it, are you?”

“No, I’m not trying to tell you I caught it, I did catch it.”

Although he was grinning mischievously like a naughty child, his eyes were deadly serious.

“Care to make a little wager?” he asked, eyes gleaming.

“No way,” she said laughing. “I know better than to never make a bet with you.”

Kris beamed at her and opened his fingers one by one and the fly, sensing freedom, took advantage and flew away in search of other faces to pester.

“So, tell me, you must have some idea how all these coincidences and such like work,” she said after a few moments thought. “Why is it that they never happen to me?”

“I guess you’re just not receptive to them,” he stated simply.

“I mean that quite literally. I do have a pet theory if you are interested.”

“After what I’ve seen this week, I’m willing to listen to anything,” she told him frankly.

“Right, well, have you never thought of someone you hadn’t seen for a while and then they suddenly ring you?”

“Sure,” she said, “but that’s just coincidence.”

Um, maybe, but I have a different theory and you said you were willing to listen to almost anything, right?”

She nodded her head in guarded agreement.

“Ok, as far as we know, our thoughts are little electrical sparks in our synapses, brain waves, which then transmit their message to the body, agreed?”

“Agreed,” she said nodding concordantly.

“Ok, so imagine if we liken these electrical signals to radio waves; you have a transmitter that transmits the signal, and like radio waves, these brainwaves can travel freely through the air until they are picked up by a receiver, but like a radio has to be tuned into a certain radio station to pick up the signal, so we too have to be tuned into another person’s wavelength to be able to receive their signal; the stronger the connection, the greater the harmony between the transmitter and receiver, the better the reception.”

“Hmm,” she said mulling this new idea over in her mind. It did sound like quite a feasible explanation and he had couched it in terms she could accept.

“Take the situation with Chris today,” he said by way of an example. “I was thinking so strongly about him and his situation and I believe that I was receiving his transmissions, because he told me that Talita finally confessed her infidelity around the same time that I had been thinking so strongly of him back in Dois Rios.”

“Ok, let’s assume that you’re correct, that you were receiving his transmission, as you put it, how then do you explain the phone call?” She asked, trying to make sense of things.

“Ah, you’ve got me there,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders. “I have no rational explanation for that at all,” he said with a smirk and a small shrug.

“But you know we give off other types of signals too.”

“Mm, such as?” she asked, wondering where he was going.

“Well, you know that they say that 70% of our communication is non-verbal, right?”

“Yeah, I’ve heard the same, but it’s not something I have looked into.”

“Well, it’s something I’ve looked into and studied quite extensively,” he said emphatically. “You know when you watch a politician and he says he is going to do such and such as he shakes his head from side to side,” he told her mimicking the gesture, “well, you can pretty much guarantee he’s lying, but it’s not always as blatantly obvious as that, but we each also give off micro expressions that we are unaware of and have no control over.”

“Really? That’s fascinating. It’s not a subject I’ve heard much about.”

“Ah, body language, what a wonderful and valuable tool. As I told you, I’ve always been fascinated by the mind and the body goes hand in hand with that.”

“And how is this useful?” She asked him.

“Well, I can consciously tell when people are lying to me, whereas we are usually only aware subconsciously, when we get a feeling we shouldn’t trust someone for no apparent reason. This is when you read the body subconsciously. I always prefer to do it consciously, but it takes effort. You have to focus.”

“You mean you can tell if I’m lying or not?”

“Yep, wanna try me?” he dared her with a smirk stretching his broad cheeks.

Tanja could not resist a challenge and readily agreed.

“Ok, take the menu and go to the wine list,” he instructed. “Choose four wines from the list, tell me what they are and how much they cost, but don’t give the real price for one of them and I’ll tell you which one you were lying about.”

She liked this game and was certain she would not be discovered, not because she thought herself a good liar, but she doubted his abilities.

“Deal,” she said leafing through the wine list. “Ok, here we go: Concho y Toro Merlot, R$42.00. Santa Helena Cabernet Sauvignon Reservado, R$ 48.50, La Casita Reserva Shiraz …”

“Right, stop there,” he ordered suddenly, interrupting her.

“But I haven’t finished yet,” she complained.

“You don’t need to, you lied about the second one, the Santa Helena, right?”

“Yeah, that’s right, but you’ve seen the wine list and probably remembered the prices, so that proves nothing,” she said sceptically.

“Ok, point taken. It is possible, although I didn’t,” he said leaning back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head. “Alright, let’s try something different; something I could have no way of knowing.”

He was pensive, hands still clasped behind his head, eyes closed for a moment before continuing.

“I know, I’ve got it, pick four people you went to school with, then tell me their names and say whether you liked them or whether you disliked or even hated them. This time you can lie as often as you like, ok, is that good enough for you?”

“Yeah, that’s ok with me, you can’t know that,” she conceded. “Alright, let me think for a minute,” she said. “Ok, I got someone: there was Antonija, I hated her,” she said.

“Right, that’s true. It’s funny how we often remember the negative much more and much clearer than the positive,”

She nodded her head in confirmation and thought about his words a moment. It was true. Her strongest memory from school was that bitch Antonija; she hated her more than she had ever hated anything in her entire life.

“Alright, then there was Lucija, I didn’t like her much either.”

“Nope, you’re lying,” he said confidently and he was correct. She had tried to trick him, but he had read her correctly;  Lucija  was one of her friends.

“Then there was Andrija, I simply adored him.”

“Nope, you’re lying again, but you didn’t hate him either,” he added and again he was spot on, she didn’t hate him, but liked him well enough.

“Ok, then there was Jelka, I really liked her a lot.”

“No you didn’t, you’re lying again, I think you were pretty neutral about her, right?”

She nodded her head once again. Again, she had tried to trick him, figuring that he wouldn’t think she would lie three times in a row.

“Ok, one more,” she said. “Just to prove it’s not just luck.”

He nodded his consent and this time she really tried to focus on keeping her expression as neutral and deadpan as possible.

“Ok, finally there was Goran. I liked him well enough,” she said as blandly as possible.

“You’re lying again. You were crazy about him, weren’t you?”

She nodded her head with a smile, thinking of sweet, sweet Goran, her mountain boy, her first childhood love.

“So, 5 out of 5 correct, right?” He was smiling in a very self satisfied manner.

“Right,” she said shaking her head in disbelief. “But how did you do it? I tried my hardest to keep my face straight, expressionless.”

“As I said,” he explained, “you can’t help yourself; micro-expressions, your body gives you away every time,” he told her, “but it’s a mixture of psychology as well. I was fairly certain that your first thought would be negative, then next you would try and trick me… you were, or should I say we all are, quite predictable creatures.”

As he said this, he slumped slightly and his face dropped as he thought about Tahlia. He was certain that if he had seen her, he would have known if she had been cheating on him, even if she hadn’t told him. He was right, the body can’t lie.

Oi garçon, “Kris said, calling the waiter over, trying to distract his mind from the memory of her and what she had done. “Vê mais duas chachaças e uma porção de bolinha de bacalhau, mais uma porção de batata fritas com quejo pra nos, por favor – Could you bring us two more cachaças and a portion of salted dried cod balls plus a portion of chips with cheese, please.

Mais uma coisa, senhor?” the waiter asked.

Só, mas vocês têm molho de pimenta?” – Just that, but do you have chilli sauce?

Tem,” the waiter replied, letting him know that they did.

Again, Tanja didn’t react to him taking charge and ordering for the pair of them. Kris was secretly very pleased about this as he now felt secure and safe being in the position he had grown accustomed to. He knew it was simply due to the fact that her head was reeling and she was not able to digest what she had experienced, and he wondered if she would be back to her bossy old self tomorrow.

As they were discussing the many mysteries of life that Kris had experienced, and their possible scientific explanation, a bee buzzed around his face before settling on his forehead. Tanja let out a little shriek and Kris firmly, but calmly, told her to sit still and not to worry; to make no sudden moves.

“But it will sting you,” she said, eyes wide obvious concern.

“No it won’t, unless you scare the crap out of it,” he told her sternly. “The bee has no desire to sting me. They only sting when either they or their colony are attacked. I’m sure they know they will die if they do and I believe they use that ultimate weapon judiciously.”

“But loads of people get stung,” she said.

“Yep, and it’s their fault 99% of the time. They usually panic and try and flick the bee away or otherwise threaten it; that’s when they get stung,” he explained.

She stayed in her seat, chastened as she knew what he was saying was true.

Kris’ faced screwed up into a frown.

“That is, unless they’re Africanised bees,” he added. “Then they will attack in great numbers to protect the queen and can even kill you.”

“Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about them, well how do you know that’s not an Africanised bee?”

“Elementary, my dear Tanja, it’s too small. Africanised bees are larger.”

She was just about to ask how he knew it wasn’t just a young one, but thought better of it.

“Did you know that the Africanised bee was created in Brazil?” he asked.

“No, really?”

“Yeah, they were created in São Paulo in an effort to try and increase honey production and escaped into the wild in the 1950s,” he told her.

“Human beings are always playing Frankenstein,” Tanja responded wistfully.

“You said it, and these bees have reached down to Argentina and as far north as Utah, Tennessee and Georgia in the US. Fortunately, they don’t like the cold so will never be able to establish colonies in Canada,” he added, pleased at this thought.

“Hey, you know I’ve been stung twice in my life, and coincidentally both times on the same day,” he continued, “and fortunately they weren’t Africanised.”

“Really? What happened?”

“Well, the first time I got stung, I was in the forest and had taken my shirt off after some tom foolery or other and the bee had obviously climbed inside my shirt as it lay unattended, because I got stung when I put it back on. Obviously, it felt threatened in the confined space and felt it had no other option left, and the second time was later that same day when I got home; I was changing shoes when I felt this searing hot pain in the sole of my foot. Again, the poor thing was trapped.”

“But you only got stung twice before, and both on the same day? That’s a bit strange,” she said.

“Actually, People say things come in threes, both good and bad, but for me, things seem to happen in twos.”

“How so?”

“Well, I have been done for speeding twice, both on the same day, but 400 miles apart. I have split my brow open twice, both on the same day,” he said indicating two almost identical scars, one on each of his eyebrows. “I’ve won a good amount of money on scratch lotteries twice, both on the same day; the list goes on,” he said wistfully, trying to remember all the fortuitous and not so fortuitous pairings he had experienced.

“And what’s your explanation for that?” she asked, intrigued and more open than she would previously have been. Her curiosity had been lubricated by the events of the past few days as well as the double double doses of cachaça she had consumed alongside the beer chaser.

“Attraction, I think!” He said simply.

“How so?” she asked curiously

“Well, it seems to me that what we focus on, we attract,” he told her.

“But that’s just more mumbo jumbo hocus pocus,” she said. “I’m not buying it. That’s not scientific at all.”

“Nope, that as may be, but it seems to be true. It’s as if we send out a signal of some sort and somehow or other the universe finds a way to respond, to fulfil our thoughts. It’s kinda like that story I told you earlier about the guy who was convinced he was gonna fall and his mind found a way to make it come true, except on a much larger scale.”

“But through what mechanism?” She asked.

“Ah, good question; that is something I’m not quite sure about, but if we take Jung’s collective unconscious as a given paradigm, that we are all connected, but expand it to include every living creature and, just for the sheer heck of it, every living thing, then perhaps our brain waves approximate radio waves and propagate through this network.”

“Hmm, and in what way could we all be connected?”

“Again, very good question and again I’m not too sure, but it would work if we consider each and every one of us as individual cells within the greater body of humanity. Through what mechanism do the cells in our body communicate?” He asked.

“No idea, that’s not my field,” she said shaking her head.

“No, it’s not mine either.”

They finished their drinks and bolinhos de bacalhau and Kris called the waiter to settle the account. Tanja reached into her back pack for her purse to pay her share of the bill.

“No, don’t worry; this one’s on me,” Kris informed her, putting a staying hand on her arm.

“No, no, I pay my own way. I don’t want to be indebted to anyone for anything,” she told him firmly.

“Sure, sure; I understand, but let’s just say that we are both paying the bill, remember the R$50 we found this morning?”

You found,” she said splitting hairs, “but alright,” she conceded.

As they were making their way along the compacted clay road they bumped into Marlon. His face immediately split into what Kris deduced was a fake smile; the mouth had moved into the correct gesture, but he had no idea that the eyes also have to match. When someone is genuinely smiling, their eyes crinkle around the edges and they seem to sparkle. Kris had practiced recognising the difference by covering the faces on hundreds of photos, leaving just the eyes exposed. From this, it soon became very obvious who was genuinely smiling.

“Hi,” he called as he saw them and leant forward to kiss Tanja on both cheeks and to take Kris by the hand. Reluctantly and half-heartedly Kris returned the gesture.

“We have party on beach tonight,” he told them. “You come?”

Kris shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly; he really wanted nothing to do with this big phoney, but Tanja was very enthusiastic.

“Excellent,” she beamed, “what time and where?”

“Oh, you know, about 11, on the beach behind the pousada,” he said looking at Tanja, perhaps sensing Kris’s enmity. “There is lots of drinking and music and fire,” he told them eagerly.

Kris wondered what was in it for Marlon. Maybe he would charge an entrance fee, he thought cynically. Tanja promised that they would be there and the couple continued back to the pousada.

After the day’s exercise and the alcohol they’d consumed it was not too long before the pair of them were quietly napping on their respective bunks.

~ ~

Refreshed after her sleep, Tanja went in search of Marlon to find out more details about the beach party, leaving Kris to compose himself in the room. She found Marlon in the rec room playing pool with Melinda, the orange English girl from Essex, giving her his cutest smile. Her boyfriend was on the sidelines looking none too happy about the situation, but saying nothing, just glaring sourly at Marlon, who was either too used to this to care or else too self absorbed to even notice.

“Hi Marlon,” Tanja said as she approached the table.

“Hi,” Marlon responded turning his dazzling smile onto her and she felt her cheeks flush.

“What do we need to bring to the party tonight, some beer, cachaça?”

“No, no, you don’t need bring anything,” he told her shaking his mane of curly dark hair, held in thin braids. “I have everything we need.” He looked at his watch, a fake Rolex, and noting that it was already 11, let everybody know that they would be going soon.

By the time Kris entered the rec room, he found Tanja chatting with Isabella and her friend and then Marlon announced that he was ready to hit the beach. The revellers, many of whom were obviously Brazilian and island residents, were toting assorted instruments from guitars, cavaquinhos, pandeiros to a great assortment of percussion instruments including a plastic bottle partly filled with rice and were ready to party. For Kris, 11 o’clock was late to start a party, for the Brazilians it was early and Marlon was trying to satisfy both the locals and foreigners alike.

“You can help me?” Marlon asked Kris, indicating a large polystyrene cooler full of ice and beer.

“Sure,” he answered obligingly.

Otímo,” Marlon responded with his usual fake smile and turned and walked away leaving Kris standing there.

“Come on, let’s go,” Marlon commanded and led the group out the door. Kris shook his head in disbelief. The bastard had asked for his help and then just dumped the task of carrying the cooler on him. There was no way he could carry it himself, it was too heavy, so he was forced to seek help from one of the other guests in turn.

The beach was only a short walk away, but nonetheless, Kris was extremely glad to get there as his muscles were burning from the shared weight. He felt he had really earned a beer so he reached in a rummaged through the ice and retrieved a cold can. Marlon saw this and strode towards him purposefully.

“5 reais,” he said insistently, thrusting his hand in Kris’s direction.

“What?” Kris asked incredulously.

“The beer,” he told him. “It’s 5 reais for one lata.”

Kris glared at him for a moment, this was over four times the regular retail price and he had no intention of lining the pockets of this wannabe used car salesman.

“Go fuck yourself,” Kris said coldly and calmly, staring into Marlon’s shocked eyes and threw the can at him in disgust and wheeled on his heels in the damp, soft sand. Marlon caught the can easily and began to protest.

“No be like that; I buy the beer and ice and need pay to use the …” he struggled to find the name for the cooler in English so ended up sticking to Portuguese, “caixa. I just get my money back,” he concluded.

Kris stopped, turned around to face him and again stared directly into Marlon’s deep dark eyes.

“I told you, go fuck yourself,” he spat and walked off.

Tanja came running over to intercept him.

“Kris,” she said sternly. “What was all that about?”

He drew a deep breath before explaining the situation and letting her know that he was not going to pay 5 reais for a can of beer. She agreed that it was a bit pricey, but told him she thought he was over reacting.

“I figured he’d pull a stunt like that; I don’t trust the fucker as far as I can kick him and I refuse to be ripped off by him,” he reiterated. “I’m gonna go to the shop to get my own. Do you want some?”

She tried to convince him to change his mind, but Kris was as stubborn as a mule and refused to change his position. She didn’t want to upset Marlon, but she too didn’t want to pay 5 reais per can so asked him to pick her up a six pack.

Kris could have easily found his way back to the beach blindfolded as the party was now in full swing with a roaring fire and the seductive sounds of live samba filling the air, accompanied by the gentle breaking of the waves on the shore. The musicians were very skilled and used the rhythm of the breaking waves as a background for their own rhythm.

The spat he had had with Marlon left a bad feeling in Kris’ stomach and he found it very hard to shake it off and get into the party spirit. The other revellers, Tanja included, seemed to have little trouble and were drinking and dancing and singing happily. Kris kept to himself and alternated between swigs of beer and swigs of neat cachaça from the bottle he had purchased.

His mood was further soured when Júlio arrived, dressed in his Sunday best, hair parted and plastered to one side, and began to fawn over Tanja anew.

“Sorry about the other night,” Júlio said to Kris when he finally spotted him in the shadows. “You know how it is,” he said with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders, “It’s hard work rowing all the way out to the boat …”  he concluded and went back to talk to Tanja.

In no time at all, the air was thick with the acrid smell of cannabis smoke as a number of baseados floated around the group, passing from hand to hand. One found its way into Kris’s hands and he took advantage of it as eagerly as a school child accepting candy from its favourite aunty. The smoke was harsh and tasted unpleasant, with a faint ammonia taste, but the effect was pleasant enough, but did little to enhance his sociability, if anything, it further added to his desire for solitude.

After about an hour of his own company, shared only with the beer and cachaça, Kris decided it was time to go. He didn’t even bother to say goodbye to anyone and made his way unsteadily back to the pousada. He was asleep almost the moment his head hit the pillow.

~ ~

Day 6. Money from heaven – Dinheiro do céu

Kris was awake when Tanja awoke the next morning and his face told the whole story. He was still pissed at her from the night before and his mood seemed ugly as sin. He acknowledged her with his squinted eyes but nothing more.

“So, are we still going to Dois Rios today,” she asked trying to break the heavy and pregnant air.

“Sure,” he replied curtly with no hint of humour in his voice. “Why not?”

“I just wanted to check because I can see you are still pissed from last night,” she told him frankly.

“Don’t worry about it,” he responded icily. “Shit happens, or as they would say in Brazil if they used the same expression, merda acontece.”

Although his words sounded warmly humorous on the surface, his voice was icily cold.

“I told you I’m sorry about last night,” she told him, trying to cut the heavy air between them. “It really was out of my hands and I’m sorry I had the keys with me and you couldn’t get back in the room.

“Forget it,” he said frostily. “As I said, shit happens.”

She decided to drop it. What else could she do? And she really was upset about the situation she had put him in.

Breakfast was a similar affair to the previous two mornings only this time Kris didn’t sit with Tania, instead taking his black coffee outside with him to go with his cigarette. Tanja tried her hardest to reconcile things with Kris, but he was being obstinate and stubborn, so she broke her fast alone until Isabella came in the room and joined her with a plate full of bread, cheese and fruit.

“I don’t blame Kris for being pissed with you,” Isabella exclaimed after Tanja had told her the tale. “I’m sure if I had a boyfriend and the same thing happened, he’d be pissed too.”

“But he’s not my boyfriend!” Tanja exclaimed exasperatedly.

“If you say so,” Isabella responded sarcastically. It was obvious to her that they were a couple.

Tanja told her how she had met Kris and described their platonic relationship. Isabella eyed her somewhat suspiciously, but decided she had to be telling the truth. There would be no reason for her to lie to her that she could think of, but you never know.

“Even still, I don’t blame Kris for being pissed at you. Leaving him waiting on the beach was bad enough, but keeping the key with you as well …”

“I know, I know; I feel rotten enough as it is, you don’t need to rub it in,” Tanja bemoaned. “As I said, I didn’t do it on purpose.”

At that moment, Kris walked into the dining room in search of another cup of coffee and noticed Isabella sitting with Tanja.

“Morning,” he called out to her, seeming more cheerful than he had been earlier.

“Morning,” she replied waving at him.

Once he had poured himself a cup of coffee, Kris wandered over towards them.

“She’s right you know,” he said by way of an opener. “We’re not a couple. We only met a few days ago.”

With that, he turned and made his way out of the door, coffee in hand.

Isabella looked at Tanja with a baffled expression on her face.

“Was he listening to us talking?”

“I really don’t think so,” Tanja said shaking her head doubtfully. “We’d finished talking by the time he came in and I really don’t think he would have been able to hear us.”

That guy is spooky,” Isabella said shaking her head, but she didn’t mean it in a negative way. “How do you think he does it?”

“I have no idea and neither does he, but I want to know,” she said. “He said he’s been looking for an explanation his entire life and still has no clue, so what chance have I got?” she asked rhetorically.

Kris came back in the dining room a few minutes later, empty coffee cup in hand, and his entire bearing was completely altered; he was obviously not the same person who had crawled out of bed that morning  all surly and churlish. His entire mien now radiated peace like the pale morning sun radiated its gentle glow. It was as if he had resolved some internal issue that had been bothering him.

“Hi,”  he said to the girls, with the familiar grin that Tanja had grown accustomed to in the short time she had known him.

“Hi,”  she responded with equal warmth, glad that the dis-ease that had blighted their night and early morning now appeared to be behind them.

“So, what time are we hitting the trail?” he asked with a gleam in his eyes.

“Steady on cowboy,” Tanja responded playfully, smiling cheerfully at him. “Can I just finish my breakfast first?” she asked rhetorically, although her plate was already empty and her coffee cup drained.

“Take your time; I’m only doing nothing,” he responded cheekily, his lantern jaw stretching into a mischievous grin.

Isabella smiled at the easy rapport between the two and again wondered if they were being honest with her; they seemed like the perfect couple. It was almost inconceivable that they had only known each other less than a week. It was if they had known each other for years and years. As she pondered this thought, her mind wandered to the possibility of past lives. She could offer no other explanation for the easy and effortless grace between the two. Her belief in reincarnation was not a subject she had shared with anyone else before, secretly harbouring it until a soul mate sailed into her life; it simply wasn’t a subject you could publicly talk about without the glazed look of ridicule in people’s eyes. One day, she thought, sighing to herself.

“Well, I’m gonna leave you two, erm, friends to it,” she said impishly, further enhancing her pixyish appearance.

Tanja frowned at her, but only playfully, with mock indignation.

“Have a great day with your friend,” Tanja said, all trace of her previous negative mood now as apparent as the stars in the bright blue skies.

“I will,” Isabella responded, waving at the reconciled couple as she left the dining room.

“Ready?” he asked when he was ready.

“Almost,” she responded,” but there’s one thing before we go.”

“Really?” he asked, but his cheeky grin suggested he knew exactly what it was she was referring to.

“Really!” she said with finality.

“Oh, ok then, come here,” he said, opening his arms wide like Cristo Rentor atop Corcovado.

“Thank you,” she said simply, wrapping her arms around him in a strong affectionate embrace.

“Think nothing of it,” he said, a huge grin on his face. “As I said, merde acontence!”

They remained entwined in each others arms for what seemed an eternity, although neither of them feeling anything more than the joy of pure friendship; this was certainly the most powerful platonic relationship either of them had ever shared. This again set Kris’ mind to pondering the purpose of their partnership as the energy of their bond coursed through him; something powerful and palpable.

“Right, well let’s go,” she said finally, disengaging herself from his strong arms, again at one with him, life and all its beauty and glory.

The sun had already removed the chill from the crisp morning air and was shining down brilliantly from the clear blue sky. The day promised to be warm and the tough trail through the dense forest promised to be sweaty, hot and arduous and the pair were dressed accordingly in light summer tops and shorts, although their feet were encased in thick socks and good hiking boots.

Kris and Tanja, with their foreknowledge gained from their previous hike, decided to stop at the closest store to stock up on things they thought they might need to sustain themselves throughout their day’s hike. They chose plenty of carbohydrates in the form of bananas and savoury crackers to provision their backpacks; the potassium from the former and the sodium from the later chosen to alleviate the problem of cramping due to mineral loss from excessive sweating, and they both doubled up on the quantity of water they had brought the first day. Not that Kris was bothered about drinking the fresh mountain water, but he was not certain he would find any today. Kris was somewhat bothered by the mineral water in the supermarket – every single one had fluoride added. He could find not one without added fluoride! What was this all about? Was this the same throughout Brazil?

He had a friend whose father was a dentist back in Canada and specialised in the treatment of dental issues in communities with a high concentration of native peoples. Obviously, these were poorer areas and the regular cost of maintaining dental hygiene was comparatively high and the poorer people suffered severely from poor dental health. His friend’s father had told him the incidence of fluorosis was very high; a consequence of high levels of artificially added fluoride in the local drinking water. He had also read of the link between fluoride and the pacification of the human brain; something that had been studied and implemented in Nazi concentration camps according to some sources. Why was it that he was unable to buy bottled water that was unfluoridated? He assumed that the town drinking water was fluoridated as well, and for this reason he avoided it, but why would they insist on adding fluoride to bottled mineral water? Was it because the poor people drank the town supply and the wealthier drank bottled mineral water and the government wished to have all the population receiving the benefits of fluoride? And Kris, due to his connections with current dentists, was aware that it had nothing to do with the stated objective of reducing caries! He had seen studies showing that the incidence of caries differed not one iota statistically in areas where the town water supply was fluoridated and those where the water was not.

With their backpacks fully loaded, the newly reconciled couple set off for their day’s adventure, both with no idea what the days exploits would bring and both glad of that. That was what made life so interesting for the intrepid duo – no 9 to 5 routine for this pair. These two craved different experiences, not content to simply sit in front of their computer screens to experience the world, but to actually go out there and experience it for themselves first hand – unfortunately, a rare and dying breed amongst their modern day peers.

Providentially for them, the heavy canopy of the forest kept the sun well and truly off them as the trail they traipsed was fully in the shade, but they paid a price for this with the humidity that the selfsame canopy not only generated, butn also retained and they had soon worked up a sweat; Kris more than Tanja due to his inherent lack of fitness, but the torturous trail to Lopes Mendes had lifted his fitness level a few notches and he found even the steepest climbs on this track a touch easier and less arduous than similar stretches on the way to Lopes Mendes.

There was an easy, comfortable silence between the two as they hiked. Not a silence born of the need to conserve energy and breath, but a silence born of the comfort of being able to retreat into the mind and reflect without having to worry about the need to be constantly talking. Tanja’s brow however, was knitted as though wrestling with some inner turmoil when she suddenly broke the silence.

“Hey Kris, I’ve been thinking about all these weird things that you’ve been talking about and the crazy coincidences that I’ve seen for myself,” she said.

Kris was intrigued, wondering what was coming next.

“Uh huh,” he muttered simply, waiting.

“Well, from what you’ve said and what I’ve seen, you never seem to benefit from this, right?” she asked, trying to understand the whole scheme of things.

“Wrong!” he responded, much to her surprise.

“Wrong? What do you mean wrong?” she asked.

“Well, let me give you a few examples,” he started simply. “I already mentioned the episode with the rain; I certainly benefitted there by not getting wet, but let me tell you another story. Once, when I was in first year at university, I was so broke I had no money for food, cigarettes, beer, nothing and I refused to sponge off my parents, and was wondering where on earth I could get some money, I was standing outside the university, and I kid you not, I saw something falling gently from the skies, like a leaf dropping from the trees, and it landed right between my feet. I bent down and picked up a $50 note…”

“You cannot be serious,” she said, eyes and mouth open wide.

“Yep, totally serious. I looked around to see where it had come from and I have no idea. To this day I don’t have a clue where it came from. It was just there exactly when I needed it and, to top it off, it fell right between my feet!”

“Wow, that’s amazing,” Tanja said.

“Yea, but I think it manifested because I asked for it,” he explained.

“Asked? Asked who, God?”

Kris shrugged his shoulders.

“Hmm, that I don’t know; I don’t believe in God per se, at least not in the traditional sense, and it’s not as if I was praying with a religious fervour. But I have found that if I just vocalise a desire it seems to somehow manifest itself, although not always in the way I expect. I just have no idea who I’m asking – God, a god, Gaia, Mother Nature? I have no answer!”

“But that doesn’t make sense,” Tanja insisted. “That’s just an old fashioned belief in magic.”

Kris laughed. “Well, it may sound like that, but it works. All I know is that we are the ultimate creators. What we think, we create,” He told her.

“How so?”

“Well, it’s like that story I told you of the guy who said he was gonna fall when abseiling and created that reality.”

“Yeah, but that’s different, that’s with his own belief system. To create something out of thin air is something totally different,” she stated.

“I didn’t say I created the money, but perhaps I created the conditions for it to happen.”

“Bullshit!” She spat sceptically. “Ok, prove it to me. Make some money appear right now,” she insisted.

Kris sighed heavily.

“I don’t think it’s quite that easy. Back then I had a real urgent need and my mind was totally focused on the necessity,” he tried explaining. “I don’t have the need right now.”

“That’s what I thought; totally untestable; fails scientific analysis every time.”

She was getting very haughty and self righteous and Kris likened her to James Randi, the arch Skeptic, and drew a deep draught of air into his lungs to calm himself.

“Ok, I will try and believe that I really want it, but I can’t guarantee anything,” he told her.

He stopped in the middle of the path, closed his eyes and focused his mind for a few minutes in total silence. Tanja merely looked on observing silently. He then opened his eyes and raised his arms heavenwards.

“I really need some money,” he said to the skies in a clear and calm voice.

“So, how long do we have to wait? Does it happen instantly like in the movies?”

Kris wasn’t sure if she was playing with him or being serious, but he tended towards the former.

“It usually takes some time, but that time I had the money fall between my feet it was virtually instantaneo…” he stopped mid word and laughed, a huge smile breaking out on his face.

“What?” She asked, wondering what could have caused his change of mood so suddenly.

“You are so not gonna believe this, in fact even I’m struggling,” he told her.

“What, what?” She asked becoming impatient.

“Look,” he said pointing to the ground just behind her feet, where she had moments before trod, and bent down and picked up a fifty real note.

“Oh, come on. You can’t expect me to fall for that. You just threw it there. I’m not stupid you know,” she said, more than a hint of exasperation evident in her voice.

“Have a look at it if you don’t believe me,” he said handing here the note, which was folded and damp, the heavy morning dew beading on its surface.

Her mouth moved as if to say something, but only strange, strangled sounds  came out. Kris noticed this, a triumphant look on his face, but said nothing, having no desire to rub it in. If Tanja’s world view had been somewhat rocked by some of the previous things she had seen and heard from Kris, it was now completely shattered. This latest demonstration would irrevocably change her and she would need to construct new paradigms by which to live her life.

Even Kris could not explain what had just happened. Surely it would be too much to just put this down to coincidence; that would be stretching the odds far too much, but if not coincidence then what? Thoughts of the non linear nature of time came to mind. In the past he had believed in the nature of cause and effect, but many things had happened to make him re-evaluate this position including the latest discoveries in quantum physics. As ever, he simply admitted he didn’t know and left it at that.

The pair continued on the trail in silence, but it was a different silence than before. The silence was now heavily charged and pregnant with many unspoken and half-formed thoughts as Tanja struggled to comprehend the world anew.

The quiet  air was gradually being invaded by a noise that grew steadily louder and louder. It was the sound of people. Lots of people. The source of the sound soon became apparent when the two friends rounded a bend and almost walked straight into a large group of young people. They bid good morning to the group and squeezed past them on the narrow trail.

“There’s a research station from the Federal University of Rio here on this part of the island,” Tanja explained, which obviously accounted for these people. They had the look of biology students, Kris thought.

Shortly after the hubbub of the students disappeared, the end of the trail became visible and both were surprised by what lay at its end. There, beyond the clay surface of the trail, lay what appeared to be a small town, obviously military in nature and obviously in serious need of some repears as there was peeling paint on many of the buildings and some even had broken windows with rotten wooden frames and tiles missing from some of the rooves. They passed a sentry box with a military policeman stationed inside.

“Bom dia,” they both said to the sentry as they passed.

He wished them both good morning and called them back to him.

Com licence, vocês precisam se cadastrar,” – Excuse me, you need to register yourselves − he informed them.

This was typical of Brazil. People need to register themselves to enter many places, including some shopping centres. Brazil likes to regulate everything and even has rules for its rules.

Quais são os seus nomes?” – What are your names? – He asked them genially enough, however they both found the pistol at his side a little disconcerting.

“Tanja Radic,” Tanja told him and Kris noticed that he simply wrote Tania on the sheet on the clipboard in his hand.

“John Person,” Kris told him and Tanja gave him a sharp look, but said nothing and the policeman simply wrote João.

The officer started giving them information, but Kris struggled to understand everything that was being said and simply nodded and smiled, offering the occasional where he thought appropriate and the two were soon on there way again towards the beach.

“What did he say?” Tanja asked. “I couldn’t understand him properly.

No, idea,” Kris replied laughing, “neither could I.”

“And what’s with this John Person?” she asked, hands on her hips, a sharp expression creasing her features.

Again he laughed.

“I hate giving my information out if I don’t have to and John Person was the most anonymous name I could think of.”

She shook her head disapprovingly at him, but said nothing further on the subject and they wound their way around the short streets in the direction of the beach.

Despite being further from the pousada than Lopes Mendes, the pair had covered the distance far quicker and arrived in  much better condition. The trail had been nowhere near as torturous and rigorous. Once they reached the beach, they received a double dose of disappointment; the beach was incredibly narrow, only about 3 feet wide and there was a cold howling gale blasting along the beira. There would be neither swimming nor sunbathing for the two today.

By silent mutual consent, the pair drifted along the narrow shore, their backs protecting them from the biting wind that blew, whipping the sand up like a sandblaster. Presently, they arrived at one of the rivers for which the place was obviously named. The dark orange brown water wound its way to the sea where the two waters mingled. There was a flock of ugly urubu – vultures – feasting on the carcass of something at the water’s edge and Kris wandered towards them to have a closer look. Although he found the birds physically repellent, he found himself conversely at the same time attracted to them. What the fascination was he couldn’t say.

The urubu continued feasting on the carrion as Kris approached, but they kept a very watchful eye on him as he did so. When he was within ten feet, their courage finally failed, or was it hunger and greed that kept them there so long? and they lifted off into the air with heavy and slow flaps of their wings. Kris investigated the carcass to see if he could identify the species, but the carrion eaters had ripped the creature to pieces, scattering bones all around, and torn the fur and flesh off making identification very difficult. He then noticed that Tanja had joined him and seemed to be equally interested in the remains.

“Any idea what it is?” she asked bending down to have a look, not seeming in the slightest disgusted or revolted by the remains.

“It’s a bit hard to tell,” he said, “but I would guess that it was probably a gambá – opossum – I can’t be sure, the greedy bastards have done a great job on it.”

“How do you know what they’re called in Portuguese?” she asked, a puzzled expression on her face.

“That’s easy,” he said with a gentle laugh. “I did some research on what species I could expect to find in Rio.”

The urubu had settled on a nearby monolith and were keeping a close eye on the pair and their lunch and were eagerly awaiting their departure so they could return to their meal. Not wishing to keep them waiting any longer, the two ambled away, Kris wading in the warm dark water of the river and Tanja treading the pale sands on its side. Without either being consciously aware of it, their trajectories diverged until they were some distance from each other; each though, perfectly comfortable with this.

In his own thoughts, Kris found his mind drifting back to Tahlia again and questioning as to how come, in light of the events of the past week with his knowing and the coincidences, he didn’t have an inkling that she had been betraying him? The answer, he finally concluded, was that his premonitions and associated paranormal phenomena had been in abeyance until he had met Tanja. Only then had they returned as strong as they had ever been, and perhaps he had been too blinded by his feelings for her to pick up on the subtle cues.

The individual paths of the pair again crossed and the urubu had settled back onto their midday feast anew now that the duo were no longer threatening to steal their meal; the sun was warm on their bare flesh, but the wind was still whipping up the sand along the beach. Kris suggested that they seek shelter from this howling gale behind the row of trees that had obviously been planted as a wind break and where some grass had also been planted and was well maintained.

After laying out their respective towels, eating a simple meal of fruit, cheese and biscuits, they stretched out in the glorious sunshine, sheltered from the harsh, howling wind and Kris found his thoughts drifting to his newly encountered buddy, Chris and wondered how he was getting on with his Brazilian babe. He felt an ominous knot grow in the pit of his stomach and thought that things were perhaps not going too well for him. He felt convinced that their relationship had suffered the same fate as his own and thought it decidedly odd how their lives had paralleled each other’s and he pondered the significance of this, but didn’t dwell on it because he was sure he would never find out.

Feeling an overwhelming urge to call Chris, he took out his cell phone. Although his Canadian phone was roaming enabled, it was useless without a signal. It was no real surprise that there was no signal in his remote island hideaway and he put the cell phone away vowing to give Chris a call at the earliest opportunity.

As the sun disappeared behind the trees and hills, Kris and Tanja decided to hit the trail and return to their pousada. The guard in the sentry box, asking the pair their names, checked them off on his list.

“I wonder what he’d do if we didn’t come back past here today,” Tanja mused.

“Probably send out the search dogs and hunt us down,” Kris responded with a laugh, but he was only half joking.

They had not seen a single dog since leaving Abraão that morning, when suddenly, out of the blue, two dogs came bounding around the bend almost crashing into them a few minutes later. The two dogs were very well kempt, but bore no collar around their necks; too well groomed to be strays, Kris thought as he reached down to give them a stroke when they came to a halt and graciously allowed him this boon.

“Now, where the heck did they come from?” Kris asked rhetorically.

“No idea,” Tanja answered with a shake of her head, reaching down and stroking them as well. “Perhaps they were kept ready to hunt for us,” she ventured.

The two dogs were of indeterminate breed, both medium sized, but both very friendly like the other dogs they had encountered on the island. After a few moments of affectionate playing, the four travellers continued on their hike back to Abraão, the air thick and humid beneath the dense forest canopy,  the thin clothing of the two humans sticking to their skin, soaked with sweat. The canines, on the other hand, showing no indication of the sultry conditions, merely panting and lolling their tongues as is the wont of their species.

“I wonder if they have toucans here,” Kris suddenly asked rhetorically.

“I have no idea,” Tanja responded.

“I know they have them in the city of Rio, but I’m not sure if they have them here, but you have to wonder about them though.”

“What do you have to wonder?” she asked.

“Well, I’m a firm believer in biological and evolutionary adaption to the local environment…”

“Yeah, me too,” she said interrupting him.

“Well, take the hummingbird for example. Its long, thin curved beak is perfectly adapted to reach down into the bottom of the deepest flower to drink of its nectar, but what of the bill of the toucan? Why the heck is it so huge?”

“All the better to eat you with,” she said with a playful grin.

“Indeed,” he responded wryly.

“In Croatia, we have a story about the bad wolf…”

“Yeah, we’ve got the same story,” he said interrupting her.” In fact, I think the whole world has the same story.”

Both of them quickly turned to the dense canopy as something large, dark and heavy disturbed the foliage.

“What’s that, a monkey?” Tanja asked excitedly.

“Knowing my luck this week, it’s probably a damned toucan,” Kris rejoined wryly.

A dark shape could be seen hidden behind the uppermost branches and it suddenly leapt from one branch to another and then one tree to another. A bright, colourful flash of orange was suddenly visible through the leaves.

Courtesy Teja Muha

“Fuck me, I don’t believe it,” Kris said shaking his head. “Well, I do believe it, but you know what I mean.”

Clearly visible in the upper branches was a magnificent black toucan with an enormous bright orange/yellow and black bill. Suddenly, like two fighter jets engaging in a dog fight, two smaller birds swooped on the hapless toucan, barely missing its flanks. The toucan hopped to another branch and the two aerial fighters launched another attack. This time the toucan took to the air, begrudgingly flapping its huge wings as it departed, thwarted by the midget invading air force.

“What the hell, I don’t believe I just saw that,” Tanja exclaimed exasperatedly.

“Saw what, the toucan as I was asking about it, or the smaller birds attacking it?

“Well, both actually,” she answered honestly, “but more so the two small birds attacking it.”

“That is far more common than you might imagine,” he informed her. “It’s usually a defensive/aggressive reaction from the smaller birds. I read somewhere that although mainly frugivorous, toucans will also eat insects, small birds and eggs and those smaller birds have obviously developed the tactic of ganging up on the toucan to protect their nests.”

“Makes sense,” she said, “but those little birds seem so brave.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” he said with a short laugh, “but it’s a big bad world out there; eat or be eaten.”

The rest of their trek on the trail back to Abraão passed without further incident, the two humans accompanied by the two guide dogs at their side, and they arrived back at the main beach with still about another hour of light left in the late afternoon sky.

“So, that is Pico Do Papagaio,” Tanja told Kris, indicating the rocky crag rising high above the green blanket of trees.

“Looks more like a dog’s head,” Kris said dryly, “and bearing in mind what’s happened with our inadvertent guide dogs so far on the island, I’d say that would be a better moniker – Dog’s head mountain – montanha de cabeça de cão,” he said rolling the words around his mouth, reaching down to stroke the pair of guide dogs at his side.

“So, are you climbing up there with me tomorrow?” she asked hopefully.

Courtesy Teja Muha

Kris was not sure; such physical exertion was not really his thing. Sure, he had spent a lot of time on the ski slopes of the Rocky Mountains, but most of that had been on the way down and the way up had always been made easy, travelling by the cable cars and ski lifts. This would be something wholly different altogether; this would involve real physical exertion and his hike to Lopes Mendes had been sufficient to prove that his fitness level left a lot to be desired.

“I’m not sure,” he said finally. “Let’s see in the morning.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter,” she replied stubbornly before softening her tone a little. “I’m going up there with or without you, but I’d like your company though.”

They reached the sand and the couple removed their shoes and stepped onto the shore, paddling in the shallow water of its edge. The two guide dogs accompanied them, splashing happily in the cool clear water.

Absent mindedly, Kris bent down, scooped up a stone and skimmed it across the slick surface and was somewhat taken aback when one of the dogs charged into the water after it. He was further surprised when it dived below the surface and retrieved a stone from the bottom and brought it back to him, dropping it at his feet. Kris was unsure if it was the exact same stone, but it certainly seemed to be. He picked up the stone and another besides, using the second one he scratched an X across the surface of the other and again hurled it out to sea. Again, the now soaking wet dog leapt after it, again diving beneath the surface and retrieving a stone and dropping it at his feet again. Kris scooped up the stone and was pleasantly satisfied to see the X scrawled across its surface.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiHPcAugBtQ&feature=endscreen&NR=1

“Well I’ll be damned,” he said shaking his head. “These damned dogs continue to surprise the hell out of me.”

Tanja said nothing, just simply stood there shaking her head in silent shock and awe as well. After a few minutes, Kris finally tired of the game and, much to the dog’s disappointment, finally left the stone on the wet sand. The dog, in an effort to encourage him to continue, picked it up again in his slobbering mouth and dropped it at his feet. Kris merely kicked it a short distance, nonetheless the dog still chased after it excitedly, but realised the game was over as Kris walked off and it gambolled after him, shaking the salt water from its fur in a big spray, wetting disgruntled beach goers in the process.

A few minutes later, as they were passing an orelhã0 – big ear – as the local public phone shells were called, the phone within began ringing. A cheeky, childish grin grew on Kris’s face as he ran over to answer it. He loved to answer public phones when they rang, especially in foreign countries, and confuse the hell out of the person at the other end of the line.

“This is Kris’s phone,” he muttered mechanically. “I’m sorry; Kris can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave your name and number and he will get back to you at his earliest possible convenience,” he finished pompously.

“Kris, stop being an asshole,” the voice on the other end said with obvious irritation. Kris let out an almost girlish shriek and practically threw the handset away.

“What’s the matter?” Tanja asked, eyes wide with concern.

“I’ll tell you in a minute, but you ain’t gonna believe this,” he said, shaking his head, disbelieving his own ears.

“… you stop being an asshole, Kris,” he heard as he brought the receiver back to his ear.

“Chris, is that you?” He asked, although it was patently obvious that it was.

“Of course it’s me, who else would it be?” Chris responded, a serious note of irritation in his voice, but with a darker undertone.

“You know where I am, buddy?” Kris asked, still not believing the evidence of his own ears.

“I assume you’re still on that damned Island,” he responded tersely.

“I’m in a fucking public phone booth,” he yelled incredulously.

“What are you talking about?” Chris asked, wondering what all the confusion was about.

“I was walking along the beach when I heard the phone ringing in a public phone booth, picked it up and you’re on the other fucking end!” He was still struggling to come to terms with the sheer magnitude of this current coincidence; the odds against it were just so staggeringly small as to be beyond comprehension.

“For fuck sake, Kris, now is not the time to be fucking with me.”  He was rapidly losing patience with Kris’s bullshit and was just not in the mood for this crap.

“I called your cell phone, now will you shut the fuck up and listen to me.”

“Buddy, I am not shitting you, I swear,” Kris responded desperately.

He managed to get Chris to read back the number he had dialled and Chris finally accepted that he had indeed dialled incorrectly and by a billions to one chance had reached him at exactly the same moment he was walking past the very phone booth he had accidentally called.

“So, what’s up?” Kris asked once the shock had finally worn off and he realised that his friend was not in a good way.

Chris told him!

He finally replaced the receiver in the cradle and recounted what had just happened to Tanja who had been eagerly waiting for him to hang up the phone and tell her just what the hell was going on. He told her everything, from his meeting with Chris to the way their lives had eerily paralleled each other’s, down to the similarity of their girlfriend’s name and ultimate betrayal.

This was yet another blow to her former way of thinking and she knew without a shadow of a doubt that she would be spending a very long time searching for some explanation for the things that had happened, just as Kris had had to do. She wondered if she too would have to resign herself to never knowing, never finding an answer, but she knew she would start searching as soon as she could.

“Come on, let’s go get a drink. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell could use one,” Kris told her, leading her to the nearest bar, not even waiting for a response.

She followed meekly, suppliant to his will.

They sat at a slatted, rickety table on the calçada and a waiter promptly arrived, cardápio in hand. Kris had a quick look through it and ordered two double aged cachaças and a garrafa de cerveja. Again, Tanja made no comment, simply allowing him to order for the two of them, sitting there composing her thoughts.

The drinks arrived in good time and Kris asked the waiter to leave the menu as he would order some food in a while.

“Here’s to high end weirdness and coincidences,” he said raising his glass.

“To complete and utter total weirdness,” she responded, raising her own glass.

Kris swallowed half of his drink in one draught whilst Tanja merely sipped at the fiery golden liquor.

“Get it down you,” Kris urged her. “I’m sure you could use it.”

She took a much larger swig as he finished the rest of his glass with a noisy expulsion of air. A fly chose this moment to circumnavigate Tanja’s face and her attempts to shoo it away were totally ineffective.

“What the hell,” Tanja shrieked as Kris lunged across the table, swiping the air in front of her face.

“Just getting rid of the fly,” he said with a grin, shaking a closed fist at her.

“You’re not trying to tell me you caught it, are you?”

“No, I’m not trying to tell you I caught it, I did catch it.”

Although he was grinning mischievously like a naughty child, his eyes were deadly serious.

“Care to make a little wager?” he asked, eyes gleaming.

“No way,” she said laughing. “I know better than to never make a bet with you.”

Kris beamed at her and opened his fingers one by one and the fly, sensing freedom, took advantage and flew away in search of other faces to pester.

“So, tell me, you must have some idea how all these coincidences and such like work,” she said after a few moments thought. “Why is it that they never happen to me?”

“I guess you’re just not receptive to them,” he stated simply.

“I mean that quite literally. I do have a pet theory if you are interested.”

“After what I’ve seen this week, I’m willing to listen to anything,” she told him frankly.

“Right, well, have you never thought of someone you hadn’t seen for a while and then they suddenly ring you?”

“Sure,” she said, “but that’s just coincidence.”

Um, maybe, but I have a different theory and you said you were willing to listen to almost anything, right?”

She nodded her head in guarded agreement.

“Ok, as far as we know, our thoughts are little electrical sparks in our synapses, brain waves, which then transmit their message to the body, agreed?”

“Agreed,” she said nodding concordantly.

“Ok, so imagine if we liken these electrical signals to radio waves; you have a transmitter that transmits the signal, and like radio waves, these brainwaves can travel freely through the air until they are picked up by a receiver, but like a radio has to be tuned into a certain radio station to pick up the signal, so we too have to be tuned into another person’s wavelength to be able to receive their signal; the stronger the connection, the greater the harmony between the transmitter and receiver, the better the reception.”

“Hmm,” she said mulling this new idea over in her mind. It did sound like quite a feasible explanation and he had couched it in terms she could accept.

“Take the situation with Chris today,” he said by way of an example. “I was thinking so strongly about him and his situation and I believe that I was receiving his transmissions, because he told me that Talita finally confessed her infidelity around the same time that I had been thinking so strongly of him back in Dois Rios.”

“Ok, let’s assume that you’re correct, that you were receiving his transmission, as you put it, how then do you explain the phone call?” She asked, trying to make sense of things.

“Ah, you’ve got me there,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders. “I have no rational explanation for that at all,” he said with a smirk and a small shrug.

“But you know we give off other types of signals too.”

“Mm, such as?” she asked, wondering where he was going.

“Well, you know that they say that 70% of our communication is non-verbal, right?”

“Yeah, I’ve heard the same, but it’s not something I have looked into.”

“Well, it’s something I’ve looked into and studied quite extensively,” he said emphatically. “You know when you watch a politician and he says he is going to do such and such as he shakes his head from side to side,” he told her mimicking the gesture, “well, you can pretty much guarantee he’s lying, but it’s not always as blatantly obvious as that, but we each also give off micro expressions that we are unaware of and have no control over.”

“Really? That’s fascinating. It’s not a subject I’ve heard much about.”

“Ah, body language, what a wonderful and valuable tool. As I told you, I’ve always been fascinated by the mind and the body goes hand in hand with that.”

“And how is this useful?” She asked him.

“Well, I can consciously tell when people are lying to me, whereas we are usually only aware subconsciously, when we get a feeling we shouldn’t trust someone for no apparent reason. This is when you read the body subconsciously. I always prefer to do it consciously, but it takes effort. You have to focus.”

“You mean you can tell if I’m lying or not?”

“Yep, wanna try me?” he dared her with a smirk stretching his broad cheeks.

Tanja could not resist a challenge and readily agreed.

“Ok, take the menu and go to the wine list,” he instructed. “Choose four wines from the list, tell me what they are and how much they cost, but don’t give the real price for one of them and I’ll tell you which one you were lying about.”

She liked this game and was certain she would not be discovered, not because she thought herself a good liar, but she doubted his abilities.

“Deal,” she said leafing through the wine list. “Ok, here we go: Concho y Toro Merlot, R$42.00. Santa Helena Cabernet Sauvignon Reservado, R$ 48.50, La Casita Reserva Shiraz …”

“Right, stop there,” he ordered suddenly, interrupting her.

“But I haven’t finished yet,” she complained.

“You don’t need to, you lied about the second one, the Santa Helena, right?”

“Yeah, that’s right, but you’ve seen the wine list and probably remembered the prices, so that proves nothing,” she said sceptically.

“Ok, point taken. It is possible, although I didn’t,” he said leaning back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head. “Alright, let’s try something different; something I could have no way of knowing.”

He was pensive, hands still clasped behind his head, eyes closed for a moment before continuing.

“I know, I’ve got it, pick four people you went to school with, then tell me their names and say whether you liked them or whether you disliked or even hated them. This time you can lie as often as you like, ok, is that good enough for you?”

“Yeah, that’s ok with me, you can’t know that,” she conceded. “Alright, let me think for a minute,” she said. “Ok, I got someone: there was Antonija, I hated her,” she said.

“Right, that’s true. It’s funny how we often remember the negative much more and much clearer than the positive,”

She nodded her head in confirmation and thought about his words a moment. It was true. Her strongest memory from school was that bitch Antonija; she hated her more than she had ever hated anything in her entire life.

“Alright, then there was Lucija, I didn’t like her much either.”

“Nope, you’re lying,” he said confidently and he was correct. She had tried to trick him, but he had read her correctly;  Lucija  was one of her friends.

“Then there was Andrija, I simply adored him.”

“Nope, you’re lying again, but you didn’t hate him either,” he added and again he was spot on, she didn’t hate him, but liked him well enough.

“Ok, then there was Jelka, I really liked her a lot.”

“No you didn’t, you’re lying again, I think you were pretty neutral about her, right?”

She nodded her head once again. Again, she had tried to trick him, figuring that he wouldn’t think she would lie three times in a row.

“Ok, one more,” she said. “Just to prove it’s not just luck.”

He nodded his consent and this time she really tried to focus on keeping her expression as neutral and deadpan as possible.

“Ok, finally there was Goran. I liked him well enough,” she said as blandly as possible.

“You’re lying again. You were crazy about him, weren’t you?”

She nodded her head with a smile, thinking of sweet, sweet Goran, her mountain boy, her first childhood love.

“So, 5 out of 5 correct, right?” He was smiling in a very self satisfied manner.

“Right,” she said shaking her head in disbelief. “But how did you do it? I tried my hardest to keep my face straight, expressionless.”

“As I said,” he explained, “you can’t help yourself; micro-expressions, your body gives you away every time,” he told her, “but it’s a mixture of psychology as well. I was fairly certain that your first thought would be negative, then next you would try and trick me… you were, or should I say we all are, quite predictable creatures.”

As he said this, he slumped slightly and his face dropped as he thought about Tahlia. He was certain that if he had seen her, he would have known if she had been cheating on him, even if she hadn’t told him. He was right, the body can’t lie.

Oi garçon, “Kris said, calling the waiter over, trying to distract his mind from the memory of her and what she had done. “Vê mais duas chachaças e uma porção de bolinha de bacalhau, mais uma porção de batata fritas com quejo pra nos, por favor – Could you bring us two more cachaças and a portion of salted dried cod balls plus a protion of chips with cheese, please.

Mais uma coisa, senhor?” the waiter asked.

Só, mas vocês têm molho de pimenta?” – Just that, but do you have chilli sauce?

“Tem,” the waiter replied, letting him know that they did.

Again, Tanja didn’t react to him taking charge and ordering for the pair of them. Kris was secretly very pleased about this as he now felt secure and safe being in the position he had grown accustomed to. He knew it was simply due to the fact that her head was reeling and she was not able to digest what she had experienced, and he wondered if she would be back to her bossy old self tomorrow.

As they were discussing the many mysteries of life that Kris had experienced, and their possible scientific explanation, a bee buzzed around his face before settling on his forehead. Tanja let out a little shriek and Kris firmly, but calmly, told her to sit still and not to worry; to make no sudden moves.

“But it will sting you,” she said, eyes wide obvious concern.

“No it won’t, unless you scare the crap out of it,” he told her sternly. “The bee has no desire to sting me. They only sting when either they or their colony are attacked. I’m sure they know they will die if they do and I believe they use that ultimate weapon judiciously.”

“But loads of people get stung,” she said.

“Yep, and it’s their fault 99% of the time. They usually panic and try and flick the bee away or otherwise threaten it; that’s when they get stung,” he explained.

She stayed in her seat, chastened as she knew what he was saying was true.

“Hey, I’ve been stung twice in my life, and coincidentally both times on the same day,” he told her placatingly.

“Really? What happened?”

“Well, the first time I got stung, I was in the forest and had taken my shirt off after some tom foolery or other and the bee had obviously climbed inside my shirt as it lay unattended, because I got stung when I put it back on. Obviously, it felt threatened in the confined space and felt it had no other option left, and the second time was later that same day when I got home; I was changing shoes when I felt this searing hot pain in the sole of my foot. Again, the poor thing was trapped.”

“But you only got stung twice before, and both on the same day? That’s a bit strange,” she said.

“Actually, People say things come in threes, both good and bad, but for me, things seem to happen in twos.”

“How so?”

“Well, I have been done for speeding twice, both on the same day, but 400 miles apart. I have split my brow open twice, both on the same day,” he said indicating two almost identical scars, one on each of his eyebrows. “I’ve won a good amount of money on scratch lotteries twice, both on the same day; the list goes on,” he said wistfully, trying to remember all the fortuitous and not so fortuitous pairings he had experienced.

“And what’s your explanation for that?” she asked, intrigued and more open than she would previously have been. Her curiosity had been lubricated by the events of the past few days as well as the double double doses of cachaça she had consumed alongside the beer chaser.

“Attraction, I think!” He said simply.

“How so?” she asked curiously

“Well, it seems to me that what we focus on, we attract,” he told her.

“But that’s just more mumbo jumbo hocus pocus,” she said. “I’m not buying it. That’s not scientific at all.”

“Nope, that as may be, but it seems to be true. It’s as if we send out a signal of some sort and somehow or other the universe finds a way to respond, to fulfil our thoughts. It’s kinda like that story I told you earlier about the guy who was convinced he was gonna fall and his mind found a way to make it come true, except on a much larger scale.”

“But through what mechanism?” She asked.

“Ah, good question; that is something I’m not quite sure about, but if we take Jung’s collective unconscious as a given paradigm, that we are all connected, but expand it to include every living creature and, just for the sheer heck of it, every living thing, then perhaps our brain waves approximate radio waves and propagate through this network.”

“Hmm, and in what way could we all be connected?”

“Again, very good question and again I’m not too sure, but it would work if we consider each and every one of us as individual cells within the greater body of humanity. Through what mechanism do the cells in our body communicate?” He asked.

“No idea, that’s not my field,” she said shaking her head.

“No, it’s not mine either.”

They finished their drinks and bolinhos de bacalhau and Kris called the waiter to settle the account. Tanja reached into her back pack for her purse to pay her share of the bill.

“No, don’t worry; this one’s on me,” Kris informed her, putting a staying hand on her arm.

“No, no, I pay my own way. I don’t want to be indebted to anyone for anything,” she told him firmly.

“Sure, sure; I understand, but let’s just say that we are both paying the bill, remember the R$50 we found this morning?”

You found,” she said splitting hairs, “but alright,” she conceded.

As they were making their way along the compacted clay road they bumped into Marlon. His face immediately split into what Kris deduced was a fake smile; the mouth had moved into the correct gesture, but he had no idea that the eyes also have to match. When someone is genuinely smiling, their eyes crinkle around the edges and they seem to sparkle. Kris had practiced recognising the difference by covering the faces on hundreds of photos, leaving just the eyes exposed. From this, it soon became very obvious who was genuinely smiling.

“Hi,” he called as he saw them and leant forward to kiss Tanja on both cheeks and to take Kris by the hand. Reluctantly and half-heartedly Kris returned the gesture.

“We have party on beach tonight,” he told them. “You come?”

Kris shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly; he really wanted nothing to do with this big phoney, but Tanja was very enthusiastic.

“Excellent,” she beamed, “what time and where?”

“Oh, you know, about 11, on the beach behind the pousada,” he said looking at Tanja, perhaps sensing Kris’s enmity. “There is lots of drinking and music and fire,” he told them eagerly.

Kris wondered what was in it for Marlon. Maybe he would charge an entrance fee, he thought cynically. Tanja promised that they would be there and the couple continued back to the pousada.

After the day’s exercise and the alcohol they’d consumed it was not too long before the pair of them were quietly napping on their respective bunks.

~ ~

Refreshed after her sleep, Tanja went in search of Marlon to find out more details about the beach party, leaving Kris to compose himself in the room. She found Marlon in the rec room playing pool with Melinda, the orange English girl from Essex, giving her his cutest smile. Her boyfriend was on the sidelines looking none too happy about the situation, but saying nothing, just glaring sourly at Marlon, who was either too used to this to care or else too self absorbed to even notice.

“Hi Marlon,” Tanja said as she approached the table.

“Hi,” Marlon responded turning his dazzling smile onto her and she felt her cheeks flush.

“What do we need to bring to the party tonight, some beer, cachaça?”

“No, no, you don’t need bring anything,” he told her shaking his mane of curly dark hair, held in thin braids. “I have everything we need.” He looked at his watch, a fake Rolex, and noting that it was already 11, let everybody know that they would be going soon.

By the time Kris entered the rec room, he found Tanja chatting with Isabella and her friend and then Marlon announced that he was ready to hit the beach. The revellers, many of whom were obviously Brazilian and island residents, were toting assorted instruments from guitars, cavaquinhos, pandeiros to a great assortment of percussion instruments including a plastic bottle partly filled with rice and were ready to party. For Kris, 11 o’clock was late to start a party, for the Brazilians it was early and Marlon was trying to satisfy both the locals and foreigners alike.

“You can help me?” Marlon asked Kris, indicating a large polystyrene cooler full of ice and beer.

“Sure,” he answered obligingly.

Otímo,” Marlon responded with his usual fake smile and turned and walked away leaving Kris standing there.

“Come on, let’s go,” Marlon commanded and led the group out the door. Kris shook his head in disbelief. The bastard had asked for his help and then just dumped the task of carrying the cooler on him. There was no way he could carry it himself, it was too heavy, so he was forced to seek help from one of the other guests in turn.

The beach was only a short walk away, but nonetheless, Kris was extremely glad to get there as his muscles were burning from the shared weight. He felt he had really earned a beer so he reached in a rummaged through the ice and retrieved a cold can. Marlon saw this and strode towards him purposefully.

“5 reais,” he said insistently, thrusting his hand in Kris’s direction.

“What?” Kris asked incredulously.

“The beer,” he told him. “It’s 5 reais for one lata.”

Kris glared at him for a moment, this was over four times the regular retail price and he had no intention of lining the pockets of this wannabe used car salesman.

“Go fuck yourself,” Kris said coldly and calmly, staring into Marlon’s shocked eyes and threw the can at him in disgust and wheeled on his heels in the damp, soft sand. Marlon caught the can easily and began to protest.

“No be like that; I buy the beer and ice and need pay to use the …” he struggled to find the name for the cooler in English so ended up sticking to Portuguese, “caixa. I just get my money back,” he concluded.

Kris stopped, turned around to face him and again stared directly into Marlon’s deep dark eyes.

“I told you, go fuck yourself,” he spat and walked off.

Tanja came running over to intercept him.

“Kris,” she said sternly. “What was all that about?”

He drew a deep breath before explaining the situation and letting her know that he was not going to pay 5 reais for a can of beer. She agreed that it was a bit pricey, but told him she thought he was over reacting.

“I figured he’d pull a stunt like that; I don’t trust the fucker as far as I can kick him and I refuse to be ripped off by him,” he reiterated. “I’m gonna go to the shop to get my own. Do you want some?”

She tried to convince him to change his mind, but Kris was as stubborn as a mule and refused to change his position. She didn’t want to upset Marlon, but she too didn’t want to pay 5 reais per can so asked him to pick her up a six pack.

Kris could have easily found his way back to the beach blindfolded as the party was now in full swing with a roaring fire and the seductive sounds of live samba filling the air, accompanied by the gentle breaking of the waves on the shore. The musicians were very skilled and used the rhythm of the breaking waves as a background for their own rhythm.

The spat he had had with Marlon left a bad feeling in Kris’ stomach and he found it very hard to shake it off and get into the party spirit. The other revellers, Tanja included, seemed to have little trouble and were drinking and dancing and singing happily. Kris kept to himself and alternated between swigs of beer and swigs of neat cachaça from the bottle he had purchased.

His mood was further soured when Júlio arrived, dressed in his Sunday best, hair parted and plastered to one side, and began to fawn over Tanja anew.

“Sorry about the other night,” Júlio said to Kris when he finally spotted him in the shadows. “You know how it is,” he said with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders, “It’s hard work rowing all the way out to the boat …”  he concluded and went back to talk to Tanja.

In no time at all, the air was thick with the acrid smell of cannabis smoke as a number of baseados floated around the group, passing from hand to hand. One found its way into Kris’s hands and he took advantage of it as eagerly as a school child accepting candy from its favourite aunty. The smoke was harsh and tasted unpleasant, with a faint ammonia taste, but the effect was pleasant enough, but did little to enhance his sociability, if anything, it further added to his desire for solitude.

After about an hour of his own company, shared only with the beer and cachaça, Kris decided it was time to go. He didn’t even bother to say goodbye to anyone and made his way unsteadily back to the pousada. He was asleep almost the moment his head hit the pillow.

~ ~

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4. Part 5 Seven-days-of-coincidences-and-the-incidental-guide-dog-sete-dias-de-coincidencias-e-o-cao−guia-incidental

Day 5. Turtles as requested – Tartarugas como pedido

The pleasantly plump owner of the pousada was busily preparing the breakfast when Kris and Tanja walked into the dining room, but bade them a hearty bom dia nonetheless. Kris resolved to have a chat with her about the incident with the three guide dogs the previous day as well as the stories from the other guests and did so at the first opportunity. She did not seem even the least bit surprised when he mentioned the dogs and she simply stated that all the island dogs did the same thing, maybe it was just the magic of the island she told him. As to why the dogs only accompanied foreigners, she had no idea and said she had never even thought about that before. This was something he would have to discover for himself.

Kris poured himself his second coffee of the morning and decided to take it out the front of the pousada where he would enjoy his second cigarette of the morning. He met Isabella on his way out, wished her good morning and let her know that Tanja was inside having breakfast. He smiled to himself as he again thought how much she looked like his idea of a pixie. As he stretched his legs out on the bench under the tree, he was somewhat surprised to discover that his legs felt no negative after affects of their exercise the previous day; perhaps that would only kick in the next day. He remembered when he had done something incredibly stupid as a sixteen year old, when he had bought himself a new racing bike and had ridden to a town fifty miles distant. The journey there had been accomplished in little over four hours, but due to fatigue and hilly terrain, it had taken him almost eight hours to cycle back; his legs and bum bones somewhat tender the following day, but the day after that found him virtually unable to walk.

The boat for their diving trip was not due to leave until 10.30, so the three milled around the social area of the pousada, chatting with the other guests and checking on their emails and social network sites until Tanja decided that it was time to go. It was only 10 O’clock and Kris thought it was still a little early as the jetty was only a five minute walk away, but Tanja explained that they had to pick up their diving equipment from the dive shop and she wanted to have a chat with the shop attendant. Not wishing to argue over a few minutes, Kris said nothing and Isabella seemed happy enough to leave.

At 10.25 the trio were entrenched on the central concrete walkway awaiting the arrival of the boat that was take them to Lagoa Verde, their destination for the day. There were many boats moored out at sea and Kris tried to guess which one would be theirs and impatiently paced the deck smoking cigarettes after cigarette. Patience was not one of his virtues; he hated wasting time doing nothing but waiting, and his irritation grew with the passing of every minute. A neat wooden schooner finally chugged up to the jetty and tied up at 11.10 and his impatience was almost at boiling point by then and he snapped at the captain, expressing his displeasure at the wait. The captain was completely nonplussed; this was not only Brazil, but was also the island and things worked a little differently here; time was a manmade construct and really not so very important. It was 11.30 when the crew finally untied the boat and cast off, chugging away from Vila Abraão towards open water.

With the schooner finally underway, the sun shining in a clear blue sky and a gentle cool breeze blowing in his face, Kris finally relaxed and allowed himself to enjoy the ride. Their destination lay about forty five minutes away and all was well with the world. That was until the monstrous and ugly oil platform hoved into view when they rounded a headland. The site again raised his ire and the three tourists discussed its incongruity in this paradise setting. All three seemed to share the same view on corporatism and the rape and pillage of the environment. Little did the three know that Angra was also home to Rio’s two nuclear reactors and there had been many landslides in this area in recent times, increasing the risk to the residents of Rio of a radiation disaster of the kind so recently seen in Japan.

One of the deck hands approached the trio, introduced himself as Júlio and enquired which of the beautiful ladies was Kris’s namorada. Isabella spoke fluent Spanish, but her grasp of Portuguese was tenuous at best and she didn’t understand more than one word in ten. Tanja laughed and explained that they were simply new found friends. Kris noticed a gleam grow in the deckhand’s eyes and his entire body language subtly changed at that news. Kris sighed wearily to himself; yet another Latin Lothario looking for love, however short lived, excused himself and moved to the other side of the boat; he had no desire to witness the cheesy chat up lines that he was sure would follow.

He fell into conversation with a family from São Paulo, who seemed determined to make the most of the trip. The mother and daughter were drinking caipirinhas that they were expertly making with the ingredients stored in a chiller bag. The father and another man who Kris couldn’t quite manage to fit into the family unit were drinking ice-cold beers. The ladies offered him a caipirinha, which he declined, but accepted a beer from the father and they all toasted each other’s health.

During the cruise, Júlio explained that they would be stopping for lunch at a restaurant on the way back to Vila Do Abrão and handed out menus from which to choose their meals. Kris was horrified at the prices being extorted from the passengers and chose a simple feijão and arroz, the cheapest dish on the menu.

A few minutes later, Kris glanced in the Júlio’s direction and noticed that his attention was fully focused on Tanja, totally ignoring Isabella who was now sitting on the bow with a book in her hand, obviously having lost interest as well. The deckhand’s body language made it obvious that he was very interested in Tanja, but Kris was not able to clearly read hers. She was showing signs of interest, but at the same time remaining slightly aloof. Was she just being polite?

The schooner finally weighed anchor in a small bay with incredibly pale turquoise water and thousands of rainbow coloured fish swarming around the now still boat. One of the crew informed everyone that he was available to take underwater photos of them which they could later purchase for R$10 each. Neither Kris, Isabella nor Tanja paid any attention to him as they donned their snorkelling equipment. Kris had come prepared for the fish and had stuffed a packet of cracker biscuits into the pockets of his shorts before slipping on the flippers and mask that he had hired.

Tanja had stripped down to her green bikini and had likewise donned her diving gear, but she surprised Kris when she approached him and asked if she was going to see any turtles today. Without a moment’s hesitation or thought he reassured her that she would see three of them. This seemed to satisfy her and he wondered whether she was starting to take his claims and stories seriously.

A rather rotund Brazilian in a bikini that was far too small for her in Kris’s opinion was the first to hit the water and she did so with an enormous noisy splash and a squeal and Kris slipped in a moment later, surprised by how cold the water was, unaware that the coast was washed by the cold Antarctic currents. He watched Tanja’s streamlined slim shape slide into the water soon after with barely a splash, but didn’t notice Isabella and was not too bothered as he focused on his own activities.

Courtesy Teja Muha

He distributed some pieces of the rapidly disintegrating crackers around himself and marvelled at the multitude of various species of fish of all shapes, sizes and colours that caused the water to boil around him as they gobbled up the feast. He wanted to share this experience with the two girls, but noticed that Tanja was hugging the shoreline way off in the distance and decided to let her be, but was unable to locate Isabella.

After exploring the area around the boat, he finally found Isabella clinging to a large floatation device on the opposite side of the schooner. He dived beneath the water and glided towards her, surfacing right next to her.

“Hi,” he said smiling, pulling the mask to the top of his head. “What do you think?”

“It’s great,” she gushed, ‘but the water is freezing!”

“I know, I was so not expecting that,” he said in agreement.

At that moment the photographer joined them with his yellow underwater camera in one hand and a bright red sea star in the other, which he passed to Isabella. She looked at it wondering what she was supposed to do with it. The photographer soon let her know by miming the action of him taking a photo of her with it. She shook her head in negation and passed it back to him and he immediately tried to pass it on to Kris who refused to accept it. The photographer accepted the rebuff with bad grace and swam off in a huff. Kris could understand his behaviour as this must be how he earned his living and he probably had to pay a fee to the captain of the ship for being there.

“Have you seen Tanja recently,” Kris asked, but she just shook her head. “No, me neither. Fancy coming with me to try and find her?” he offered.

Again she shook her head. “No, I’ll just stay here for a while, thanks.”

It then dawned on Kris that swimming was probably not one of her fortes and decided to leave it at that and left her to her own devices as he went in search of Tanja. He found her a few minutes later as she rounded a headland back into the bay where the schooner was anchored. He was caught completely by surprise when she suddenly wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly when he reached her.

“What…?” he spluttered as he sank beneath the surface, water filling his snorkel and flooding his mouth.

“Thank you so much,” she said, her eyes burning brightly and her face illuminated with joy.

He was confused and had no clue what she was thanking him for and she obviously read the confusion on his face.

“Turtles!” she exclaimed excitedly. “I saw three of them.”

She then told him how she had found them, initially mistaking the first one for a rock until it moved beneath her hand and then had seen the other two with the first as they lazily glided effortlessly through the water, masters of their underwater domain, showing absolutely no fear.

“Let’s go get the photographer and have some pictures taken with them,” she suggested and Kris told her where he had last seen him.

They swam back towards the boat and found him accompanied by three Japanese tourists gleefully posing for pictures and Tanja breathlessly told  her story exhorting him to follow her to take some pictures of them.

“But I already have pictures of turtles,” he told her and flicked through the bank of photos stored on the memory card to show her.

“But you don’t understand,” she explained, “I want a picture with me and Kris with the turtles.”

Kris flushed a little at this, secretly happy that she wanted to include him in her moment of joy.

The photographer, however, was not even remotely interested and rudely turned his back on her, returning instead to the Japanese tourists. Obviously, they were easier money than what she was offering. Tanja was livid and cursed him in her native tongue.

“Kurvin sin!”

“Come on,” she said, taking Kris by the hand and leading him back to where she had encountered the trio of turtles. At that moment, the deckhand Júlio pierced the quiet air with a shrill whistle in an effort to draw the tourists back to the boat. Like obedient fish, the people in the water started swimming back in the direction of the schooner, but Tanja completely ignored it. Kris looked from her to the returning swimmers, simply shrugged his shoulders and swam after her. Again the whistle screamed and again the pair simply ignored it.

The couple soon reached the spot where Tanja had spotted the turtles, but they were long gone and there was no sign of them. They split up and surveyed the area, but to no avail until someone could be seen heading in their direction. It was the devious deckhand who seemed desperate to get closer to Tanja. She asked if it was possible to say for a bit longer; she hadn’t realised the time would be so limited when she had booked the tour. He explained that they had to return to the boat as they had reservations at restaurant where they would already be preparing the pre−ordered food and had to leave immediately. There was a petulant look on Tanja’s face, but she finally acceded and the trio made their way back to the schooner.

Kris was grateful to be back on board as he wrapped his towel around his frigid frame and basked in the glorious sunshine, warming himself. He swapped stories with Tanja about the different creatures he had seen – octopi, garfish, sea stars, a galaxy of different fish, many of which he had no clue as to their names, one ugly looking pallid sea snake amongst them, but he had failed to see a single turtle. Isabella was surprisingly quiet about what she had seen, merely mentioning that she had seen some fish. After chatting to all the different groups on board, Kris discovered that out of everyone, Tanja was the only one who had seen a single turtle. His prediction had come true for her alone and no one else. When he commented on this fact she again hugged him gratefully and asked if she could see some dolphins now. He shook his head and laughed, no, she would see no dolphins on the island this time; she didn’t really mind because she had seen the one thing she wanted – turtles!

After sailing for about twenty minutes, during which time Júlio didn’t leave Tanja’s side, the boat moored alongside a narrow wooden jetty. He indicated the restaurant which held their reservation and explained to everyone that they would stay here for an hour before returning to Abraão.

Isabella said that she was not going to be eating as she hadn’t ordered anything and both Kris and Tanja implored her to stay and share their meals, but she was adamant, saying that she preferred to have a little look around and enjoy the sun and wished them bom appetite.

When they explained their order to the man acting as waiter, for surely he was no professional, the couple discovered that they had both ordered the same dish.

“I’m not paying R$40 for fish with chips, rice and salad,” she explained indignantly. “They can go fuck themselves if they think I will.”

Kris laughed and agreed that he too would not pay those criminal prices, but also added that he found the combination of chips and rice to be, to say the least, a bit odd, but he had seen it on so many menus since arriving in Brazil. His expectation of Brazilian food had been so high, but the reality had left him completely flat. Not that the food was bad, but it was generally very simple and the way it was put together seemed a bit bizarre to him – like chips and rice for example.

Their meal eventually arrived after a half hour wait, the owner/waiter appearing totally stressed, taking the wrong orders to tables, resorting to wandering from table to table to find the rightful recipients and Kris wondered what the place would be like if they got really busy. The feijão and arroz was tasty enough, but a little bland for Kris’ exotic taste so he asked for some molho de pimenta – chilli sauce −to be brought to the table. After five minutes or so without the sauce appearing, Kris again got the attention of the waiter and asked for it anew. The waiter seemed completely stressed and appeared as if he was doing everything by himself. Kris wondered if he had done the cooking too. The chilli sauce finally arrived at the table when Kris had about two mouthfuls left; his patience had run out long before and he’d just kept eating hoping it would arrive before he finished.

With the meal finished, the couple paid their bill and decided to go for a walk and stretch their legs. After a few minutes Tanja announced that she was going to sunbathe for a while and, to be fair, her pallid lily white skin looked to Kris as if it could do with a little bronzing. She found Isabella on the jetty, grabbed her towel and joined her in the bright warm sunshine. He left them to their own devices and decided to have a look around alone.

If Copacabana beach was narrow, Kris thought, then what was this? This beach was a mere line of sand, being no more than two feet wide, a mere fraction of that most famous beach, probably only measuring two hundred metres in length. What it lacked in majesty it made up for in things that interested Kris. He found an abundance of beautiful flowers deposited on its shore, with heavy, almost plastic petals, still in their prime and then he chanced upon something that shocked the heck out of him. What the hell was that doing here? He had chanced upon a penguin stretched out in all its splendour, but lacking its head, at least he was convinced it was an arctic penguin but was at a loss to explain its presence this far north. It was his understanding that they kept to the chilly arctic waters of the south and wouldn’t possibly venture this far north. But what did he know? This was not his area of expertise; perhaps he could be totally way off the mark. He finished his exploration of this tiny beach head and headed back to the jetty, telling the girls of his gruesome discovery when he arrived. Like him, they were sceptical of the presence of an arctic penguin in these temperate waters and demanded proof of his claims. When they too saw the grisly remains, their previous doubts disappeared like the rain of the previous morning.

Courtesy Teja Muha

Júlio sauntered in their direction and Tanja questioned him about the presence of the pinguim. He told them that they were, whilst not common visitors to these shores, also not rare. Tanja translated for Isabella who was looking on blankly. Judging by her reaction to Júlio, Kris suspected that she felt the same lack of interest in Júlio as he did. Júlio related a story of surfing one day and having a pinguim riding the same wave as he. Kris yawned and wandered off leaving the girls with Júlio and when he glanced over his shoulders at them, he saw Isabella also making a hasty exit.

The wooden boat slowly wended its way around the stunning coastline of the spectacular island, passing isolated pockets of human habitation in the midst of the lush, verdant forest. As they wound around the tight curves, Kris noticed an isolated islet with a for sale sign tacked onto a tree. He craned his neck to get a better view and realised there were a number of dwellings obscured by the dense foliage of the trees and idly wondered how much the price tag was; surely too much for him in this lifetime.

For the rest of the journey back to Abraão, Kris maintained his distance from Tanja as she was totally absorbed in Júlio and he in her. He wasn’t sure why this made him feel uncomfortable; he had no proprietary rights on her and certainly wasn’t interested in her sexually. Maybe it was just that he was feeling jealous that this man who he trusted not was sucking her in with his Latin looks and charm. He tried to shake off this feeling, but it still nagged in his stomach. Instead, he spent his time gazing at the fabulous views and chatting with Isabella, but the connection he had shared with Tanja was conspicuous by its absence.

The boat docked at the jetty and Júlio thanked them for coming on the diving tour and bid them all farewell. Tanja bade him an animated goodbye, but Isabella and Kris merely proffered perfunctory polite responses.

“So, what’s on the agenda for tonight?” Kris asked Tanja when they were firmly ensconced in their room, cool beer in hand.

“We’re going to see Júlio’s boat, don’t you remember?”

Kris looked at her with a confused expression on his face.

“Uh no, I don’t remember,” he replied honestly. “And you’re not trying to tell me that boat is his?”

“No!” she replied impatiently. “Weren’t you listening? He lives on a boat and he invited us to come and see it tonight.”

Shit, there’s no way I’m letting her on board that boat alone with that lecherous Latin lover boy, Kris thought. He wasn’t interested in going, but also felt no other option.

“Erm sorry, I mustn’t have been paying attention.”

She gave him a cold steely eyed glared but said nothing.

“Hey, how about some cachaça to help relax after our hard day at the office?” he asked, hoping to lighten the mood and shift the conversation away from Júlio.

“Boa idéia, vamos,” she said laughing and Kris prepared two cachaça and colas, his twice as strong as hers, obviously.

Both being sick of pizza and not wishing to chance it for a third night in a row, they decided to splurge and go to a seafood restaurant. Isabella declined their invitation, citing a headache although it was really her thin purse that decided for her.

Being a Wednesday night during the off-peak season, the streets of Abraão were virtually empty and many of the restaurants didn’t even deign to open. Kris was somewhat dubious about their decision to go to a fish restaurant mid-week in the off season, but really didn’t see much choice due to Tanja’s restrictive dietary requirements.

After wandering around the small coastal resort, checking the menus and prices of all the restaurants along the way, they finally decided on a lovely little restaurant called Lua e Mar ─ Moon and Sea. There was a very tastefully decorated interior, but they had also set up yellow plastic tables and chairs on the seashore, with tasteful tablecloths to disguise the cheap and nasty yellow plastic, where Tanja chose to sit, even though the breeze blowing across the beira do mar was quite cool.

The friendly owner quickly came to greet them with two huge menus in hand. Kris ordered the obligatory garrafa de cerveja which was delivered almost at freezing point in very quick time which the couple sipped as they perused the menu. Kris spied Moqueca Baiana on the menu; a dish that Tahlia had cooked for him back in Vancouver, which he absolutely adored and suggested she might like to try it. She asked what it was and he described it as a fish soup, a specialty of Bahia, made with thick fish steaks in coconut milk, cooked with onions, red peppers, chillies, tomatoes, cilantro and lime juice, topped with a rich orange coloured palm oil.

“Sounds delicious,” she said, “but I hope it’s not too hot,” she added.

“Not a problem, we can ask them not to put too much in,” he reassured her, “but to bring some chilli on the side, ‘cos I love things so hot they melt the spoon,”  he added.

This seemed to satisfy her, but she was still umming and ahhing.

“You don’t like the idea?” he asked patiently, but was dying to wrap his lips around that hot and spicy dish once again.

“Well,” she said. “It’s R$50.00, don’t you think that’s a bit steep?” she asked.

“It’s for two people, so that’s only R$25 each, but you’re right, it is a bit much.”

She laughed at him.

“I thought that was per person!”

And so it was settled and they placed their order with the waiter and ordered another beer. They were on their third beer and feeling pleasantly merry after their previous indulgence back at the pousada when the food arrived. It was served in a huge clay pot and was bubbling furiously as the waiter placed it in the centre of the table, accompanied by a huge bowl of white rice and pirão, a thick pasty substance made from fish stock and thickened with mandioc flour.

Kris served first her and then himself. She dipped her spoon into the rich orange stock and took a tentative taste before declaring it delicious and not too spicy at all. Kris upturned the entire bowl of chilli that the waiter had brought without even testing its strength. Tanja winced at him as this seafood soup was almost at the utmost limits of her tolerance.

The meal was by far the tastiest either had had since their arrival and they were both fully sated before it was complete; it was too much for them both, and there was nary a hint of Kris’ previous fears about its freshness. Perhaps the fish had been delivered today, or else held in the freezer.

As the couple sat digesting their meal and ruminating on its deliciousness, Kris suddenly noticed a light growing on the horizon.

“Have a look at that? He exclaimed as it caught his attention.

Tanja looked and then looked again before she had ascertained the source.

“Oh, that’s beautiful,” she said as the pale, wan globe made itself apparent rising over the horizon.

As soon as the words left her lips, Kris laughed; firstly to himself, and then, when he couldn’t hold it back any longer, out loud.

“What?” she enquired until the source of his merriment became obvious, for there, silhouetted in the ever growing light of the moon, was her wannabe Brazilian beau!

What made things so funny for Kris was the fact that he was dressed in his obvious Sunday best, his hair washed and slicked down and parted in a ridiculous fashion and he was even wearing a tie. As a means to impress a Canadian girl, this was an obvious fail and Kris also hoped and wished that the same held true for European girls.

Oi,” he called in a jovial greeting, but Kris knew that his joviality was aimed entirely at Tanja.

Looking so ridiculous, surely he could not expect her to take him seriously, he thought to himself. Kris greeted him in a lacklustre fashion, but Tanja appeared positively radiant; as radiant as the ever growing quasi full moon rising over the dark horizon, and invited him over to join them. Kris groaned inwardly, but tried to put on a brave face and fake it.

Júlio declined her offer to share their meal, claiming he had already eaten, but when she offered cerveja he readily accepted. Tanja signalled for the waiter and ordered another glass brought to the table.

Júlio tried to be polite as possible, trying to include Kris in his conversations, but Kris had absolutely no interest in what he was saying and it was all he could do to be civil and polite; he was well aware that he was the third wheel here as far as Júlio was concerned, but he was not quite sure where Tanja stood. She said that Júlio had invited them both to see his boat, something Kris had about as much interest in as being bitten by a venomous viper, and wondered if the invitation had truly been extended to him as well. Nonetheless, he was not about to leave his friend with that letch.

With the meal finished and paid for, Júlio suggested that now would be a good time to go and have a look at his boat. It was moored a few hundred metres off shore and he would need to row them out in a little dinghy that was on the  nearby shore.

When the trio reached the tiny craft, Kris wondered how on earth they would all fit in it. The answer was that they couldn’t and Júlio bemoaned the fact that he would have to make two very tiring journeys to transport them both and would take Tanja first. Kris would have to wait on the beach for his return.

Kris watched the tiny boat as Júlio manoeuvred it between the boats moored closer to shore until it finally faded from view and was swallowed up in the blackness of the night. As he watched the fluorescent wake of the minuscule vessel, he wondered how far out Júlio’s boat was moored and sat down to patiently await the return of the mariner who so perturbed his insides.

Waiting patiently and still was not something Kris was very good at and he was soon on his feet and pacing the small patch of sand. He spotted a bat with a wingspan of around 18 inches flitting around the streetlight, snapping up the insects in orbit around it and checked his phone for the time. Already, Júlio had been gone fifteen minutes and he again pondered the distance of the Júlio’s boat. The minutes passed painfully and Kris became more and more impatient and agitated giving himself a deadline of 30 minutes after which he would wait no more. The 30 minutes came and wait and he gave Júlio yet another five minutes, his insides burning with impatience and anger. Finally, his tether snapped and he stormed from the sandy shore back to the pousada.

The path was well illuminated by the rapidly shrinking moon in the sky and by the time Kris got back to the pousada he was furious for being left waiting in vain. His humour was not improved when he discovered that the key to the room was with Tanja on that lecherous lothario’s boat.

Cursing loudly and vehemently, he stormed off in search of solace in the pale moonlight finding it in a bar that was conveniently open nearby. He ordered a shot of cachaça neat, quickly followed by another as he drained the small glass in one gulp. Then, to moderate himself, he ordered a bottle of beer which he drank slowly, all the while cursing the hide of that lying, untrustworthy local that had obviously schemed to get himself alone with Tanja.

After who knew how long and how many cachaças and beers, Kris finally decided to go back to the guesthouse and settled the account at the bar. He hoped that Tanja would be back from her tryst and he could finally go to bed. He was to be disappointed as the room was still locked and in darkness when he arrived. He cursed loudly and long as he stormed back to the same bar where he repeated the ritual of two cachaças to open the account followed by a bottle of beer.

He finally staggered back to the pousada in a stupor expecting Tanja to have finally returned. He was livid when he found their room still in darkness and cursed her anew. He was in no condition to drink anymore and contemplated his options. It would be too cold to curl up on the sands for the night and he was too drunk to go back to bar. Nevertheless, his impatience wouldn’t allow him to simply sit there waiting. Finally, he lurched off, destination unknown and launched himself down the footpath almost colliding with the returning Tanja.

“I’m so sorry, Kris,” she said apologetically as Kris simply glared at her. “I didn’t know he was going to leave you there, honest! I really am so sorry.”

Kris said nothing, just looked daggers at her as she unlocked their room. Inside the room, he simply prepared himself for bed in complete silence. Tanja really did feel bad about Júlio just leaving him waiting on the beach for who knows how long, but doubly so because she had the key with her and Kris had been doubly excluded and respected his silence.

~ ~

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4. Part 4 Seven-days-of-coincidences-and-the-incidental-guide-dog-sete-dias-de-coincidencias-e-o-cao−guia-incidental

Day 4. Smile, you are on the island – Sorria, você esta na ilha

As predicted, it was still raining when the couple arose at eight in the morning, the air so heavy and moist that even the birds and local fauna sought protection from it, leaving an almost unnatural silence in the air as Kris and Tanja made a quick dash to the dining room and main part of the pousada, the way unfortunately uncovered.

The plump owner had prepared, what appeared to Kris, a typical European style breakfast of cold sliced meats, cheese, bread and jellies, yoghurt and cereals, juices, hot and cold milk and tea and coffee, plus some sliced fresh papaya, just to prove that it wasn’t Europe.

Tanja helped herself to a little of almost everything except the sliced meats, but Kris just poured himself a cup of coffee, taking it black and sweet. For him, ever since he had left home at seventeen, breakfast had always consisted of coffee, strong, sweet and black, and a cigarette or two. As they each enjoyed their respective repasts, other guests trickled in for their own.

Due to the inclement conditions outside, the majority of the guests milled around the communal areas inside taking advantage of their enforced proximity to socialise with each other. There was Dougie and Bruce, a pair of young Australian guys who had been travelling and working in South America for six months and were on their final leg, Melinda and Mike, an English couple from Essex who were enjoying their first trip beyond European shores, Isabella, a young American girl with a funny, pixie like face who had been working at an orphanage in Bolivia and who Tanja had met the previous day and Carlos, a Bohemian Brazilian in his late 30s who said that he came to the island at least every few weeks to escape the rat race of São Paulo. All were bemoaning the weather, the most vocal being the couple from Essex who were vociferously claiming it was some kind of conspiracy as they had left England to escape the rain.

Kris was naturally a very optimistic person and couldn’t stand whingeing, so decided to try and placate them by proclaiming that the rain was not going to last too much longer.

Melinda, with her fake orange tan and overly bright make-up, turned to him with a sneer on her lips.

“And wot are you?” she snarled, “a bleedin’ wevver man?”

Despite her vile manner, Kris smiled to himself; if only she knew, he thought. He was reminded of one occasion when he was at university and had arranged to go for a game of golf with Jeremy, a classmate. The day had started with showers and when his friend had arrived he was expressing doubts about going. Kris had told him not to worry, things would be alright, they wouldn’t get wet. Jeremy, familiar with Kris’s powers of prediction, put his faith in him and decided to go nonetheless. Arriving at the golf course, they could see that some players were getting wet, whilst others were huddled under large umbrellas and Jeremy really wasn’t sure about playing. Kris laughed his doubts off and again reassured him that they would be fine; they would not get even a drop of rain on them.

Deciding to totally trust him, Jeremy proceeded full of confidence to the first tee with Kris and prepared himself to play the long par four. The tee, although slick with moisture, was free from precipitation. Throughout their round, they noticed many pairs of players under umbrellas as the rain fell from the sky around them, and they could even see the rain falling around them, but Kris and Jeremy managed to complete the entire 18 hole course without, as Kris had predicted, a single drop of rain falling upon them.

“You’re spooky, man,” Jeremy told him at the conclusion of the round. “It’s almost as if you controlled the weather.”

Kris said nothing, merely smiled for he was wondering the self-same thing. Was he predicting the rain or was he in fact controlling it? He had no idea, but was simply pleased that his prognostication had proved to be providential and the pair could finish their round of golf without being hindered by the inclement conditions that afflicted all the other golfers.

Tanja had gone back to their room for a shower so Kris stayed in the communal area with his laptop connected to the hostel’s wi-fi, checking on his emails and social network sites, all the while searching through his stored collection of videos, looking for a couple he had that he wanted to show Tanja. As he clattered away on the keyboard, Isabella, the American, decided to come and chat with him. She had not only met Tanja yesterday, but it seemed they had also struck up a friendship and he could see why. Isabella was very likeable and he fell into conversation very easily, all thoughts of Tahlia had seemed to evaporate from his mind the moment he had landed on the island.

Kris and Isabella chatted about everything under the sun from her work with children in Bolivia to what she did back in the States. He was not quite sure what sparked it, but she asked him if he had heard of Derren Brown.

“You’re not gonna believe this,” he said, an impish grin illuminating his face. “But I was just looking through my videos to show Tanja one of his tricks.”

“You’re kidding, really?”

“No, not at all,” he told her and explained his fascination with the awesome power of the brain and Brown’s ability to manipulate it.

He showed her one of the videos he had selected, the one where Derren had managed to get an orchestra to play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, while just making sounds with their instruments, not knowing what tune they were meant to be playing. This was the tune chosen by the conductor, which he was supposed to transmit to the orchestra without using his normal modes of communication and with his hands tied behind his back. At the conclusion of the trick, not only were the conductor and orchestra amazed, but so was Isabella. Kris explained that there was nothing magical about it at all and proceeded to give her his explanation of how he believed it was done based on his previous experience with Derren.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xeygf4L7l0A

After chatting cheerfully for a while longer, Isabella enquired as to what he and Tanja were going to do that day. He explained that they were planning on taking a hike to Lopes Mendes, a beach about two miles away as the vulture flies, but due to the trail twisting and turning up and down the terrain, it would be significantly more.  seeing as she was on her own , he invited her to join them . As she had not made alternative plans of her own, she eagerly agreed and asked him to wait for her as she would go and get organised now.

It was almost 10.30 by the time the trio were ready for their trip, but the sky was still heavy and leaden and the rain was still falling heavily. After a few minutes of simply standing around chatting, the precipitation perceptively easing, Kris suddenly seemed to come to attention.

“Right,” he said authoritatively. “Let’s go.”

Both Isabella and Tanja looked at each other, reflecting back a quizzical expression, and then both turned to Kris.

“But it’s still raining,” they both chorused in unison.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine,” he said confidently and casually strode to the door.

“Come on,” he ordered over his shoulder at the two girls still rooted to the spot.

As if accustomed to taking order, the girls suddenly shook themselves into action and followed after him. A fine mist was gently falling as they went outside to catch up with Kris who was confidently walking towards the gate with not a thing to protect himself from the elements.

“Come on girls,” he again ordered. “Time waits for no man,” he said. “Or woman, as the case may be” he added marching off purposefully.

As the girls hurried after him, the drizzle petered out until it stopped altogether. The girls looked up to the sky in unison and then at each other and gave a shrug of their shoulders; it looked like he was right again!

The topography all around them was rugged and mountainous, clothed in a rich cloak of verdant green, the tops of the peaks shrouded in low cloud. Tendrils of vapour could be seen emanating from the very forest itself in places as the smoke-like wisps wafted upwards to join their brethren above. The sun then chose to show its smiling face through a gap that had opened in the previously solid layer of pale pewter coloured cloud. The arrival of the sun brought forth a smile from the trio and they set off for their trek to Lopes Mendes.

In a short while, there was no further sign of civilisation as the threesome became enveloped in the forest, the well-trodden trail climbing ever upwards. The late morning air was hot, heavy and humid and Kris found the going much tougher than he expected and had soon worked up a good bead of sweat upon his brow; his years of heavy smoking and drinking and lack of exercise coming to the fore. Tanja, a hardened and avid hiker, seemed as sprightly and unaffected as if she had just stepped out of the shower; Isabella showed a few signs of stress. The two girls chattered continuously, but Kris preferred to save his breath for breathing.

As they came to the top a rise the companions paused to take a sip of water and savour their surroundings. The forest was alive with the sounds of, what were for the tourists, exotic birds, insects and other local fauna. As Kris took a swig from his water bottle, he cocked his head to one side to better hear a strange sound he could discern in the distant. To him, it sounded similar to the roar of a crowd at a hockey game in.

“Can you hear that noise?” he asked and the two girls paused to listen, and then agreed that they could.  “What do you reckon it is?”

“Maybe it’s howler monkeys,” Tanja ventured. “I read on the net that they have them on the island.”

“I don’t have a clue, but it sounds like a crowd at a football or baseball game to me,” Isabella offered.

“Yeah, I thought the same thing, but I think you’d be hard pushed to get a big enough crowd here to generate a sound like that,” Kris added.

After a short stop, they set off again, all three constantly turning their heads from side to side, taking in the sheer beauty of the virgin forest. Tanja took the lead with Isabella hot on her heels and Kris taking up the rear, but soon stopped suddenly when Tanja let out a cry.

“Oh my God, look at that,” she cried, pointing to the trail in front of her. Slithering straight up the centre of the path, oblivious to their presence, was a creature resembling a headless snake that approached 3 feet in length when it fully extended its ribbed body.

“What on earth is that?” Isabella asked completely awestruck and amazed.

Courtesy Brooke Linden

Kris only needed a quick glance to identify it as an earthworm, and once having done so it became obvious to all, but the two girls had never seen one that huge before.

“I’ve only ever seen one that size, actually it was a lot bigger than that, when I was in Australia,” Kris told them. “Megascolecidae, is the scientific name for the Australian monsters and this one is probably related,” he added.

They unslung their cameras and clicked away at this unusual creature to prove to their sceptical friends that it was real and not just some wild fisherman’s tale, left the bicho unmolested and in peace and continued on their way.

After an hour on the trail the trio topped a rise to be met by an amazing vista of the ocean beneath them; the irregular curves and turns of the coastline giving the impression of many mountainous islands and the humid and vaporous air distorted the colours giving the scene a cool, moody blue flavour.

Courtesy Teja Muha

It was  now all downhill  and the going was far easier than it had been and their first checkpoint was visible in the distance: the small stretch of sand known as Palmas. This beach, when they reached it a few minutes later, reminded Kris of some of the beaches he’d seen on some of the lesser developed islands in Indonesia; there were roughly made homes that bordered the beira do mar which had a charm all of their own. It was obvious that many of them acted as shops during the peak season, taking advantage of the tourists who flocked to their shore, offering the inhabitants at least a modicum of income for six months of the year, but the majority were now closed. An old man manned the solitary stand that was open and Kris ordered himself a can of Guaraná, Brazil’s original energy soft drink, made from an Amazonian berry. He wondered if Tanja had any interest in this berry as well as the açai, but said nothing. The girls chose not to buy anything, preferring to stick to their water. He lit himself his first cigarette of the journey to accompany his drink and puffed away serenely.

He then noticed a sign which brought a smile to his face; obviously its intention.

“Hey girls, have a look at this would ya,” he called.

Courtesy Teja Muha

Even Isabella was able to understand the sign and the two girls  smiled too when they saw it.

The three paddled through the gently breaking swell, their shoes off and slung around their necks as they literally cooled their heels in the refreshing water. Tanja soon took charge, informing the others that they couldn’t stay long as they had limited time to reach their final destination, spend enough time there to enjoy themselves and then make the journey back to the pousada before it got dark. For Kris, it made little difference whether they only reached as far as Pouso, the next beach on the way to Lopes Mendes or Lopes Mendes itself. Again, Kris was glad that she was not his girlfriend as her acting so bossy and ordering him around would surely have caused yet another fight. Nonetheless, he acceded to her demands, put his shoes back on after brushing off the fine grained sand that stuck to the soles of his feet and the three once again hit the trail.

Kris had been glad of the rest as the first part of this trail was incredibly steep and tiring and he now felt like he almost needed to physically lift his legs with his hands as his lanky legs took great strides to climb the thick, unevenly spaced roots that made up the majority of the upward path. By the time the trio reached the first peak of this part of the trail, even Tanja was showing signs of exertion; her thin, sweat soaked summer top clung to her skin, clearly defining what was not so hidden beneath, but this moved Kris not at all. Attractive she may have been, but she would be hell to live with he had concluded and she held absolutely no interest for him; desire was kindled by more than just looks and the most beautiful looking woman in the world could appear ugly the moment she opened her mouth. Isabella as well was looking a little frazzled.

The twisting, tortuous, torturous trilha continued up steep mountain sides and down difficult descents either side of the various peaks they encountered, the sheer ruggedness of which kept each person concentrating on their own circulation, both vascular and aerial, so much so that there was little or no breath left for verbal communication.

Quite unexpectedly, the trio discovered that they had arrived at Pouso. This part of their journey, although tough, was a lot shorter than any of them had imagined. There, on the beach, they found two casually dressed locals nonchalantly resting against a small dinghy and a much larger boat anchored offshore. The two velhos eyed up the three tourists and their eyes shone with anticipation as they approached.

“Bom dia, pessoal,” − Good morning people − one of the pair called in greeting, waving at the trio as they traipsed towards the shore.

“Bom dia,” they chorused back.

Me diz uma coisa,” − Tell me something − Tanja asked. “Quanto tempo para chegar a praia Lopes Mendes?” − How long to get to Lopes Mendes beach?

He turned to his companion with a thoughtful expression, hand rubbing his chin and asked: “Pedro, o que tu acha?” – Pedro, what do you think?

His companion lifted his eyes to the left pensively for a moment before responding.

“Ai cara, eu acho que pelo menos quarenta e cinco minutos, né?” − Ah man, I think that at least forty five minutes, no? “

“No minímo, no mínimo, talvez uma hora. E muito longe.” − At least, at least; maybe an hour. It’s very far. − This was the intro for his sales pitch.

“Que tal nós levamos-lhes por barco?” – How about we take you by boat? – He asked nonchalantl, as if he would be doing them a favour.

Tanja shook her head derisively. “Não, obrigado,” she informed them politely, but definitively, “a gente vai caminhar.” – We’ll walk.

She was extremely determined and once she had her mind set on doing something, then she would do it. She had set out to hike to Lopes Mendes and that was exactly what she was going to do come hell or high water. If the others wanted to take the boat that was fine, but she was walking and that was that!

“Ok, let’s go then,” she, the self-designated leader, informed her companions. “If it’s still an hour to get there, we don’t have much time at all.”

Unable to argue with her logic, Isabella and Kris accepted her authority and joined her as she headed for the trail that would take the trio to their destination. As from the other starting points, Abraão and, Palmas, the only way was up and into the thick forest that blanketed the island. By now, the rain was long gone but its presence was still felt as the hot sun evaporated the remnants from the jungle, leaving the air thick and sticky.

Surprisingly, Kris found himself in the lead with the two girls taking the rear, chatting animatedly between themselves, his legs now feeling stronger and his energy level high despite his lack of breakfast. As they crowned a peak, he stopped and suggested a snack and a drink, producing a pack of sesame seed crackers from his back pack and offering them around. Due to the high humidity of the day and the steepness of the slopes, he had drunk almost the entire contents of his 1.5 litre water bottle and was somewhat concerned about the return journey. Nonetheless, he downed the last mouthful in one draught.

The air was still full of the distant sound of the monkeys calling out to their prospective mates or warning off potential intruders, and various insects announcing their presence, including the almost unbelievably loud chirruping of the cigarras – cicadas,  at times exceeding one hundred decibels.

“Have you girls ever tried Jaca?” Kris asked inquiringly as the thought of jack fruit suddenly popped into his head.

The girls looked perplexed having no clue what he was talking about. He explained that it was called Jack fruit in English and recounted the tale that Tahlia had told him after she had spotted one in a market in Vancouver, whereby she told of the reforestation that had taken place in Tijuca national park, where many of these exotic trees had been planted. Her family had originally come to Rio from Vitória to help with phase two of the reforestation project that was designed to help restore the natural water sources and which had worked magnificently. He described the immense fruit the trees produced which could weigh as much as 30 kg, likening them to the durian fruit he had tried in Southeast Asia, but without the durian’s infamous odour for which it was banned from many hotels.

“Does it look anything like that?” Isabella asked, stopping in her tacks and indicating a huge tree just to the right of them at the edge of the dense forest.

“What?” He asked, following her arm and recoiling in surprise when he saw a jaqueira – jack fruit tree – heavily laden with yellow/green, spiky fruit of varying size, ranging from big toe sized to monsters which must have weighed close to 30 kg.

He laughed, once again surprised by the serendipitous situation he again found himself in.

“Yep, exactly like that,” he replied, a huge smirk lighting up his features.

“What a coincidence,” Isabella said with surprise and Kris reminded her of the coincidental incident involving the video back at the guest house earlier that morning. Kris then recounted other coincidences that had occurred with him and Tanja since his arrival in Rio. Tanja nodded her head to acknowledge these, but there was a puzzled expression marring her mien.

“I really don’t know what to make of this. I’m a rational, logical scientist,” she explained. “I use and trust scientific methodology; it’s what I am trained in…”

“Don’t forget that I am as well,” Kris reminded her interrupting.

Ignoring his interjection, she continued. “But I just don’t know what to make of Kris. He’s told me so many unbelievable stories, and I have seen some of them with my own eyes.”

It was obvious that her world view had been severely perturbed and she was struggling to fit these coincidences into it − there had been far too many for it to be just random intersections of seemingly interrelated occurrences. There had to be a simple explanation, but what? She had no idea and this disturbed her deeply.

“Come on,” Kris commanded with shrug of his shoulders, assuming the lead position, while Tanja battled with her inner demons. “We don’t have time to dilly dally around here. We’ve still got to get back before sunset,” he reminded them.

The two girls adjusted their backpacks and hurried after him.

After a few minutes, Kris perceived a new sound in the air and raised his hand signalling them to stop. He cocked his head from side to side to locate the source of this new sound, suddenly striding purposefully once he had identified it. The girls looked at each other with a question mark punctuating the air between them, but they cautiously followed after him.

Kris pushed his way through the heavy, verdant undergrowth and stopped at a narrow ravine through which ran a crystalline clear mountain brook, filling the air with the gentle babble of splashing water. Removing his now empty bottle from his backpack, he kneeled down and proceeded to fill it.

“You can’t drink that!” Tanja exclaimed horrified.

“Just watch me,” he said, smiling broadly back at her and tilted the now full container to his lips and swallowed almost a third of the contents.

“You don’t know what’s in there; there’s all kinds of microscopic life.”

“You mean like cryptosporidium? You forget, I’m a biologist too. I know exactly what to expect from the contents of fresh running water,” he reminded her.

“Sorry, I did forget,” she said blushing. “But you’ll get sick.” She sounded genuinely concerned for his state of health.

“Nope,” he said in negation, shaking his head from side to side. “I don’t do sick. In fact I can’t remember the last time I was sick. I think I must’ve been about eight years old.”

“But everyone gets sick at some time; there’s always viruses in the air.”

He refilled his bottle and explained his theory about how physical health was closely connected to mental health.

“Have you noticed people, how when they complain that they are getting sick and then, lo and behold they do get sick?”

Both Tanja and Isabella nodded in agreement.

“Well, I believe that our minds are the most powerful biological computers on the planet,” he explained. “We are the ultimate programmers and the commands we input, our biological computer performs.”

Tanja looked at him dubiously, but Isabella didn’t know what to think, this was just so out of her field of experiences.

“We programme our brains that we are getting sick and the brain obeys and we get sick. Me, on the other hand, I do the complete opposite. At the first sign of symptoms, I programme my brain that I will not get sick and will not put up with this and therefore my brain reacts accordingly and I don’t get sick.

“Bullshit!” Tanja barked, being unable to restrain her disbelief. “It’s not that simple, you can’t programme your body not to encounter viruses and bacteria.”

“You’re absolutely correct,” he told her. “But you can programme your body how to react when it does meet these pathogens, but hey, I’m not trying to convert you,” he said trying to pacify her. “You wanna get sick? That’s your choice; no skin off my nose. I prefer to remain happy and healthy.”

Tanja didn’t know what to say, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of the water. Isabella, on the other hand, watched this exchange like a spectator at a tennis match.

“Look, let me give you another illustration to show how we programme ourselves,” he continued. “You know what abseiling is, right?”

Tanja nodded her head in agreement “Sure, I’ve done it many times in the mountains of Croatia and Slovenia,” she said, but Isabella shook her head.

“Otherwise known as rappelling; where people go down cliff faces by rope,” he explained and Isabella’s eyes lit up with understanding.

“Right, a few years ago I went abseiling with a group of guys, but one of them was absolutely shit-scared. He said he couldn’t do it because he was certain he would fall. We all tried to convince him that it was impossible, that he couldn’t possibly fall,” he told them,  Isabella and Tanja saying nothing, merely focusing on his story, rapt.

“Just to prove that it was impossible to fall, I got myself hooked up and threw myself off the cliff with my arms sticking out. He saw me suspended in mid-air, hanging like a crucified Christ, not falling one iota and this mollified him somewhat, but he was still shit-scared. Anyway, to give him his dues, he tried to overcome his fear and panic and decided to do it. Ah, the power of peer group pressure,” he added. “But this guy had still programmed his biological computer to make him fall and, fuck me, this dude found the only way possible to do it.”

“What do you mean?” Tanja asked in disbelief. “You can’t fall!”

“That’s what I thought,” Kris responded with a short laugh. “But this guy found the only way possible. He inched his way over the edge and froze, just hanging there. We all encouraged him, but nothing we said could help him overcome his fear, then he proved us all to be liars by falling sideways into the cliff face! Had he stood his ground solidly and walked backwards down the cliff face, he would have been fine, but he was determined to fall and that’s exactly what he did, albeit sideways.”

The two girls simply shook their heads in disbelief.

“Speaking of fear,” he continued, “I heard it once explained as an acronym − False Expectations Appearing Real − which pretty much sums up how I see it.”

As he had been telling his tale, the trail had taken yet another downward turn and twisted through the dense forest until the trio unexpectedly found themselves blinking in the bright sunshine on the Lopes Mendes beach.

“Those lying little bastards,” Isabella exclaimed with a thin smile growing on her lips.

The final part of their journey had taken little over fifteen minutes!!! In total, their hike from Abraão, via Palmas and Pouso had taken the trio the best part of two hours and fifteen minutes through the rugged mountainous terrain of the island.

Lopes Mendes was a long curving almost horseshoe shaped bay with approximately a mile of narrow golden sand, reminiscent of Copacabana, Kris thought, but with infinitely less people. As far as Kris could tell, excluding themselves, within this one golden mile of sand, sea and jungle, there was probably a total of six people!

The early afternoon sun was already sliding behind the mountainous terrain and shadows were beginning to encroach on the sand. The fact that the three friends had to allow themselves sufficient time for the hike back to the pousada notwithstanding, they would have little time to take advantage of the sun on the beach.

All three were hot and sticky from their exertion and were eager to rinse off in the cool crystal waters and lost no time in divesting themselves of their clothing and racing into the water.

After a refreshing dip, the glaring sun found the three friends basking in its warm glow, not a care in the world as the rays warmed their skin anew and invigorated their souls. Had you told Kris that he would be feeling such peace in his soul within three days of having his heart wrenched and torn asunder he would not have been able to credit it.

The three friends soon became restless when the sun announced its departure by casting shadows upon their features and  they  finally decided it was time to retrace the trail they had trodden. As before, they were accompanied by the bizarre, crowd like chant of the howler monkeys deep in the heart of the forest.

They soon passed the two seadogs who had tried to trick the three of them into taking a trip in their boat and Kris just looked them in the eyes and silently shook his head sadly in their direction as he passed.

Kris again found himself the trailblazer, as the two girls kept up an easy pace chatting between themselves. The prior exertion he had really felt at the beginning of the journey had now passed and his lungs and muscles had eased for the return journey and had he felt like chatting he could easily have done so, however he was, like most males, not interested in the type of gossip that females find so fascinating. With a casual glance over his shoulder to check on his new found charges, he noticed that they had stopped, Tanja just behind Isabella, removing a shoe. He sauntered back to Isabella and started talking with her while they waited for Tanja. He mentioned that he was surprised that they had yet to see a single one of the thousands of monkeys that purportedly populated this Native Atlantic rainforest.

“Did you see that?” Tanja cried excitedly and the other two quickly turned their heads and went over to where she was still standing to see what the matter was.

“A monkey just jumped over my head,” she cried, eyes wide with excitement.

Isabella frowned at Kris as she thought of their conversations only seconds ago, before looking above Tanja’s head in an effort to try and spot one.

Courtesy Teja Muha

“Where?” she asked, scanning the canopy and lower branches without success.

Another marmoset chose that moment to leap over Tanja’s head, quickly followed by another and two even smaller ones, expertly catching the thin branches and swinging up onto them. As the friends enjoyed the spectacle of the marmoset family indulging in some entertaining monkey business, Isabella spotted a large dog coming around the bend on the trail and instinctively clung to Kris’ arm for protection. She had been petrified of dogs ever since she had received a less than friendly nip in the face from a pit bull when she was two years old and had been scared stiff of them ever since. The mutt, of highly dubious parentage, was soon joined by two more, none of which appeared to have collars and Isabella naturally assumed they were savage island strays and now moved behind Kris for safety. He, on the other hand, stupidly, in her opinion, moved towards them, arm outstretched in friendly greeting.

“Kris, no…!” Isabella yelled at him, rapidly releasing her grip from his arm and seeking refuge behind Tanja. “They’re gonna bite you!”

Kris was nonplussed and continued towards the three wild animals without seeming to show a trace of fear and squatted down on his haunches, hand still outstretched in a peace offering to the approaching canines.

The lead dog made a sudden forward movement and Isabella let loose a shrill scream as it launched itself towards his face; Kris never once showed a trace of fear. The dog’s maw was wide open, its sharp and savage canine teeth gleaming with the slobber that dripped from within. This brought back memories of the time when Kris was a child and a German shepherd had leapt over what had seemed from his child-like perceptions to be an enormously high fence with plenty of space to spare, its mouth gaping as it readied itself for the attack. Kris had felt so much fear at that moment that he had literally shit his pants when that savage beast had hurled itself towards him. He had fallen to the ground under the onslaught and awaited the imminent end of his life. Obviously, it hadn’t ended his life and the crazy dog had merely opened its massive jaws to disengage its slobbering tongue onto his face as he fell prone to the floor,  merely interested in playing with him, not tearing him to pieces. It had seemed so scary to Kris then, but the dog had only wanted to befriend him! Since that time, Kris had learned to read the language of dogs and most other creatures too, both wild and domestic and was confident of his abilities. It could even be said that he had developed a certain rapport with them. Unfortunately, those around him had not benefitted from his experience and had no idea of his abilities. This was one of those moments! Firstly, Isabella was terrified and her fear was transmitted to Tanja as well, but Kris appeared as cool as a cucumber.

Kris braced himself to meet them, but with his heart humming with confidence as the head hound hit him straight in the chest with its massive paws. Due to his position and relative instability, he fell over easily and the savage dog assumed control. The girls screamed in unison, assuming and accepting the worst. Kris, on the other hand, reflected a picture of serene calmness.

The girls could not bear to witness the carnage and their eyes, as if choreographed, slammed shut the moment the dog’s seemingly snarling snout snapped around his face and then … silence!

Laughter followed − Kris’s laughter! Both Tanja and Isabella opened their eyes to find him on his knees and stroking all three dogs as they leapt joyfully around him, tongues lolling, tails wagging furiously. At the sight of this, Tanja came forward to offer her own hand to the dogs, but Isabella maintained a steady distance, preferring to leave the beasts well alone. After a few minutes of fun, frolicking in the mottled sunshine that pierced the forest canopy, the trio set off on their journey again, now accompanied by their three new companions, walking along the side of the trail, never straying too far from their sight. If the three hounds happened to stray too far around a bend, they would wait there until their new charges caught up with them and again happily trot to and fro, sniffing at the undergrowth and chasing small birds and lizards.

Suddenly, there was an almighty uproar from all three beasts as they began barking furiously at the foliage in the forest. Kris went to see what the ruckus was all about with Tanja hot on his heels, Isabella however, maintained a guarded distance.

When Kris bent down to investigate the disturbance he suddenly stretched his arm backwards towards Tanja, raising his hand in a warning gesture.

“Stop!” he commanded. “Get back.”

Tanja ignored him and simply continued on her way to investigate. Who was Kris to tell her what to do?

“What is …” she began before noticing the long, slender shape of a pale green serpent slithering adjacent to the path. It measured at least three feet in length and would have been as thick as Isabella’s slender wrist if she had been game enough to bring it closer for comparison.

“Is it poisonous?” Tanja asked, as if Kris was the expert, but his speciality was not South American snakes.

“I have no idea,” he said, simply shrugging his shoulders. “But I assume all snakes are venomous unless I am 100% certain of the opposite and treat them as such.”

“Great philosophy,” she said smiling, showing the snake the self-same respect that Kris was, but nonetheless showing that she was not scared.

Isabella was a different creature and, upon hearing the word snake, had shrunk even further away from the creature. The dogs made mock attacks on the snake, withdrawing their heads at the last moment as the green serpent turned and hissed at them. This suggested that maybe they knew something that their three charges did not. Finally, the creature growing weary of the fuss changed directions and slithered away into the underbrush.

Along the length of the trail, a  number of different brightly coloured borboletas – butterflies, pale lemon coloured, striking black and red and china blue amongst them, flitted around in the moist jungle air and the three friends admired their beauty and grace as they flew.

“Look at that one over there,” Kris said pointing to a black and yellow swallow tail. “Come to me,” he called twisting his wrist so his palm was now facing up. “Come on, come to me,” he cooed gently.

Both Tanja and Isabella stared in total disbelief when the swallow tail fluttered towards him and gently alighted in the centre of his outstretched palm.

“There’s a beautiful little butterfly,” Kris said talking to the butterfly as if it were a young child who’d behaved exceptionally well.

“Off you go,” he said after a few minute’s, lifting his hand up and the butterfly shook its wings briefly as if  a shiver of pure pleasure washed over it and then launched itself into the humid forest air, fluttering around the three for a few moments before disappearing into the verdant canopy that surrounded them.

Tanja never stopped being amazed by Kris and the more she got to know of him, the more awed she became. She had known him a little less than a week, yet he had astounded her and forever changed her life more than any other human being she had ever known.

The sun was already well hidden behind the massive mountains as they descended the final few feet of the trail and the air was now significantly cooler with a definite bite to the breeze that blew from the cool blue ocean. The guest house was but a short walk from the end of the trail and the six companions plodded wearily towards it, arriving at the gates after a few minutes walk. The three guide dogs arrived first and simply waited at the front gates as if they knew that this was their destination and their job for today was done. Kris and Tanja gave the three dogs a final pat; Isabella choosing to forego this final ritual and once the three intrepid hikers had closed the gates behind them, the dogs gave them one final look and trotted off, tails wagging happily.

On the road to the pousada, Tanja again decided to test Kris’s ability to tell the time without a watch.

“Ok, what time is it now?” she asked suddenly.

“You’re not gonna believe me when I tell you,” he told her laughing. “It’s eight minutes past five.”

“No way,” she squealed. “You’re right, I don’t believe you,” she told him distrustfully. “You have got to be kidding, right?”

Smiling smugly and shaking his head no, he passed his cell phone to her, again without verifying the results of his prediction. Her face fell when she saw that it was indeed eight minutes past five.

Isabella simply looked on uncomprehending, trying to piece together the story from what was said.

“I’ll fill you in later,” Tanja told her.

“So, as you can see, it’s not just me that it’s happening to,” Kris pointed out.

“What do you mean?” she asked with a puzzled expression on her face.

“Well, for three days in a row, you have picked the same time, even down to the same minute, to ask me the time. I’ve had nothing to do with it.

“Yeah, but you guessed it right time every time,” she told him, trying to absolve herself of any responsibility.

“I knew the time, not guessed, but I didn’t force you to choose that time,” he pointed out.

This was getting a little to close for comfort and she was continually being forced to confront things with Kris that she simply was not ready for and fell silent. Perceiving her inner conflict, Kris let her be and the trio continued to the pousada in reflective silence.

The guesthouse was a hive of activity with many of the guests back from their day’s adventures and now preparing for the evening. Isabella told them that she was going to have a shower and would see them later for dinner. Tanja, agreeing that was a great idea did likewise leaving Kris in the midst of the multitude of island visitors.

Kris went from group to group, exchanging stories and recounting his tale of the unexpected guide dogs and the way they had warned them of the presence of the snake and was somewhat surprised to discover that it was a common theme amongst the guests. He was soon to learn that this theme, however, only held true for foreign visitors and not for the Brazilians staying at the pousada. He let this fact sink in for digesting later. He was curious, why did the seemingly stray dogs on the island feel the need to accompany, guide and protect the tourists? None of the others he spoke to told any stories similar to his snake tale, so the island was obviously not really dangerous, so why? And why did they only accompany foreigners and not Brazilians? He had no idea but would let it simmer below the surface, adding further details as they became known before coming to a final conclusion.

~ ~

Kris, during his first meal with Tanja, had not perceived it, but he was soon to discover that both she and Isabella were that strange breed of creature known as vegetarians, but not your normal, everyday garden variety vegetarian, but that type that also eats fish and seafood. What was that all about, he wondered? Either you were a vegetarian or you were omnivorous and ate animals as well as plant life and he had yet to see a single fruit or vegetable with eyes swimming around in the ocean!

Due to the dietary predilection of the two girls, their dining options were severely limited on that small island. Sure, there were seafood restaurants, but they charged like wounded bulls, which priced them out of the budgets of the three of them. Finally, they decided to settle for pizza yet again, but eschewed the diabolical disaster from the night before; that had been a truly horrible recommendation and Kris vowed to avoid Marlon’s advice at every opportunity; He had proven himself as trustworthy as a politician. The chosen restaurant boasted a forno da lenha – wood-fired pizza oven – and Kris hoped it was an improvement over the previous pizzeria.

They ordered a garrafa of beer while they studied the menu before finally settling on a large pizza with three toppings: calabresa, seafood and sun dried tomatoes and roquette. They repeated the order many times just to make sure the waiter had understood exactly what they wanted and ordered another garrafa of beer while they waited for their pizza to arrive.

The trio looked at each other incredulously when they saw the massive pizza when it was at last brought to the table. It was not the enormous size that so stunned them, but the toppings on its continent sized surface. In excess of two thirds was covered in calabresa oozing spicy pork fat over its edges, contaminating the other third that contained a small section with seafood and another equally tiny piece with tomato and roquette.

After deliberating about what to do in regard to their dining dilemma, the two girls decided to order a separate pizza for themselves and leave the meaty monster to Kris. The pizza was over a foot and a half in diameter and he was supremely aware that the likelihood of him eating it all was next to zero, but what was he to do?

As the trio ploughed their way through plates of pizza, which, despite not being what they had originally ordered, was extremely good, they discussed their options for the remainder of their time on the island. Isabella was meeting a friend who was arriving the next day but one so would be occupied from then on, but she would be free tomorrow. Tanja wanted to climb Pico Do Papagaio, the second highest mountain on the Island, which rose to an impressive 959 metres according to the map she had laid out on the table, and so named because it was said that the peak resembled a parrot’s head. Kris did a quick calculation to convert it to feet and whistled – approximately 3150 feet; he really was not that interested in scaling its impressive heights however, but would probably humour her and keep her company anyway, he thought wistfully to himself, but that was a decision for later. For the immediate future the three decided to take a boat to Lagoa Verde in the morning to do some diving in the cool, crystal clear turquoise water. Tanja became very animated and excited about this and expressed a burning desire to dive with the sea turtles, but she was not confident that she would get the opportunity as, according to her guide book, there would be very few turtles around the island at this time of year, as they generally only gathered for mating later in the season. Kris reassured her that her wish would be fulfilled, but she was highly sceptical; she didn’t know Kris well enough to take his word, especially about something he could have no way of knowing. Well, tomorrow would tell; tomorrow would tell.

The two girls managed to finish their pizza between them, but Kris had not been able to do the same with the behemoth he had inherited. Wondering what he could do with what was left as he simply abhorred waste, a consequence of his parent’s frequent reminder of the starving children in Africa whenever he couldn’t manage to eat all of his dinner, he spotted a couple of apparent stray dogs playing on the rua just outside the restaurant. He may not have been rewarding their inadvertent guide dogs of that day, but it would be a symbolic gesture of thanks to let them have it. He hurled the huge pieces of pizza onto the ground where the dogs were playing and they wasted no time in devouring Kris’s beneficent blessing.

With the meal finished, the three friends decided to return to the pousada and turn in for the night; all three well fatigued from their day’s exertion and wanting to be rested for their diving trip the next day. Kris hadn’t exercised as vigorously as this for many years and was sure his legs would remind him of this day on the morrow. Normally, he was a creature of the night and hadn’t gone to bed before midnight since his early teens, but he had no trouble getting to sleep that night, falling into a fitful slumber almost the moment his head hit the soft pillow.

~ ~

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4. Part 3 Seven-days-of-coincidences-and-the-incidental-guide-dog-sete-dias-de-coincidencias-e-o-cao−guia-incidental

Day 3. No play role in vase – Não jogue papel no vaso

Kris blinked his eyes and looked around without comprehending. His brain felt like it was made of cotton wool and he had no clue where he was. He discovered that he was lying on the seat of a coliseum like structure, tiled in blue and white, but where he was, he had no idea. He quickly scanned his pockets for his valuables: wallet, cell phone, cigarettes and lighter, and heaved a sigh of relief when he discovered that they were still on him. He took his cell phone from his pocket to check the time and discovered that it was 8.30 in the morning. Shit, shit and triple shit!

What the hell had happened? He had no clue. He remembered climbing into the van the night before and then… nothing!

“Shit!” He cursed again as he climbed unsteadily to his feet, his head rocking and rolling like the waves on the ocean he could see in the distance and his tongue felt like the brown scum that formed on the ocean’s surface where the waves crashed in the waiting rocks.

He was supposed to be on his way to the Rodoviária by nine and it looked like he was not going to make it. He shook his head to clear it and took stock of his surroundings,  stumbling in the direction of the main road which was fortunately right next to where he had crashed. He heaved a sigh of relief when he spotted a van destined for Ipanema and gratefully climbed aboard, although he was somewhat perturbed that all the seats had been taken and he was therefore forced to stand, his head and shoulders bent uncomfortably in the cramped conditions.

Some enterprising entrepreneur espied a gaping opportunity in the mass transit system of the city, with the buses crammed full of people like a pot of hot feijão, and many people left stranded when no more could be squeezed aboard,  the enterprising entrepreneur rightly concluded that he could make a profit by putting vans equipped with bench seats on the busiest bus routes and offering a slightly cheaper fare with greater  comfort than the hot, cramped conditions on the buses. The prefeitura – local council – was not impressed with this innovation and outlawed it when it was discovered as there was no profit in it for them. A fine was mandated  and the Polícia Militar was empowered to enforce the law. Unfortunately, due to the innate corruption within the police, much of the ‘fines’  made their way straight into police pockets. Finally, in frustration at the lack of funds flower into city coffers and councillor pockets, and, realising that the vans actually aided the city transport situation, they were legalised and duly regulated and taxed.

As the crowded van pulled out, Kris’ mobile phone sprang to life and beeped, announcing an incoming message. Awkwardly, in the cramped conditions, he managed to fish it out of his tight pocket and was not surprised to see that the message was from Tanja.

– Hi Kris. I am at the bus station. I see you in Angra –

Damn, she was there early, he thought and at this moment he was doubtful if he would make it to the bus station in time to catch the ferry and his blood pressure rose, causing his dulled brain to throb painfully. Being a Monday morning, the narrow streets were virtually at a standstill with the massive flux of commuters, this, despite the fact that the normally bi-directional dual carriageway had been temporarily converted to a one-way street to facilitate the flow of early morning commuter traffic. The van inched slowly forward and his blood pressure rose higher and the ache in his head pounded in unison with his heartbeat with every second the van crawled along the street.

“Come on, you fuckers,” he demanded of every vehicle that kept him from the hostel, but it was all in vain. The van had nowhere to go and no way to progress until the car in front moved and that one could only move when the one in front of it moved and so it progressed up the line.

He soon discovered the reason for the traffic snarl. One of the lanes was blocked by two blue and white Polícia Militar vehicles; one in front of, the other behind the ruins of a motor cycle and its former rider. It was obvious that the ambulance that could be heard in the distance would not be taking him to the hospital.

This didn’t surprise Kris in the least for he had seen the way the crazy motor cyclists weaved their way in and out of the traffic, seemingly oblivious to the risk they ran. From what he’d seen, Kris had come to the conclusion that road rules were no more than mere polite suggestions here in Rio.

The distance of less than three kilometres took almost one hour through the slow traffic and  Kris soon realised he could have walked the distance in a third of that time and was swearing furiously by the time he got back to the albergue; he still hadn’t even packed his bag and was in desperate need of a shower to cleanse the dust of the streets from his skin and hair and shake the fog of his hangover from his harried mind.

As quickly as he could, he stuffed a few meagre belongings into his rucksack, save the few items he would need to take a shower, shave and make himself presentable for the new day and the journey in front of him.

He amazed himself when he checked the time on his phone and saw that he had achieved his objective in less than 15 minutes and didn’t even give a backward glance to the albergue as he made his way to the bus stop. He fired off a quick message to Tanja letting her know that he was on his way, but would possibly be a little late.

The bus to the Rodoviária arrived very quickly and was easy to spot as it bore its destination in point form letters on the front and Kris paid the cobrador the R$2.50 fare and pushed his way through the roleta – turnstyle, entangling himself and his bags within its mechanism before finally falling through it and taking his seat. It was now 10 O’clock and he was desperately hoping that he could get to the bus station and arrive in Angra before the final ferry departed at 1.30 pm, although he was totally unaware that the bus station lay on the other side of the city and providence was not to be on his side.

His eyes suddenly flashed open. He had been dozing on the bus and now noticed that the bus was just pulling into the Rodoviária. He thanked his lucky stars that his psyche was alert enough to wake him at the most propitious moment and he stumbled through the exit to the awaiting ground beneath him. He soon found the counter he was looking for and purchased his passage for the journey to Angra Dos Reis. The bus left at eleven. He checked the time and saw that  he had but barely a few minutes to wait, but unbeknownst to him, the buses took account of the predilection for Brazilian passengers to present themselves beyond the last minute and they always left five minutes beyond their stated departure time, so he had an extra five minutes to wait buried in his own thoughts.

He made his way onto the comfortable coach at a few minutes to eleven, keeping his rucksack held tightly to his side, not trusting the contents to the lower storage compartment of the bus where it would be out of his sight and therefore beyond his control. He bore in mind a story he had heard from one of the residents of the hostel who had related a sorry tale of his laptop being stolen sometime between him lodging his luggage in the lower storage and his arrival at his destination and then being totally helpless to do anything about it beyond noting the conspiratorial conversation between the police constable and the cobrador, suggesting a certain complicity. In no time at all, the gentle motion of the vehicle caused his eyelids to droop and although he kept blinking them open, they were getting heavier and heavier until they reached the point at which he could no longer summon the strength to open them and he slept.

His senses alerted him to his imminent arrival at Angra. Looking down at his phone he saw that it was now 1.25 pm and he realised he would be too late to take the final ferry. He was crestfallen. What was he to do in Angra for the rest of the day? He didn’t even know if there was a hotel or guest house in the town. He sent a quick message to Tanja explaining his situation. She responded almost immediately, letting him know that it was no problem, there was a catamaran to the island at four pm. He heaved a big sigh of relief as he disembarked into the unfamiliar bus station and stole a look around him. He had no idea where the port was and decided to take Tanja’s advice and flagged down a taxi.

The port was a short distance away and he very quickly secured his passage on the next catamaran, leaving at four. He still had over two hours to go to the departure so he decided to head to the closest supermarket and purchased a few latinhas of beer and some cracker biscuits to help him pass the time.

Not surprisingly, he dozed off in the warm sunshine as he waited for the ferry, but was pleased that his inner senses were still wide awake enough to awaken him from his light slumber with sufficient time to compose himself before the trip to the island.

The catamaran, like much of Brazil’s extra-urban transport was quite new and in very good condition. It is a shame that the same could not be said of the main transport routes as the conditions of many of the roads was diabolical, being full of pot holes that had no doubt grown there years before. Kris joined the rapidly growing throng of island residents, laden with their purchases from the mainland, hugely outnumbered by tourists, both national and international. Slowly lumbering forward, he finally shuffled along the gangplank until he reached the sturdy steel deck. The catamaran was surprisingly spacious and he soon found his way to the bow of the twin hulled boat. It was not long before all the passengers had embarked and the vessel cast off with a shrill toot of its horn.

Once the catamaran had hauled its hull around the harbour, it headed towards open water and Kris climbed as far forward as he could. There were two strips of webbing either side of the bow, but the steward warned him to keep his feet on solid steel. He may not have quite felt like performing the scene from The Titanic, but for reasons he was not able to understand his mood was incredibly light and he discovered that he had a grin plastered across his face. The cold grey cloud of gloom that had been afflicting him had, for the moment at least, lifted.

As the craft rounded one of the many islets that peppered the ocean, Kris was stunned by what confronted him, for there, looming in the distance like a lone leviathan was a huge behemoth that, from his perspective, had no place in this otherwise pristine paradise. The sight angered him although he was aware that big business would always prevail over the priorities of the populace and serve the needs and greed of the minority in the short term at such a huge cost to the next generation to come. He averted his eyes from the monstrous offshore drilling platform, instead concentrating his gaze on the remainder of the spectacular scenery that surrounded him, although his grin had now transformed to a grimace. Fortunately, the serenity of his surroundings soon cast the grimace to the recesses of his memory as he put to the backburner of his mind the blazing beacon to what he felt was the evil that had befallen this beautiful and bountiful blue ball that hung suspended in the vast blackness of space.

When Kris caught sight of Ilha Grande itself, his heart sang and his soul soared. It was much prettier than he expected and looked to be an island paradise, completely blanketed in luxuriant, verdant forest, with tall coconut trees closer to the shore. Before he knew it, the catamaran had docked at the main jetty of the tiny Vila do Abraão.

Tanja had sent him a message saying that she would meet him at the pousada she had booked and given him the address and directions and he briefly wondered if he would be able to find it without resorting to petitioning the islanders for directions, but was not unduly worried as he felt certain she would be there to greet him when the vessel made landfall. He was relieved to discover that his recently returned instincts had not left him as he spotted her smiling face in the sea of people preparing to board the last passage back to the mainland mixed with those disembarking the catamaran.

They greeted each other in typical Brazilian fashion with a warm, friendly hug and a kiss on the cheek, which in retrospect must seem surprising for both of them as neither was accustomed to doing this in their native countries, but it just felt so natural for both of the new found friends.

“I didn’t think you would come,” she told him sincerely as they strolled down the jetty towards the beach front.

“Why would you think that?” he enquired, genuinely puzzled. “I told you I would come.”

“Well, you know…,” she said shrugging her shoulders. “People, especially travellers, make all sorts of promises and such…”

“Normally, I’d say trust your gut instincts,” he replied laughing. “But I think you need to develop yours. I always trust mine and I’m usually right. For example,” he added. “I had a gut feeling you’d be here to meet me and here you are.”

“You and your mumbo jumbo,” she said with a wicked gleam in her eyes and a narrow smirk on her lips.

He narrowed his eyes and squinted at her,  giving her a sideways look, acknowledging her playfulness.

“Any idea what the time is,” she asked soon after as they trod the path to their chosen pousada, wanting to verify if he did indeed have a knack for knowing the time.

“About eight minutes past five,” he told her.

“But that’s what you said when I asked you yesterday,” she protested.

“That’s because it was and is,” he told her pulling he phone out of his pocket and passing it to her without even giving it a sideways glance to confirm his prediction.

She took the proffered phone from him and checked the LCD screen.

“So, what time is it?” Kris asked smugly, knowing from the expression she reflected that he had been right.

“Eight minutes past five,” she told him reluctantly. “How the hell do you do that?”

“I dunno,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders. “I just know. It’s like I’ve got an inbuilt clock.

She shook her head. This Kris was certainly strange, she thought to herself, he was unlike anyone else she had ever known.

“I thought you’d want to be in the same dorm as me,” she told him, changing the subject. “If that’s not ok, I’m sure you can always change. They’re not very busy at this time of the year.”

He let her know that that was fine and enquired about the hostel. He was surprised to discover that the cost per night was the same as the dive he’d been staying at in Rio, but also included breakfast. He was even further surprised when they arrived at the hostel a short walk later and found their dorm was a smallish room with enough space to easily accommodate two pine bunk beds, but also had its own en-suite bathroom with toilet and shower. The air was thick with the acrid aroma of mofo − mildew − as you would expect in in such a humid and damp environment.

As she had arrived a few hours earlier, Tanja had already chosen a top bunk and made herself at home, so Kris took the one beneath her and unpacked a few things that he would need for that night and the next morning. Once settled, he decided to visit the bathroom and freshen up after his trip. The sight that greeted him caused him to laugh uproariously.

“What’s so funny?” Tanja asked, intrigued.

“Come here and have a look at this,” he called out from the bathroom.

She soon squeezed herself in with him. “What is it?”

He was still chuckling as he pointed to a sign next to the toilet.

It was written in both Portuguese and English to accommodate the local and foreign visitors, and Kris could understand what it said in Portuguese, but if he was unable to speak it he would have been totally flummoxed by the English version.

Não jogue papel no vaso – it ordered, which was clear enough, but in English it dictated – No play role in vase –

The sign had obviously been translated by someone who spoke no English and who had clearly used a dictionary or translation program, but to make matters worse it had also been professionally printed and laminated. Presumably it was being proudly displayed in every banheiro in the guest house!

Kris could understand exactly why it was written like that – the Portuguese don’t use the auxiliary verb do like the English, so Não should be translated as Do not. The verb jogar, jogue in the imperative, can be translated as both play, as in a game, and throw. Papel is literally paper, but can also be translated as role, such as a role in a film; no is the prepositional equivalent of in plus the definite article the, but they had obviously ignored that in the translation and vaso was what they called the toilet bowl, but it can also be translated as vase.

Kris wondered how non-Portuguese speakers would react to this sign. It reminded him of a menu he had once seen in a pizza restaurant in Herculaneum in Italy. There, someone had done something similar with a menu and had proudly printed it on A3 paper and also laminated it. Kris had laughed so hard when reading it that he had tears streaming down his face. He was especially delighted with the translation for Spaghetti Putanesca, which he had been reliably informed was a favourite dish with the local putanas – whores –hence its name. This had been so carefully translated as whorish noodles! He couldn’t remember the Italian name for a chicken dish with a more puzzling name in English, obviously it was pollo something, but the English had certainly been memorable. Intriguingly, it was called fiddly opening chicken. Priceless! He had had to try his hardest to contain his schoolgirl-like giggling all the way through his meal, often being unable to do so, occasionally erupting into stifled mirth as he struggled against the flow. He had felt that it was such a pity that the menu had been so large and unwieldy otherwise he would surely have sequestered one surreptitiously on his way out.

“Yeah, I saw that,” she said, the humour obviously lost on her or since past. “But you should see the signs in the kitchen,” she added.

“Oh come on show me, then,” Kris urged her, behaving like an eager little schoolboy, anxious to see them. This light, comic relief was exactly what his soul craved.

“Come on, then,” she said and led the way the kitchen.

“Now what does that remind you of?” she asked pointing at another professionally printed and laminated sign.

Joga-se o resto da comida na lixeira – was the version in Portuguese. The English however, was much more sinister. – It throws the rest of food in bin –

“And that one,” she said pointing to another sign near the sink.

Lava-se as louças depois usa – It washes the dishes after use –

“Wow, spooky,” Kris said. “It puts the lotion on its skin!”

“That’s exactly what I thought when I saw it she said.

“What’s this place called?” he jokingly asked, “Bates’ Silent lamb motel?” They both laughed at his macabre sense of humour which was in stark contrast to the first day they had met.

“Come on, let me show around the island a bit and I’ll tell you what I want to do while we’re here.”

He readily agreed so they locked their dorm and left the key with the plump Brazilian woman at reception who greeted Kris in poor English, gratified when he responded in Portuguese. They chatted for a few minutes and she made enquiries of him and his intentions, both here on the island and with Tanja as well. Typical, Kris thought, all women loved to gossip and wanted to know everyone’s business. After explaining that they were just friends here to explore the island and enjoy all that this paradise had to offer, the pair headed back to the praia, which was less than a five minute walk from the pousada.

The principal town on the island was little more than a handful of streets and it would be impossible to get lost in, Kris thought to himself, no matter how much cachaça he’d had. There were only a few people on the hard-packed dirt streets, which would obviously get hugely crowded in the high season, and the local dogs wandering freely appeared to outnumber the people. They looked to be of all breeds and sizes, some with collars on, others without and Kris wondered whether they were strays, although they seemed healthy and friendly enough, not bothering the people that walked the streets and beach.

Tanja stopped at a dive shop displaying a large map of the island. She explained that the majority of the island was a nature reserve and private vehicles were strictly verboten, for this reason the only way to travel the island was either by foot or by boat. The terrain was rugged and walking would be a tough and challenging chore. The map displayed the various routes to different parts of the island and the estimated time to walk there and back. She showed him the principal destinations she had chosen and the days that they would go there.

Had she been his girlfriend and the situation with his heart and soul normal, he would have none of this. He was the man and no woman would dictate what was to be done; that was his job. But the situation was not normal and he was not his usual self and thus was quite happy, or at least content enough to let her make all the decisions for the moment until he orientated himself.

She indicated a beach called Lopes Mendes as their destination for tomorrow, a rugged three and a half hour trek, and announced that they would be leaving straight after breakfast, spend a few hours at the beach and then return in the mid-afternoon.

Kris shook his head. “It’s not gonna happen,” he stated solemnly and flatly.

“What do you mean?” She asked and Kris noticed a barely perceptible flash of anger pass her eyes. “You don’t have to come with me, but I’m going,” she announced defiantly.

“Don’t get me wrong, I wanna go tomorrow,” he told her sincerely, “but it’s not going to happen; at least we won’t be going straight after breakfast.”

Her forehead furrowed into a deeper frown. “What are you talking about?” she demanded impatiently.

He lifted his eyes to the clear blue sea of sky above their heads, currently devoid of even a wisp of cloud.

“It’s going to rain tonight,” he announced with complete certainty and it’s gonna rain all night long, but fortunately it’s gonna stop late morning,” he told with complete certainty.

“Oh, you’ve seen the weather forecast then.” It was a statement, not a question. “You can’t trust those. I had a look at four different forecasts on the internet yesterday, from four different sites and they were all different.” She seemed relieved that she could so easily explain it.

Again, he shook his head in negation. “No, I haven’t seen the forecast, but mark my words, it’s going to rain tonight,” he stated with absolute conviction.

“You and your Fox Mulder stuff,” she gave a small laugh, but it seemed to him to be forced. “I told you, I’m a scientist and don’t believe in all that stuff.”

“And like I told you, I’m a scientist too and my experiences have taught me to trust myself, even if I have no way to rationally and scientifically explain everything.”

“Ok, ok. We’ll see. Tomorrow is another day,” she said dismissing the subject.

Kris was happy to let it drop; he had no desire to prove himself with words, results spoke far louder, but he really was amazed by people who refused to accept the reality of their experiences, trying to find some rational justification. How could she be so dismissive of him after all that had transpired between them? He was reminded of an ex-girlfriend who behaved in exactly the same dismissive manner.

They had arranged to go out one night and he had arrived at her place to pick her up. As usual, she was nowhere near ready when he had arrived.

“Make yourself at home,” she had told him. “Put the telly on or something, I won’t be long.”

He was highly dubious; he knew her too well. He had seen her change her outfit ten times or more before finally settling on the first one she had put on. He switched the T.V. on and chose something that he knew she would like rather than something he would enjoy. He really had little interest in television and was only concerned with distracting himself until she was ready. He flicked through the channels until he found one showing an ice dancing competition. Knowing her passion for dance, he left it on that and sat down on the couch. He watched the contestants coming out one by to do their warm-ups before they performed their rehearsed routine in front of the judges.

As he watched, his mind wandering, not really paying attention, he was suddenly hit by a powerful image. He clearly saw the girl who had just entered the ice arena falling backwards and landing flat on her ass. It was like a video clip being played in his mind, it was that vivid. He had been so intent on focusing on this internal imagery that he hadn’t noticed that she had come into the room, hands full of her make up kit and had positioned herself next to the couch in front of a tall gilt framed mirror.

“Hey,” he said excitedly when he finally noticed her. “See that girl there, she’s gonna fall flat on her ass,” he told her with complete conviction.

“What?” she asked distantly, focusing instead on applying her war paint.

He repeated his assertion and she asked how he knew and when he explained what had just transpired, she simply dismissed it as mere fancy. She had yet to see his precognitive powers in action as they had been slowly dwindling somewhat from their previous peak and the couple also hadn’t been going out with each other for long.

The girl he had seen was the third contestant to perform her routine and his ex was finally ready to leave as the skater hit the ice.

“Sit here and watch this,” he told her, indicating the space next to him. “And then we’ll go, ok?”

“OK,” she said, secretly quite happy to do just that.

The dancer performed her routine with supreme grace and style, with nary even a misstep. After about three minutes of a near flawless performance she turned to him with a smug expression on her face.

“Well?” she asked triumphantly. “I thought you said she was going to fall?”

Kris’s bubble burst and he stammered that he could be wrong, but at that moment, exactly as he had foreseen, the dancer lost her footing and slipped, falling backwards onto her ass exactly as he had predicted.

It was now his turn to feel smug. “I told you she was going to fall,” he crowed victoriously.”

It was now her turn to be crestfallen as she struggled to find an explanation.

“Er, em,” she stammered, before finally finding the answer. “You’ve seen this before,” she declared.

He looked at her with astonishment. “You what…?” He asked incredulously.

“You’ve seen it before,” she replied confidently.

“You know my feelings about dancing and you choose to believe that I sat down in front of an ice skating competition and took so much notice of the competitors that I could tell you from memory which one had fallen?” he asked in amazement.

“Well, that would explain it,” she told him folding her arms across her chest, indicating that, for her, the subject was now closed; she had the answer and was satisfied.

Kris let the matter drop. He knew from experience that when a person needs to rationalise something to satisfy their own world view, it is pointless to argue or try to convince them otherwise.

~ ~

Back at the pousada, they were greeted by a tall, good looking negro with long braided corn rows who displayed large ultra-white teeth in a huge open mouthed smile.

“Marlon,” he said introducing himself, shaking their hands and giving Tanja a traditional kiss on both cheeks.

The couple introduced themselves and responded to his questions, giving a brief biography of themselves, but when they asked questions of him, he seemed to be a little reluctant to give much. He explained that he had only been working at the pousada for a few weeks, but was enjoying the tranquil atmosphere of island life.

Kris couldn’t quite put his finger on what was bothering him about this handsome man, but he didn’t trust him; he got the same feeling from him as he got from smarmy sales people. Tanja, on the other hand, seemed to be completely under his spell, rapt in his every word.

Kris’ mind wandered from what Marlon was saying, concluding that this man would have a great deal of success with the gullible single women who visited this island paradise. His wandering mind was soon brought back to focus when he realised Tanja was asking him a question.

“Huh?” He asked, having no idea what she had asked.

“What do you think?” She asked and he was grateful that she qualified her question a second or say later. “Do you fancy pizza for dinner tonight and listening to his friend singing traditional Brazilian music?”

“Sure, yeah, why not?” he replied, not having a better suggestion let alone other plans.

“He says they are planning to have a little party on the beach later with a fire, some music and a few drinks. Are you interested?” she enquired.

“Sounds like a great idea,” he told her, “but as I told you before, it’s gonna rain tonight.”

Marlon laughed. “No man, it not will rain tonight,” he told him. “Look at the sky!”

“We’ll see,” Kris replied dubiously, simply leaving it at that.

“If there anything you need, just let me know. I happy to help,” Marlon helpfully informed them and bade them adeus.

Kris had had nothing to eat all day save for the packet of crackers he had bought at the port and suggested they go to the shop to get some snacks and maybe a few cold beers. Tanja readily agreed.

They returned with some more crackers, bread rolls, ham, cheese, tomatoes and a few other things to make some sandwiches, a dozen beers, a bottle of cachaça and a 2 litre bottle of cola to mix with it. Kris had explained that this would be for the beach party later that night, but he sincerely believed it was not going to happen and he would be quite happy to drink it, party or not.

~ ~

Marlon had given Tanja the directions to the pizzeria that he had recommended and they found their way easily, it was only a tiny town after all. They ordered a large pizza with four separate toppings, frutos do mar and calabresa chosen by Kris, rucula e tomate seco, and mussarela by Tanja. The restaurant was not busy, with only one other couple there, but that was hardly surprising as the island was quiet, this being off-peak season and the couple watched Marlon’s friend, squeezed into a small corner with his acoustic guitar playing some songs that neither of them had heard before. His playing was passable, but it seemed that he had yet to master singing and playing at the same time. Perhaps he had yet to even master singing!

The singing friend of Marlon didn’t raise Kris’ opinion of Marlon one iota; rather it reinforced his first impression. And when the pizza came, all the sparse ingredients obviously piled on top of the pre-cooked pizza base, his first impression was further reinforced, and Kris however, kept his thoughts to himself. At least the beer in this restaurant was cold, he thought wryly as they shared the pizza

With the unsatisfactory meal concluded and the woeful singing not yet finished, the couple had no real desire to stay in the restaurant, opting instead to go back to the pousada. The sky was jet black and whereas stars were once visible an hour earlier, nothing could now be seen in the dark heavens, Kris noted ominously, and there was also a subtle shift in the air since they had entered the restaurant; a damp breeze had sprung up and the previously still, warm air was now significantly colder, much cooler than it had been at any other time since Kris had arrived in Rio.

As the pair made their way back to the pousada, their feet silently padding on the packed clay road surface, a slight sprinkling of rain began gently descending from the heavens, increasing in intensity with their every step. The couple hurried their pace and by the time they reached the wooden gates of the pousada it was raining heavily.

Kris was tempted to say there, didn’t I tell you, but kept his thoughts to himself. Tanja however was silent, but his prevision of rain was turning over and over in her mind along with everything he’d previously said as well as the string of coincidences that had occurred since the couple had first met.

“How did you know it was going to rain?” Tanja finally asked, once they were inside the warmth and relative dryness of their room. “You saw the forecast, didn’t you?”

Kris was used to this. Since childhood people had often accused him of lying in connection to his premonitions and knowing. He drew a deep breath before he calmly explained.

“I told you that I didn’t see the forecast,” he said patiently, “and I’ve also told you that sometimes I just know things. I’ve got no control over it; I just know things sometimes.”

“So, is it going to still be raining tomorrow?” she asked, reaching into the small refrigerator,  removing two cans of beer and  handing one to him.

“Well, it’s going to rain all night, but I’ve got a feeling it will clear up in the morning,” he told her optimistically, opening his beer and taking a deep draught.

The rain was now very heavy and beat a constant staccato on the roof; so much for the beach party tonight, Kris thought with a sardonic grin.

Although there was sleeping capacity for four people in the room, due to it being low season, Kris and Tanja were the sole occupants as they settled into the bunk beds for the night earlier than they had planned, but both grateful nonetheless.

~ ~

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4. Part 2 Seven-days-of-coincidences-and-the-incidental-guide-dog-sete-dias-de-coincidencias-e-o-cao−guia-incidental

Day 2. The Great Cosmic Joker plays some jolly japes – O Grande Curingão Cósmico prega umas peças divertidas

It was early afternoon when Tanja finally hobbled into the hostel, the big and second toe on her right foot heavily wrapped in plasters, Havaianas – flip flops – stained crimson red, and she found Kris reclining in one of the many hammocks hanging around the hostel.

“Hey you,” she said warmly, giving him a gentle nudge on the shoulder, causing the rede to sway gently.

“Hey you yourself,” he responded far more warmly than he had when she had first introduced herself. Sitting up, causing the hammock to sway even more violently, he asked: “What the heck did you do to yourself last night?”

“I don’t actually know,” she replied, a puzzled expression creasing her features. “I got out the taxi and then there was suddenly blood everywhere. I didn’t feel a thing,” “But it was funny,” she continued. “I went up to the apartment where I was couch-surfing and left a trail of blood all the way to the guy’s front door. He freaked when he saw it and I told him I’d clean it up, but he wouldn’t let me. He insisted on doing it himself.” She smiled at the memory of his face. “He grabbed a mop and spent half an hour cleaning up my blood.”

“Holy shit!” Kris interjected. “That must have been some trail of blood.”

“I know. It’s unbelievable. I was so embarrassed,” she finished sheepishly.

“So, obviously, we’re not gonna do much walking today as you said. And we’re certainly not gonna be climbing Cristo,” Kris lamented. “So, how about we go to the beach instead?” he suggested. “It’s a beautiful day.”

Although it was June and the beginning of winter, it was still 28º C, the equivalent of what both Kris and Tanja were used to in their respective summers.

“Plus, the saltwater will do wonders for your toes,” Kris added.

The albergue was right between Copacabana and Ipanema and for no obvious reason other than it was more famous, they decided upon Copacabana. The footpath was wide, about 10 feet, and constructed of a mosaic of dark and light coloured big−toe sized blocks of stone, arranged in alternate horizontal and vertical dark bars. Although the calçada was wide, it sometimes only allowed the passage of two pedestrians abreast due to such things as bollards placed at irregular intervals to deter the cars from using it, and enormous trees, replete with parasitic growths hanging like vines and sporting pale pink, yellow and white orchids growing from their boles, whose roots wrapped around and ran in rivulets down the trunk, at the base of which were garden beds warning that they contained poison to deal with the rat problem. The calçada had been oft repaired and bore the scars. This and the unevenness and areas badly in need of repair detracted both from its visual appeal and walkability.

“Look!” Tanja suddenly exclaimed, pointing up at one of the trees.

“What? Where?” Kris asked, wondering what had so excited her.

“There,” she said pointing.

Following the line of her arm, he tried to see what it was that had piqued her interest and then spotted it. Hovering above the branch was a tiny, metallic green  humming bird, called beija flor in Brazil  − literally flower kisser − darting around furiously, its long beak dipping into the occasional flower as it remained suspended in mid-flight, motionless save for its wings which beat rapidly. It was the first time that either had ever seen one and they stopped to admire its beauty and grace for a few minutes until it flitted away noiselessly. But where was the hum from its wings Kris wondered, after which he assumed it had been named. The new friends continued on the uneven surface of the calçada and reached the end of the road, entering a totally different sort of street. Where the one they had been walking on was leafy and relatively tranquil, Avenida Atlantica was filled with noisy traffic and the towering concrete and glass structures which lined one side tried and failed to compete with the majestic monolithic mountains behind them and which would surely blot out the sun long before it set and a narrow stretch of pale sand and the sparkling ocean on the other.

The footpath that bordered the beach was also made of the same black and white blocks as the one they had travelled on, but this one was patterned with great sweeping black waves. Ah! Copacabana! One of the most famous and vaunted strips of sand in the world, but Kris was a little underwhelmed by it. He had had such high expectations, but it paled in comparison to some of the beaches he had been to, such as the amazing Pink Sands Beach in the Bahamas, Anse Lazio Beach in the Seychelles or even the unusual black sands of Monterrico in Guatemala. Why was Copacabana so famous, he wondered silently. The Museu Histórico do Exército – Historic Army Museum – and Forte de Copacabana – Copacabana Fort, was situated on a small isthmus to the right and the pale strip of sand stretched to Leme on their left, the Pão de Açucar – Sugarloaf Mountain – visible in the hazy distance. The sand was a sea of red sunshades interspersed with islands of yellow ones and was crowded with people in micro costumes and many were the girls wearing little more than dental floss and tiny triangles protecting their modesty, the back of the lower portions of which appeared to have been consumed by their bountiful bundas.

The two friends ambled along the wave patterned walkway, surveying the sand for some spare space. A woman walking towards them caused them both to turn and look at each other with eyes wide, eyebrows raised in an oh my god expression. She was dressed in a bright yellow micro bikini and had not one ounce of fat on her body giving her the appearance of a perambulating skeleton. But it was not this that had caught their attention, it was more the fact that she must have been at least 70 years old, heavy makeup applied to a face that had obviously and unattractively been surgically altered. Her skin was stretched taut across prominent and skeletal features and there was heavy scarring around her now plump duck lips and ears, but her mottled, aged skin elsewhere hung in flaccid rolls, and she was also the proud possessor of an enormous pair of silicone breasts that would have made Pamela Anderson proud. She was tightly holding onto a leash in one hand, at the other end of which was a white toy poodle with its fur shaved, save for fluffy balls at its feet and the tip of its tail, all of which was dyed an unnaturally pink. This pampered pooch was also wearing a leather booty on each of its feet to protect its delicate pads.

The dog suddenly stopped and hunkered on its haunches and began coiling out a shit on the sidewalk, avoiding the eyes of anyone in the vicinity as if it was embarrassed to be performing this act of nature in front of an audience. Kris wondered what the garish owner would do in response to this soiling of the pathway; clearly she had nothing with her to remove the deposit as her hands were empty save the handle of the leash and if she had secreted something in her bikini it would surely be visible. He saw her swivelling her skeletal face from side to side head like a bizarre parody of the android in the Terminator before her eyes alighted on a piece of plastic that had been carelessly disposed of. Kris was greatly gratified to see her wrap the plastic around her hand and then wrap it around the coiled deposit, but could not believe his eyes when she picked it up from the ground and then carelessly cast it onto the sand.

“What the fuck?” he gasped unbelievingly, as he and Tanja turned to look at each other in dismay.

The pair, shaking their heads in pure disbelief, proceeded along the path for a few more feet before stepping down onto the sand and wending their way through the crowd until they came to a small unoccupied patch of sand and parked their posteriors. No sooner had they sat when a broad smiling black face greeted them with a cheery “Hola,” the sun reflecting off his shining black bald head. This was a very shrewd move on his behalf as the greeting was the same in Spanish as it was in Portuguese and it would make both nationalities feel comfortable and welcome and afforded him a better opportunity to sell his wares to the hordes of Argentineans and other South American tourists who flocked to Copacabana.

“Oi, boa tarde,” – Hi, good afternoon – Tanja responded in fluent albeit heavily accented Portuguese.

Kris’ eyebrows raised in surprise, not suspecting that she could speak the local language. The salesman informed them that he could satisfy any requirement they had, from deckchairs and sunshade to caipirinhas and salgados – savoury snacks. Tanja was about to say something when Kris interjected.

“Pode trazer dois cocos verde, por favor,” – Could you bring two green coconuts, please. It was Tanja’s turn to raise her eyebrows in surprise.

“Claro que sim, quer algo mais?” – Certainly, do you want anything else? He asked, obviously pleased with a sale.

“Não. Só, ‘brigado.” – No. Just that, thank you – he responded, dropping the first vowel of the word obrigado in Brazilian fashion.

The vendor bowed his head politely, acknowledging the order and turned and left the friends as he went to fetch the coconuts.

“I didn’t know you spoke Portuguese,” they both said in unison, laughing before they could even finish the phrase.

The two  started to talk at the same time again and stuttered to a stop. Kris put up his hand and politely signalled for her to go first, an offer she accepted.

“I was gonna order fresh coconut as well,” she told him. “I’ve never had it before.”

“Me neither,” he replied. “And I figured if we’re in Brazil, then it’s about time I did. So where did you learn to speak Porkandcheese?”

“What?” she asked, a puzzled expression on her face.

“Porkandcheese,” he repeated. “It sounds like Portuguese,” he explained. “I like to play around with words.” A smile split his lantern jawed features.

“Ok, porkandcheese it is. I like that,” she said laughing, “well, my boyfriend is from Portugal and I’ve spent almost a year there,” she informed him. “And you, where did you learn?”

“My girl… er, ex-girlfriend,” he corrected, “taught me when she was staying with me in Canada.”

At that moment, the man returned with their fresh coconuts. They thanked him and turned their focus to the cool green fruit, moisture condensing on its slick exterior. The three angled cuts expertly cleaved into the top revealed a near perfect circular hole brimming with opaque slightly sweet water. The taste came as a bit of a surprise to the pair as they both expected it to taste the same as they were used to in the hard, auburn haired fruit they both knew. It was cold and incredibly refreshing.

With coconuts in hand the pair must have looked like easy targets to the other voracious vendors on the beach, for they were soon inundated by a cavalcade of opportunists offering their wares for sale. Firstly, a purveyor of sarongs tried to interest them in his goods by laying them on the sand around Kris and Tanja so they could be better seen. Their printed motifs included, amongst others, a reproduction of the wave pattern from the footpath, the ubiquitous  Cristo and two different Indian elephant patterns. Indian elephant patterns? Wtf? Kris thought, shaking his head. The vendor obviously misunderstood his reaction and haughtily scooped up his goods and left, kicking sand onto Kris as he left. Too bad for the vendor as they were both actually interested in one. He was then replaced by, judging from his accent, an Argentinean hippy with long blonde dreadlocks offering his artisanal jewellery which he displayed on a rack made of thin pvc plumbing pipes enshrouded in black velvet. They politely refused his offer and he too left, albeit more graciously than the sarong salesman.

No sooner had he left their side than a samba trio sidled up to them smiling broadly, their hands playing furiously on their instruments. The lead sambista, cavaquinho − a small ukulele type instrument − in hand obviously took the pair to be lovers as he started serenading Tanja. His companions joined in, one tapping away on a pandeiro −a tambourine like instrument − the other with a tamborim − a smaller version of the pandeiro but minus the rattles − which he was feverishly beating with a multipronged stick with a steady takata – takata – takata – tak 2/4 rhythm.

Tamborim

Kris tried to avoid the eyes of the sambistsa, knowing they were merely trying to earn a little coin, but he had no interesting in parting with any more.

“A moçinha é muita bonita, né?” – The young lady is very beautiful, no? 6he lead sambista said looking squarely into Kris’ face. Kris was about to say something when Tanja piped up.

“A gente não é um casal, nos somos só amigos,” – We’re not a couple. We are just friends, – she informed him firmly with no trace of humour.

The lead sambista turned his attention to her, his face set to split in half by the huge smile which still lingered on his face, now resembling a death rictus.

Mas vocês faria um belo casal,” – But you would make a beautiful couple, – he told her recovering and turning on the charm that had obviously worked for thousands of other foreigners, seduced by his South American charms .

Clearly she didn’t agree with him and merely scowled back at him. His grin froze on his face awkwardly and he accepted defeat and led his troop of minstrels off in search of more fertile ground and they were finally left in peace. Once he had quaffed the cool coconut juice, Kris was eager to get his teeth into the succulent sweet white flesh sequestered within. He excused himself for a moment, green orb in hand, and made his way to the wave patterned footpath. The soft outer casing of the coconut broke easily as he bashed it on the edge where the footpath met the praia. Eyes triumphant, he jogged back to where Tanja sat, sweet and luscious prize in hand. Once he tore the broken shell into three pieces, his eyes registered surprise. Where was all the succulent snow white fruit he was expecting? A very thin and slimy looking coating on the inside of the shell was all that was there to be seen. Undaunted, he raised one section to his mouth and dragged his two front teeth across the inner surface and his disappointment mounted as his tongue very quickly registered the astringent taste, but as for sweet, juicy coconut flesh, it was conspicuous by its absence and totally lacked the coconut taste he knew. His shoulders slumped dejectedly and he collected up his three pieces, as well as Tanja’s now empty entire shell, and deposited them in a nearby220 litre bright orange plastic bin conveniently placed nearby. As he walked back towards Tanja, he noticed that many of the people on the beach, women as well as men, sported tattoos all over their bodies. He was shocked by what he saw engraved on the torsos and limbs of the girls because they weren’t of the small and discreet type that he was used to seeing, but were instead big, bold, bright and colourful. Statements! He saw entire lower legs and upper limbs completely covered with them; scenes from Rio imprinted on the skin, the names of current or even former loved ones inscribed for all eternity, an abundance of borboletas − butterflies and, Kris even had to double check and recheck, one who bore the inscription Boceta Bonita − Beautiful Cunt − in flowing, florid script across her chest. He shook his head in complete and utter disbelief when, totally out of the blue and unwarranted, an absurd question popped into his head: what type of tattoo should Tanja get here in Brazil? The question appeared completely crazy; he hadn’t noticed a single mark on her pale flesh, plus she didn’t look like the type to irrevocably mark her skin for a lifetime. He tried to push the ridiculous question out of his mind, but it refused to go, lingering right where he could not avoid it. As he arrived back at her side, the absurd question still taunting him, she stood up and started to strip off. Normally, an attractive women stripping next to him would provoke some form of hormonal response, but he paid her absolutely no heed. She pulled off her light summer t-shirt revealing two breasts only slightly smaller than the two coconuts they had just consumed, suspended in two pieces of cloth of near identical colour as the said fruit. The symbolism was completely lost on him; his sexual psyche was sleeping while it licked its wounds and recovered from its recent trauma. She slid her shorts over her curvaceous hips and shimmied, wiggling them down her shapely thighs and let them fall to the sand at her feet, but she may just as well have been a hairy macho man gyrating in front of him for all that it moved him. Obviously, if she had had any interest in him she would have wiggled her hips far more seductively and suggestively.

“I don’t know what tattoo to get here,” she suddenly announced as if on a capricious whim. “What do you think?”

His eyes widened in complete disbelief.

“You want a tattoo?” He asked, mouth gaping open stupidly like a fish out of water.

“Yeah, sure,” she responded. “I’ve promised myself I would get one from every new country I go to,” she answered earnestly.

Kris eyed her taut body and failed to find a single one of them. Seeing his confused look she lifted her left arm revealing two small blue fish in a 69 position on her inner bicep.

“I got that when I first went to Portugal,” she explained. “Me and my boyfriend are both Pisces.”

“Perhaps you could add another fish to that one because I’m a Pisces too,” he suggested.

Her facial expression suggested that she didn’t think much of that idea and she then turned around and lifted up the hairline from the nape of her neck revealing a dragon in flight. This really surprised him as he hadn’t for one minute considered her a tramp before now.

“And that one?” he asked, a confused expression clouding his face as he tried to assimilate this new situation.

“My grandfather’s name is Dragan,” she explained, pronouncing the first A long, in the manner it’s pronounced when reciting the alphabet. “I got this when I went to visit him in Bucharest. It’s kinda metaphorical.”

She then proceeded to recount her travels to Romania, describing the band of Romany gypsies that he travelled with. Kris was stunned into complete silence!!!! His grandparents were Romany gypsies and from Bucharest as well. The coincidences were piling up and he found himself once again contemplating the meaning of coincidences for the first time in many years. What did this current string of coincidences mean? There was certainly a strong connection between him and Tanja; they had fallen into a very easy friendship. He had no romantic interest in her; in fact he had no room for romantic interests for anyone in his cold and frozen heart, and she clearly had no interest in him and already had a boyfriend back in Portugal, but was there a reason the two had met and if so what? He told Tanja everything that was going through his mind, including all the accumulated coincidence, but she was dismissive of there being any significance whatsoever. She said that she was a scientist after all and valued rational thinking. He reminded her that he was also a scientist and then proceeded to give her a brief summary of his experience with coincidences and the paranormal, including his powerfully prophetic dream.

“Do you know that English guy?” she asked vaguely. “You know; that magician guy.”

“I’m not sure who you mean,” he said, shaking his head in negation. He really had no way to know who she was talking about; there were lots of magicians. “How about Derren Brown, do you know him?” he asked suddenly and her eyes lit up.

“Yes, that’s the one I meant.”

“There you go, that is exactly what I’m talking about,” he said, pouncing. “How the heck could I know you were talking about him?”

“Coincidence,” she said simply as if that explained anything.

They went on to discuss some of Brown’s performances and amazing feats of mind manipulation. Kris, due to his experiences growing up, was fascinated by the mind and its awesome power, which Brown had so skilfully tapped into. She believed that Brown’s tricks were no more than the result of using actors and that the whole thing was staged. Kris, on the other hand, had a totally different perspective; preferring instead to believe in the powerful potential of the human mind. She remained sceptical and there seemed little point in continuing the conversation so he announced that he was going to go for a swim and stripped off his t-shirt and flipped his Havaianas off.

“Are you coming in?” he asked her as he prepared to hit the cool the water.

“I want to get some sun first,” she told him, “while I still can,” she added, eying the voracious shadows from the multi-storey monstrosities which were methodically and metronomically devouring the road in their relentless march to the margins of the praia.

She estimated that they probably had half an hour at most before they would be in the shade. As he strode towards the surf, Kris took in the others that shared the beach with him. He was surrounded by so much silicon that Copacabana could compete with Silicone Valley. The silicone was not only in the chests of the women either. He noticed that there were some who also appeared to have turbo charged bundas as well and it wasn’t just the woman either who had taken advantage of the surgeon’s knife. There was one poser in his budgie  smugglers, as he had heard the small swimming costume called in Australia, flashing his ridiculously huge biceps, which were obviously surgical implants, the rest of his body showing no sign of physical activity. Kris was somewhat surprised that he didn’t also have an implanted six pack! The crowd around him that he had attracted were obviously marvelling at his stupidity not his physical prowess. Kris thought that some of the other men looked a little odd too, but couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. Then it hit him: they had either plucked or waxed eyebrows, hugely feminising their features. Not only had they removed the hair from their eyebrows, they also seemed to have removed the hair from their chests as well; he could not find a single hairy chest amongst the male population of the beach beyond the sparse growth he sported on his own chest. What was the issue with hair? Kris assumed that the Brazilian wax originated in Brazil and he could understand it to some extent; girls wanting to wear ever smaller bikinis and not wanting to excite lewd and lascivious thoughts in the men on the beach. But the Hitler moustache or nothing at all, what was that all about? For Kris, the new fashion for complete removal of body hair left him cold. In his opinion, the shaved or waxed nether regions that had become so fashionable reminded him of prepubescent girls and that excited him not in the least. Obviously, he was in the minority in his circle of friends who had considered him a little strange when he had voiced his opinion. What a sad indictment of a society when the desire for the normal, natural state of a woman is considered kinky, weird, abnormal!

Kris had previously pondered his predilection for plush pudendas, lush pubic piles, and had come to the conclusion that it had probably stemmed from the time he had been staying with his grandparents when he was 12 years old and had found his grandfather’s stash of men’s magazines, carefully hidden in the basement. They dated back to the 70s and all the models had fine bushes between their legs and he had spent many an afternoon secluded with them, experiencing his first tastes of manhood. On the other hand, perhaps it could also have had something to do with his first sexual contact with a real live female. It was his baby sitter, who was primarily there to watch over his younger sister, and he had no idea how he’d ended up naked with her as his sister slept. He was then fourteen and the baby sitter was two years his senior and he was fascinated by the thick, brown curly bush he had found when he removed her panties. He had started by kissing her, first on the lips and then moved on to exploring her tight young body with hands, lips and tongue, finally burying his face between her hot and willing thighs. He was intoxicated by the bouquet he had found there and that powerfully pungent pheromone laden perfume pervaded his psyche long after it had faded from his upper lip, forever linked to his sexuality itself. The water was a pale translucent turquoise, wonderfully highlighted in the walls of the waves before they broke and the sky was a pale blue, devoid of clouds except for the contrails that were the result of the frequent air traffic that plied the skies of Rio de Janeiro. The contrails, Kris noticed were of the durable kind hat he didn’t remember seeing in his early childhood. These contrails seemed to last for hours, not dissipating in a few minutes, often filling the sky with a cloudy haze obscuring the sun. He had heard of the chemtrail theory, but was yet to be sufficiently convinced 100%. He was actually 100% sure of very little in this life, well aware of the subjectivity of the observer and he fully understood the expression: “the perceiver’s perception is their reality”, but he was fairly certain his name was Kris, everything else he graded in lower percentages, but each with a mechanism for re-evaluation if further evidence warranted. He had read water sample reports from where these ‘contrails’ persisted more than a few minutes and they had truly disturbed him. The water samples showed massive levels of barium and aluminium that should not normally be found in rainfall. Weather manipulation? Possibly, he really didn’t know, but he understood that these metals were highly reflective and if they persisted in the atmosphere for any length of time then surely they must have the effect of cooling the planet’s surface. Was this the powers that be’s way of ameliorating global warming? Or was global warming itself a scam? He had no idea, but was completely sceptical of his and every other government on the planet’s altruism. They were as corrupt and bought as could possibly be and he understood the strength and power of corporate lobby groups. What the truth was he doubted if he would ever know, but would never accept their words on face value. History had taught him that politicians said exactly what the people wanted and expected to hear with the words bypassing the thinking process of the brain. Kris strode purposefully towards the surf, eager to cool off and dived headfirst into the first wave that rushed towards him. In no time at all, the shadows had stormed the sand and stolen the sunshine from them so they decided it was time to move on.

“Have you ever had açai?” Kris asked as they made their way from the beach.

“Hey, I was just going to suggest one of those.”

Kris raised his eyebrows in a questioning gesture as if to ask, so, you still think these are just chance coincidences? But he said nothing.

“I love açai,” she informed him. “Actually, it’s the reason I’m here in Brazil,” she told him.

“You came to Brazil just for açai?” He asked. “Can’t you find it in Croatia?”

She laughed.

“No, I’m doing a research for my university on açai,” she explained. “I’m going to Amazonas next week where I will be studying the Euterpe oleracea and its sustainability as a commercial crop.”

“And I suppose that’s the name of the tree the fruit comes from,” Kris said, making an educated guess.

“Yes, that’s right, but the Euterpe olerace, is actually a palm tree and it does indeed produce the açai berry,” she explained and then gave an in depth breakdown of her research project, explaining that her field of specialisation was sustainable agriculture as opposed to conservation biology, his area of expertise.

They left the now shady sandy shore in search of açai which Tahlia had introduced him to in Vancouver and where he had fallen in love with the delicious purple pulp. He was hoping that it would be cheaper here in Brazil than it was back in Canada, where it could only be had in health food shops and the like and was hideously expensive.

Courtesy Teja Muha

They found açai na tigela – açai in a bowl – at the first quiosque they came to. The cost was R$6, about $3.40 Canadian Kris quickly calculated, a third of the price he’d paid for it back home.

The sweetened purple pulp came like a thick sorbet topped with toasted granola and sliced banana. Tanja explained that açai was always served as a frozen pulp because it oxidised rapidly and therefore it was not viable to sell it fresh.

“Do you have any plans for tomorrow?” Tanja suddenly asked once they had finished their frozen fruit delight.

“To be honest,” Kris began. “I haven’t thought that far ahead. I have no idea what I’m going to do for the rest of the month I’m here. I’m just sort of drifting along at the moment, taking every day as I find it.”

“Well, I’m going to Ilha Grande tomorrow. Why don’t you come with me?” She suggested. “I was planning on going alone, but it’s always better to travel with friends.”

“I know absolutely nothing about Ilha Grande,” he confessed, “But sure; why the heck not?” he concluded seeing as he had nothing better to do.

“Trust me, you’re gonna love it,” she promised.

She explained that the he would have to catch a bus from the Rodoviária − bus station − to Angra Dos Reis and then catch a ferry to the island. The bus trip would take about 2 hours and the last ferry was at 1.30 p.m.

“Here, let me write it down for you,” she said, reaching into her bag for some paper and a pen.

He took the slip of paper from her, thanked her and slipped it into his wallet and they continued on their way after wiping the sweet purple pulp from their lips. It was a Sunday afternoon and the promenade was heavily populated with locals and tourists alike and all the quiosques were bustling. The sound of samba wafted on the gentle breeze that blew from blue azure ocean. The couple soon discovered the source of the samba when they found a group of sambistas sitting around a table playing the infectious South American rhythm.

“Hey, why we don’t we stop here for a while?” Kris suggested, as he spied a sensual, slinky seductress swaying to the sultry samba sounds.

He was transfixed, surprised to find his loins stirring as he gazed at her dusky, coffee coloured form. Although the treachery of Tahlia was so recent he still found her sexy swaying irresistible. He ordered two cervejas and the couple lingered there listening to the music until it abruptly came to a stop. The obviously observant waiter came over and let them know that it was finished for the day. Throughout the performance, Kris barely took his eyes off the black Brazilian beauty and felt a pang of regret when he saw her wrap her arms around one of the sambistas and plant a kiss on his lips.

“Any idea what the time is,” she asked.

“Oh, I’d say approximately eight minutes past five,” he told her.

“What? Eight minutes past five?” She shook her head chuckling to herself. “Not five past or ten past, but eight minutes past five. That’s pretty exact!”

“It’s kind of a gift,” he told her with a casual shrug, reaching into his pocket for his cell phone and giving a self satisfied shake of the head when he confirmed the time. “There you go,” he said showing her the numbers on his phone.

The digital display showed that it was indeed eight minutes past five.

“I’m a bit of a stickler for accuracy,” he told her with a wry grin.

“That’s quite impressive, but I’m sure it’s just a coincidence,” she told him, dubious that it was indeed a gift.

She would surely have to test him on this in the future, she thought and tucked the thought away for future reference.

“Yeah, maybe,” he said without conviction because he knew the truth of his words.

He’d had many people test him on this, one colleague in particular who would fire a random request for the time until he too accepted that it was indeed one of his gifts. With that, Tanja explained that she had to be heading off as she had made arrangements to have dinner with the guy that she was couch-surfing with. Kris, ever the gentleman, offered to accompany her to the bus stop and wait with her until her bus came. Although it was a Sunday afternoon the buses were still quite frequent and it was not long before the one she wanted arrived.

He bade her farewell in the typical Brazilian fashion with a hug and a friendly kiss on the cheek, even though the custom was neither his own nor hers, but it somehow seemed appropriate here in Rio and he promised to meet her at Angra Dos Reis or Ilha Grande early the following afternoon. He watched her climb aboard the bus, pay the cobrador and push her way through the roleta − turnstile − that recorded the entry of every passenger with which the bus company could check against the takings. Employers in Brazil did not trust their employees and maybe with good reason! It was now late afternoon and Kris found himself at a loose end. What to do now? He drifted along the streets of Copacabana and found himself outside a supermarket and decided to pick up a bottle of cachaça to keep himself company. Alcohol was his preferred remedy for pain. He used it to anaesthetise his pain, to numb it, to wipe it from his mind, but the problem was that some pain was so intense that it required copious quantities to be effective. When the pain was so great, and he bathed it in sufficient alcohol to deaden it, he usually found himself waking with little or no memory of the night before. His dreams disappeared and he would have no clue if his sleep was undisturbed or not. But at least he had a respite from the malady that afflicted him. Now Tanja was no longer with him his previous melancholia returned and his mind again wrestled with the reason he was in Rio, or more precisely his lack of reason and his soul screamed for relief.

It was obvious that the building that housed the supermarket had not been designed and constructed for this purpose, but had been adapted many years later. The entrance was narrow and Kris found his entry blocked by two velhas gordas – fat old ladies – and a wiry, wizened velho – old man – surrounding a shopping trolley. He waited patiently for them to move out of his way and allow him ingress. Incredibly, they did not even acknoowledge his presence, let alone move out of the way and continued cheerfully chatting as if the still had their whole lives in front of them. Kris cleared his throat noisily to catch their attention, but beyond one of the velhas slightly turning her head in his direction, quickly returning her attention to her companions as if he was of no import. Kris was flabbergasted and his patience evaporated like a light mist on a warm sunny morn and irritation grew like an inferno in his belly.

Com licença,” – Excuse me – he grunted finally, irritation plain in his voice.

The three turned to him with a shocked look of surprise registering on each of their faces.

Desculpe,” – Sorry, they chorused as if they were shocked and surprised that they had inconvenienced him.

Kris passed them shaking his head from side to side and muttering curses under his breath as he entered the supermarket.

The interior was also very narrow, only about twice the width of the entrance and Kris very quickly located the aisle containing the spirits. Again he found his way barred, this time by a dark, plump lady in her 30s, whose cart and her ample girth almost filling the aisle. She had had a mobile phone to her ear and was talking animatedly.

“Fala devagarinho, filho. I entendi nada,” – Speak slowly, son. I understood nothing! – he heard her tell the person on the other end. Like the three at the door, she behaved as if no one else but her existed.

His patience, having already been stretched thin at the door, Kris was in no mood to wait for her to notice him and move and brusquely asked her to excuse him and allow him to pass. She reacted in the same manner as the three elderly people at the door – surprised and shocked to find someone wanting to pass, but quickly moved to one said apologising profusely.

Kris could not believe the prices as he surveyed the bottles and chose a 960 ml bottle of 51 cachaça with a price tag of R$5.00, or about CAD$2.50, he quickly calculated, finding the measure somewhat random, and then picked up a 2 litre bottle of  guaraná, the national soda and made his way to the cashier.

With cachaça in hand, already opened and on its way to do the job it was intended for he made his slowly way back to the albergue; he was in no rush, there was nothing but solitude awaiting him there. Suddenly, as he came to a street corner, he saw two men scrambling furiously with a fruit stall, eyes wide in panic, transferring everything to a long wide trestle, the produce spilling to the streets in their haste. Kris looked around for the source of what scared them so much and came to a rapid understanding for there, sitting at the traffic lights, was a vehicle with flashing orange lights atop and the words Guarda Municipal stencilled on the sides. Obviously, these were unlicensed vendors and the Guarda Municipal represented a very real threat to their livelihood. The pair finally managed to pack all the plastic packets of fruit and vegetables onto the wooden board and ran. At that moment, the lights changed and the car with the orange flashing lights eased forward in the traffic and Kris spotted someone who had obviously been less fortunate, for the vehicle was a tray back with the rear full of obviously impounded produce and a civilian sat glumly between two uniformed officers. Kris shook his head in sympathy. His father had been a brutal dictator and, as a result, his sympathies always lay with the underdog. This was one that hadn’t managed to get away. He was secretly pleased that the other two had managed to.

“Kris! Hey, Kris!” A shrill voice floated across the general hubbub of the street reaching Kris’s ears.

This was one of the magic things of life: no matter how much noise there is, we will always hear our own name when it’s called. Kris looked around him in bewilderment; who could be calling his name? He was struck dumb in disbelief when he saw who it was for there, right there in front of him, was someone he hadn’t seen in almost 10 years. Now this was pushing coincidence too far.

“Chris,” he called out incredulously as he approached his former schoolmate. “What the hell are you doing here?” he asked, pumping his former friends hand furiously, the cachaça already meandering its way through his blood stream exaggerating his responses and reactions and a huge, genuine grin grew upon his face.

The anaesthetic didn’t stop him from wondering what on earth fate was doing and what game could it possibly be playing on him. Not only did his former school buddy have a similar name, but they had been very close at one stage, each helping each other through the difficulties that puberty had placed in their paths until Chris, like so many other rocks in Kris’s life had left Toronto; another parental choice chasing the almighty dollar. But after Chris had moved to Ontario, their once solid bond was slowly eroded until it was dissolved by the tyranny of distance. This was the story of Kris’ life! It seemed that, save his parents, everyone he had ever loved or cared about had disappeared from his daily life and this had had a profound impact on his young, impressionable mind, proving to him that he should only rely on himself because others are mere transitory visitors in the trajectory of one’s teenage years and maybe their entire lives too for that matter.

“I could ask you the same thing,” Chris responded laughing.

“Hey, let’s find a bar somewhere and swap stories,” Kris suggested, to which his long lost buddy readily agreed.

They soon found a bar and Kris ordered a couple of caipirinhas to further lubricate their discussion.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever tried this, but they are great,” Kris told Chris when the arrived at the table.

Chris nodded his head in response.

“Sure, I tried caipirinhas back in Canada,” he told him, “which is kind of the reason I’m here in Rio today.”

“So, how about you tell me man, and also watcha been doin’ since I saw you last you?” Kris suggested.

“Well, where to start?” “He asked rhetorically.

“At the beginning, you know, since we last saw each other,” Kris proposed.

“Ok, good idea,” Chris said with a chuckle. “Well, you know how it goes, I finished high school, took a gap year and travelled the world, then studied biology.”

“No shit?” Kris responded incredulously. “That’s exactly what I did. Exactly! What university were you at? I was at UBC.

“Ah, I went to UWO in Ontario. No shit, you studied biology too?”

“Yeah, I studied conservation biology, and you?” Kris asked.

“No shit man, I studied conservation biology as well, what a coincidence,” Chris said shaking his head.

“So, what brings you to Brazil? Kris recounted his tale of woe and couldn’t help noticing the expression on his friends face as he told his story. It was Chris’s turn to be stunned.

“Tell me you’re shitting me, man,” he said with a look of total disbelief darkening his features.

“What? Watcha talking about?” Kris responded with no idea what his friend meant.

“Man, surely you are shitting me. You’ve just told my story except Talita lives in Curitiba and is coming to Rio tomorrow, but I sure as shit hope she doesn’t do to me what yours did to you.” ]

Kris, slightly befuddled by drink, still didn’t understand his friend.

“Whaddya mean I told you your story?” His face was a comical picture of disbelief coupled with outright confusion.

“I shit you not, but I was working for a tour company in Ontario and met Talita on one of the trips, about a year ago, but she had to come back to Brazil two months ago, that’s why I’m here!”

Now, this stretched credibility to absolute breaking point and beyond. What the hell was going on here? This was just too much! Meeting his friend, who shared almost the same name, had lived almost identical experiences, both meeting Brazilian girls at the same time and with almost the same name to boot! Surely that great cosmic jester in the sky was having a jolly jape at his expense. The newly acquainted amigos swapped cell numbers, promising that they would keep in touch and continued talking of this incredible coincidence, the sheer enormity of the odds of this happening were astronomical, beyond belief!

After who knew how long, after many caipirinhas with beer chasers, the dono do bar finally announced that the bar was soon to close. Remembering the cachaça and cola he still had with him, Kris suggested that they go back to his hostel to continue their reunion celebration, all thoughts of his imminent departure from Rio but a distant memory in his alcoholic haze. Chris, many drinks behind and still fully in command of his wits, albeit still dazzled by the evening’s turn of events, agreed, but cautioned that he wouldn’t be able to stay too late as Talita was due to arrive at Santos Dumont airport from Curitiba at eight in the morning and he was aching to see her and promised he would be there to greet her when she landed, but he was now apprehensive as well. Where before he hadn’t even contemplated that she would or even could ever be unfaithful, after the sheer scale of the coincidences with Kris, there now seemed to be a real possibility that she had been doing the same thing as Tahlia. Back at the albergue, the beer and cachaça quietly and efficiently meandered its way through Kris’s system, the pain in his heart becoming totally anaesthetised, and he no longer thought about Tahlia. His previous apparent disdain and distance from his fellow hostellers disappeared, his defences completely dissolved, and he drunkenly engaged not only his old schoolmate, but the other carousers as well. The hours disappeared like the wax in a candle and he had become so anaesthetised that he barely noticed when his buddy announced that he had to be going. When it was suggested that everyone went to a funk club in Vidigal, he was as eager as everyone else and ready to shake and groove with the best of them. It mattered not that it was already three a.m. and he was supposed to be on a bus to the bus station by nine a.m.

A white van soon arrived to transport the revellers to Vidigal and Kris, minus his old friend Chris, but with his newly acquainted cachaça comrades, climbed in with a light heart, but unsteady legs, the cachaça bottle in Kris’s hand quasi empty by now, the cola completely consumed!

~ ~

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4. Part 1 Seven-days-of-coincidences-and-the-incidental-guide-dog-sete-dias-de-coincidencias-e-o-cao−guia-incidental

***This site doesn’t seem to be too easy to navigate and that is especially the case with this tale split into seven parts. As a guide, if you want to easily navigate to the next chapter, simply click on the next link, which is visible at the very top of the post. I hope that helps.***

I knew this tale was going to be long because there was so much I wanted to say. Unlike The Boy Who Saw God, this story did not lend itself to being broken down into individual stories, so I have decided to keep it as 1 story and post each day as a separate post. In the same vein, I will post 1 day of the story per day for the next 7 days. Here then, is the the first day.

Day 1. The coincidences commence – As coincidências começam

Courtesy Teja Muha

It was late afternoon and Kris’ mood oscillated between red and black, both fighting for dominance as he paid off the yellow Fiat taxi. In contrast to the sheer excitement and knee trembling anticipation that had gripped him a scant hour or so before, anger and fury now burned and flowed like molten lava coursing through his being intermixed with a twisting, tenebrous torrent of grief. Shattered, he now found himself alone in O Cidade Maravilhosa – The Marvellous City – alone and without reason and motivation.

Kris had felt like a child the night before Christmas, but with his eagerness, exhilaration and impatience multiplied many times over as he boarded his flight at Vancouver airport for the almost twenty two hour flight to Rio de Janeiro that involved a two and three quarter hour stopover in Minneapolis and three and a half hour stopover in Atlanta. His maternal grandmother, had she been alive to see him, would have described him as having ants in his pants the way he fidgeted restlessly, unable to sit still for more than thirty consecutive seconds for the entire flight. After what had seemed an eternity, the captain finally announced that they would soon be touching down at Tom Jobim Airport, Rio de Janeiro. Kris squashed his nose against the small Perspex pane hoping to catch site of Rio’s famous natural landmarks as the sleek white tube burst through the cold, hazy grey clouds into glorious sunshine, reflecting the brilliant fire burning within his heart.

He had first met Tahlia while working part-time as a tour guide to supplement his scanty student stipend at Rocky Mountain Way Ski Company. She had come from Brazil to help take Brazilian tourists to the Rocky Mountains on skiing trips. Kris’ jaw dropped open when he first laid eyes on her and he felt like the proverbial cartoon character with his eyes popping out of his skull on stalks; she was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Fortunately for Kris, she felt pretty much the same way about him and they had tasted the carnal delights of each other’s flesh on their very first night in Colorado together. She was unlike any other girl he had ever known. Not only was she stunningly beautiful with long, silky black hair, olive complexion, an enormous radiant smile filled with dazzlingly bright teeth and the largest, darkest eyes he had ever seen, she was also the most liberated woman he had ever known; totally and utterly free and unfettered with no inhibitions or limits, or, if she had limits, he had been unable to discover them. She was a creature of pure lust, completely insatiable with a sexual appetite unlike any other girl he had ever known. She would try and engage him in sex whenever the urge struck her no matter where they were, be it on the street, in a restaurant or even on a crowded bus where, on one occasion, when they had had the back seat to themselves, she had unzipped his fly and bent over and taken him deep into her hot, wet mouth. Lost in the sensual and erotic moment, Kris was suddenly jolted back to Earth as the bus driver slammed on the brakes, shouted back at them while glaring menacingly in the rear view mirror that he knew what they were doing and ordered them off the bus.

If Kris was honest, he had felt uncomfortable with Tahlia’s predilection for public performances at first as he had led a somewhat sheltered and conservative life and his idea of sex only included two active participants and no passive ones, but his overwhelming lust for her always triumphed over any reticence he may have felt. Soon though, he began to understand, and even enjoy the excitement and thrill of being caught that she not only loved, but thrived on. Once, while they were at the dinner table with his parents, she had stuck her hands down his pants and liberated his cock from his boxers. His heart raced. Blood not only flushed his face as he immediately sprang to life in Tahlia’s dry, hot hand. He could not believe it; he was receiving a hand job right under his parent’s nose! At the dinner table of all places! He had no idea how they would react if they caught them at it. Obviously, not very positively he was certain, and he really had no desire to find out, but he was trapped; he had nowhere to go and there was nothing he could do; he was putty in Tahlia’s hands. He struggled valiantly, manfully and successfully, judging by his parent’s lack of reaction, to maintain his composure and drink his soup in a mature and dignified manner until finally, inevitably, he could keep himself under control not a moment longer and squirted onto the underside of the table and the floor beneath and even onto his father’s brown leather moccasin slippers. His spoon clattered into the bowl in front of him as a grunt forced its way through his clenched lips. He collected up his napkin and coughed into it to try and cover it up and was sure he had managed to get away with it without his parents noticing. From that day forth, every time he visited his parents, his eyes would be automatically pulled to his father’s slippers and the evidence of that day would stare up at him accusingly. What Kris had been oblivious to, lost in the maelstrom of the two purest emotions of pleasure and fear, was the horrified micro glance that had passed between his parents as they slurped their soup, both stoically maintaining faces blank for the rest of the meal. What else could they have done? They hadn’t come down in the last shower, as his grandfather used to say. How blind and stupid did Kris really think they were?

The tyres screeched on the asphalt as the jet bumped to Earth and the engines screamed as the air brakes were applied and the speed fell drastically before it finally taxied slowly towards its berth. It all felt as if time was passing in slow motion to Kris who was up out of his seat before it had even come to a halt, the fasten seat belt sign still illuminated. A conscientious hostess unbuckled her seat belt and made her way over to Kris and asked him to return to his seat, completely oblivious to the irony of her words, but she might just as well have spoken Mandarin for all the notice he took of her. He was determined to be the first one off the plane and no one was going to keep him even one extra minute from his love.

Kris made his way to customs as if on autopilot and stared enviously at the customs gates for the Brazilians; they were virtually empty while the customs for the rest of the world, and that meant him, was a seething mass of people. As usual, Kris felt that he had chosen the wrong line, just like he felt in the supermarket, as the lines around him surged forward while he remained rooted the spot. It was like a horse race in slow motion with the lead constantly changing as he finally shuffled ahead until it was his turn and he was able to make his way to the baggage carousel to collect his bags.

Once he had hoisted his bags from the conveyor, Kris raced towards the exit and burst through, eyes scanning the sea of faces all anxiously waiting to greet their loved ones. And then his eyes fell upon her face! He dropped his bags and ran to her, scooping her up in his arms when he reached her and squeezed her tightly, mouth hungrily searching for hers. It was only when he finally put her down that Kris perceived there was trouble in paradise and the ecstatic smile fell from his face. She told him!

Kris had planned on staying with Tahlia, but that was clearly out of the question now so had been forced to make alternative arrangements. He could always have simply changed his ticket and returned to Vancouver in a day or two, and he was sorely tempted, but, despite being shattered by Tahlia’s confession, had decided to stay. Hotel prices in Rio were astronomical and there was no way he could afford to stay in one for a whole month – a relatively recently graduated biologist is paid little more than a burger flipper – so, after a quick search on the net at the airport, instead had opted for a budget priced hostel for the bulk of his stay.

With a sigh of resignation, he hitched his rucksack onto his back and pushed open the fire-engine red rusting gate, which creaked on its old unoiled hinges. The dark and dingy interior that greeted him reflected his own tenebrous mood.

The albergue was wedged between two high rise apartments and was forever denied the tender kiss of the sun’s radiant glow and, as a result, was dim and dank. Travellers, sporting a kaleidoscope of accents, milled around and mingled freely seemingly oblivious to the dinginess of their dwelling, but Kris had no interest in joining them, preferring instead to wallow in his own misery and pain.

The small dormitory to which he had been assigned housed three bunk beds positioned around the walls and a collection of redes – hammocks – strung across the middle of the room; the cramped conditions further compounded by an inconvenient column seemingly randomly positioned making ingress to all beds difficult.

Kris was alone in the room as he stretched out his six foot four frame on the bunk, the mattress rustling annoyingly as he did so, a consequence of being enshrouded in plastic to help protect the unsuspecting occupant against percevejos – bedbugs – and to protect the mattress from unexpected accidents from the itinerant occupants. His feet and lower legs, as always, protruded over one end as he lay there, thoughts of the traitorous Tahlia turning over and over in his tortured mind.

What if she hadn’t been goaded by the good old fashioned Catholic guilt that ran as deep in her as it runs in Brazilian culture, passed on from generation to generation as they emulated the role model that had been held up as the only acceptable face of moral virtue? He would probably be on fire right now, burning between her hot and willing thighs making up for those lost two months. But she had confessed! He knew! A snarl of anger drew his lips closer to his flaring nostrils. She had even had the effrontery to suggest that her confession didn’t have to change anything. The boiling vat of acid in his stomach belched a bubble that burned. How could her confession not change anything? It changed everything.

Is ignorance bliss? Oh, what a cruel and heartless bitch is knowledge.

After what could have been 5 minutes or one hour, he had no way to either tell nor even any interest in knowing being so absorbed in the depths of his darkness, his isolation disintegrated as the dorm door creaked open and he heard a disgustingly bright female voice call hi, obviously to him as he hadn’t heard anyone else come in.

Cracking open his eyes a little and cocking his head slightly in the direction of the intrusive sound, he found an effervescent blonde girl in her early twenties beaming at him; the last thing he wanted. Even with this filthy frame of mind, he could still see that she was tall, slim and attractive in a European way, as opposed to the fake and plastic American Barbie fashion that he so detested, but she may just have well looked like Hilary Clinton for all the impact she made on him.

“Hi,” he grunted back, with about as much enthusiasm as cold mustard.

“I’m Tanja,” she said introducing herself, either oblivious or else choosing to ignore his lacklustre reply.

At least she hadn’t stuck out her hand to try and take his as is the wont of many the modern female or, even worse, leant in to expect to receive and to give a kiss on the cheeks, as is the practice in latin countries, Brazil being no exception.

“Kris,” he mumbled without animation or enthusiasm.

“You’re not very talkative, are you?” she persisted, the bright cheerfulness not once leaving her face or her voice.

“Nope,” he replied solemnly, hoping a hole would just open up in the ground and swallow her, putting an end to her endless prattle.

“So, tell me, how you can be in this amazing city and not be stimulated by its incredible energy?”

He had been stimulated by it and frankly didn’t think he could survive any more. He sighed exaggeratedly. Was this girl completely immune to his curt rebuffs? Just hoping she would just go away and let him lick his wounds in peace and fester and wallow in his heartache, he raised himself up onto his haunches and told her exactly why he was not leaping out of the hammock to greet her.

Once his tormented tale of treachery was told, her face throughout making all the right moves to show her empathy, she moved in close and wrapped her arms around him and tried to give him a sympathetic hug, but he recoiled and stiffened, horrified by the prospect.

“Oh, you poor thing,” she said gently. “What a bitch! No wonder you’re so sad, but you’ll get over her, don’t you worry. Plenty more fish in the sea, as they say.”

Actually, having unburdened himself onto someone else had helped lift the sombre and sad veil of darkness from his soul a little and, even without him wanting it to, he soon found himself chatting quite easily and freely with her. He discovered that she was from Zagreb and, coincidentally, he had even once stayed in the very hostel that her parents owned and operated. The hostel, he recalled fondly, was situated slap bang next to a chocolate factory, which perfumed the air filling it with its sweet fragrance making it seem as if he was breathing pure chocolate whenever he arrived or left the hostel. That was quite a coincidence, he thought, but that was only just the beginning. They had both graduated in biology, and in the same year, and not only did they also share the same star sign – Pisces – Kris was stunned to discover that they also shared the very same birth date! Kris, however, was a year older and had enjoyed a gap year travelling the world before he had started college and this was Tanja’s first trip overseas, although she did say that she had occasionally strayed over the borders of her native land.

For the entire time the pair were chatting Kris’ mind was filled with a mental image of his ex-namorada. Now, this was perfectly understandable as it was only earlier that very day that she had so callously wrenched his heart out of his chest and reinserted it upside down and back to front and the wound was weeping still, but it was not an image of pain nor loss that was plaguing him, instead it was a memory of something funny that had happened. What was invading his consciousness, replaying repeatedly on a continuous loop, was a scene from when he and Tahlia were in Canada. On that day, Tahlia had stubbed her toe on the foot of the bed and had hopped around the bedroom, screaming in absolute agony. When he had asked her what was wrong, she had finally managed to tell him, once the pain had diminished somewhat, that she had hurted her foot fingers. His reaction was the antithesis of what she was expecting and was the worst possible he could have had – he had laughed out loud, all the while repeating the words hurted my foot fingers. Greeted with this reaction, she slapped him hard across the face and it was this image that was haunting him, constantly forcing its way to the forefront. Obviously, this was not something he could or would simply casually insert into his conversation with Tanja so had to keep forcing that comical image to the back burner where it simmered silently.

Tanja, spied a translucent lagartixa– gecko –, it’s organs almost visible, scuttling across the peeling paint on the ceiling and pointed it out to him, its bulbous toe pads keeping it in place like glue, and then brought the conversation to a close, informing him, much to his surprise, that she wasn’t actually staying in the hostel, merely storing her luggage there, and was in fact couch-surfing on the other side of the city and had to be leaving.

They exchanged phone numbers and promised to meet the next morning, agreeing to climb Cristo Redentor – Christ the Redeemer – the colossal statue of Christ that stood atop Corcovado with its arms stretched wide, embracing the rich and affluent in the southern zone of Rio, whilst giving the cold shoulder to and shunning those who lived in Rocinha, the largest favela in South America, and the majority of the rest of the favelas as well. The favelas, of which Rio de Janeiro was justly infamous, were great shanty towns that sprawled uncontrolled up the steep slopes of the mountains that, despite the incredible views, was less desirable real estate due to the access problems. Cristo Redentor was a shrewd move from the church; it ensured that the residents of Rio would see Cristo watching over their every move and remind them to be faithful to their vows! It also kept Cristo in their minds, reminding them of their sins, which kept them in the church and kept the cash rolling into the church coffers. Perhaps he also played a part in Tahlia’s need to confess. Although she was not a practicing Roman Catholic, far from it, Kris had read that Catholicism was deeply ingrained in Brazilian culture.

It didn’t occur to Kris until much later that night that Tanja’s appearance in the dorm, under the circumstances, was a little odd to say the least.

fog in rio

If she was staying somewhere else, why had she come into his dorm to chat? In her shoes, that would have been the last thing he would do.

~ ~

Kris’ slumber was disturbed by the high pitched pinging of his mobile phone announcing an incoming message.

– Kris, we wont be doing much walking tomorrow, I hurted the fingers on my foot relly bad. See you tomorrow. –

He was stunned, his mouth hanging open like a laughing clown at the fair; he had only ever heard Tahlia use the expression foot fingers and she had explained that it was a literal translation from Portuguese. As he sent a sympathetic reply to her text message, he was still shaking his head in disbelief at the coincidence of him thinking of that one story while talking to her and then this. The fact that she had used the very expression that had been repeatedly rolling through his mind as they talked was beyond coincidence. In all honesty, he should not have been too surprised by this turn of events as he had been experiencing such things and much more ever since he could remember. In fact, his earliest memory was of he and his older brother out in the wilderness back home in Canada, climbing trees when his brother lost his footing and fell to the forest floor beneath, knocking the wind out of him, but leaving nothing injured except his pride. Kris had burst out laughing as his older brother gasped and flopped on the ground like a fish out of water, his face growing ever crimson by the second. He was laughing not because it was inherently funny, although it was to Kris, as his brother was a sadistic bastard and this was like subtle, sweet revenge, but because he had seen the exact same scene earlier that week in one of his dreams; the kind of dream that is so vivid that it doesn’t evaporate soon after waking like the early morning mist as so many of them do, but stays with you for days, weeks, or even for life. It was not that he had dreamt of something similar, it was the exact same scene: his brother dressed in a red jumper and blue jeans falling out of the exact same tree, lying flat on his back desperately fighting for his next breath. They often played in this area as their parents had deemed this to be the limit of where they could freely and safely roam, so he was very familiar with the vista, knew it like the back of his hand, but it wasn’t this familiarity that he had remembered, it was this exact scenario with his brother breathlessly trying to curse him and vowing vengeance, a threat that Kris couldn’t take seriously as he brother flopped so helplessly and hilariously on the forest floor. His brother, however, true to his word, did wreak his revenge upon him when he pushed him into an icy lake the following week when Kris was least expecting it. The Mafia say that revenge is a dish best served cold and his brother had indeed served it cold because a layer of ice had thinly crusted the lake’s surface.

It was not only that he dreamt about things before they happened with uncanny accuracy, but he also seemed to just know things which, according to modern science, he should have no way of knowing. The knowing was mostly silly little things, but occasionally there were things that changed his world, such as the one time when he was on a bus when he was fifteen and saw a really cute chick climbing aboard. He knew with absolute certainty that her name was Kate and as she walked up the aisle towards him he called a cheery greeting to her using that name. He could read by the reaction on her face and the words “how did you know?” he could lip read that he had hit the bull’s-eye. This meeting culminated in his first romantic relationship, which only ended when she and her family moved to Ontario two years later. Other times it was things of little value, such as knowing which team was going to win the hockey championship at the beginning of the season or knowing moments before they happened what specific play a team was going to make and what the outcome would be, describing them in minute detail to his sceptical friends. The number of sceptics in his social circle rapidly dwindled over the years until everyone accepted it and simply took it for granted.

He had no control over this knowing. It just came randomly and without warning, but when it did he was never wrong. If, however, he tried to make predictions without “knowing”, he would do no better than random chance would dictate. For example, trying to guess the suit of a playing card would yield a success rate of 25%, 1 in 4 or 1.95%, 1 in 52, for if he tried to guess individual cards, but there were other times when he was hit by the knowing and he would achieve a 100% success rate, correctly guessing card after card, but this knowing would never last for an entire deck.

Although his knowing and dreams didn’t normally involve world changing events, there was one dream which did presage an earth shattering event. In fact, in retrospect, it can be seen that, from that one event, the world as it had been known was forever changed and a new world order had been implemented.

A little over ten years ago, Kris had awoken from the most intense dream of his entire life; not a nightmare per se, but filled with horror nonetheless. His eyes snapped wide open as he awoke, his breath coming in short panic driven gasps, his heart hammering furiously, his body glazed in a sheen of cold sweat. Although a dream, his body had reacted as if he had actually lived the experience. He had felt every powerful emotion and subsequent physical effects of the chemical cocktail that his brain would have released into his nervous system had he experienced the same event in the waking world and indeed had released in his dream state. It was this experience that led him to later study dreams and dream psychology and to wonder whether he was actually living these powerful dreams somehow.

It was still dark and his parents still slept blissfully, relishing the last few precious hours of peace before their lives ceased to be their own and they became mercilessly trapped on the relentless treadmill of life for yet another day. Obviously, Kris was too hyped up to go back to sleep and just laid there in his cold, sweaty pyjamas, rerunning the dream on his internal projector. He knew that somewhere, sometime he would witness these events in the meat world, he just had no idea when and he was dying to talk to his parents about it.

His parents had seen a little of the coincidences that cropped up around Kris, but merely brushed them off as nothing more than that. Kris had never mentioned his precognitive dreams to them as a young child, merely considering it something everyone has, something “normal”. It was only when he casually mentioned one at school to his school friends that he discovered that he alone had them. After that, he kept them to himself; he didn’t want to be different to everyone else.

When his parents finally woke, he rushed out of bed to tell them, but became petulant when they both brushed it off as no more than a regular nightmare. Things turned ugly when he tried to insist that it was not just an ordinary nightmare. His mother snapped at him and told him she had far more important things to worry about; she had a very important meeting with a client that morning and she still hadn’t finished preparing her presentation.

As the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months and years, the dream slowly faded from his conscious mind until one September morning he got up for school to find his parents glued to the television set. It was not unusual for them to catch up on the news before leaving for work, but the TV was usually on by itself as they busied themselves with their morning rituals, but on that one September morning they sat transfixed. Kris’ eyes were drawn to the screen and his blood ran cold; his eyes widened in horror at the scene that greeted him. It was the self same image from his dream! Staring back at him was the white underbelly of a plane as it smashed into a skyscraper, exactly as he had seen months before. The perspective was exactly the same as in his dream, so much so that it seemed as if his dream eyes were the camera that recorded it. The scene changed, but that too was all too eerily familiar. The helicopter footage taking in the vista of the Hudson River and the New York skyline was also exactly as he had foreseen as was the subsequent collapse of the three steel girded sky scrapers!

As a result of his dreams, foreknowledge and coincidental occurrences, Kris had devoured everything he could read at the local library or find on the internet; he did whatever he could to try and understand a topic that just was not discussed seriously in the open. After almost twenty years of exploration he had finally admitted defeat, accepting that he would simply never know; everything would always be no more than a theory and any one theory had as much validity as another for him. Contrary to what arch skeptics, such as James Randi had to say on the subject, such phenomena, as experienced by Kris, were very real, however neither he nor anyone else could ever possibly win the $1,000,000 prize offered by Randi to someone who could prove the existence of ESP as Randi had rigged his game. How could Kris possibly prove it? He had no control over when the knowing would appear and, apart from some experimentation with lucid dreaming, had little control over his dreams.

As Kris grew and slowly became engulfed and consumed by the daily demands life placed upon him, these experiences gradually dwindled until they had stopped altogether about a year before, but now his cup was running over with coincidences again, but why? He didn’t accept that these coincidences were just random events colliding by way of nothing more than simple chance. What was his connection with Tanja? What did it mean? Was there a reason they had met? He didn’t know. Of course, he had read Jung and his theory of synchronicity, Koestler’s “The roots of Coincidence” and everything else he could lay his hands upon, but still he knew nothing. In fact, the older he got, ironically, the more he understood how little he really did know.

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3. The boy who became God – O menino que se tornou Deus

The boy who became God – O menino que se tornou Deus

Dionathon’s mãe, Divair, had seemed to age 20 years in the six weeks or so since her filho único – only son – had been struck by lightning and death had so unexpectedly and unequivocally tried to extinguish his life force. Her hair, previously with traces of white, was now more white than dark and her palpable pain had been etched onto her face; even her posture had sagged and dropped to that resembling a sixty year old. She had wept bitterly when she had first lain eyes on him at the beira do lago; the grapevine had alerted her to the plight of her son within minutes, and she had managed to arrive there at his side before the ambulance and had even managed to accompany Dionathon to the unidade de tratamento intensivo – intensive care unit – at the Pronto Socorro; he had looked so pale, so fragile, so lifeless, had suffered burns to a greater part of his body and the médicos on the scene had told her that it was unlikely that he would survive such massive trauma.

Even in the ambulance, against the strongest of objections of the médicos, she had forbidden them from doing anything at all to her filho, beyond administering oxygen. Maybe she was just being a typical mother, but she was convinced that she could offer a better option than the medical system could ever offer, even if she didn’t yet know what it was; she simply had no faith in the Sistema Único de Saúde – the Brazilian free medical system – and so many stories had reached her ears which only served to further reinforce this belief. The médicos battled furiously with her in the ambulance, desperate to apply their knowledge of modern medicine to their patient, but she staunchly and resolutely refused everything.

Once at the Pronto Socorro, Dr. Paulo Ferreiro Flores dos Santos was quickly on hand, barking orders and instructions about the treatment of the patient. Diva stood resolutely by her son’s side and refused point blank to allow any of the orders to be carried out. Dr. Ferreiro Flores dos Santos sighed loudly, his frustration evident.

“Senhora, eu entendo que você está transtornado, mas eu realmente tenho que insistir,” – Madam, I understand that you are distraught, but I really must insist – he informed her as patiently as he could.

“Sou diretor de cirurgia, você sabe,” – I am the head of surgery, you know. “Agora, por favor, afaste-se,” – Now, please, move aside.

Divair refused to be moved. “Eu não quero que tu faça qualquer coisa a ele sem a minha permissão, e eu insisto, como mãe dele,” – I don’t want you to do anything to him without my permission, and I insist, as his mother.

Dr. Paulo Ferreiro Flores dos Santos stared at her in disbelief; in all his forty years of medicine, not once had someone spoken to him in such a fashion, insulting him like that to his face; what was this poor common woman doing refusing his advice? What did she know? Had she studied at a world famous university, graduating with honours? Of course she damn well had not.

“Senhora, eu não tocaria no seu filho mesmo que você me pagasse um milhão de reais,” – Madam, I would not touch your son if you paid me a million reais, he replied angrily and stormed off, refusing anything further to do with the case.

Doctor Marko de Souza Hoffmeister, the assistant head of surgery assumed control and tried to pacify her, but his bedside manner was little better than his predecessor and he was dismissed in a similarly summary manner.

Finally, in frustration he pleaded: “A senhora, pelo menos nos permita examiná-lo, fazer alguns testes” – Madam, at least let us examine him, do some tests. Divair conceded to this, concluding that this could not hurt, but insisted that she accompany her son throughout.

“Isso é altamente inortodoxo …” – This is highly unorthodox… – he started to argue, but lacked the back bone to sustain his argument and, finally, allowed her wish, but insisted that the hospital rules were strictly adhered to; she had to scrub and dress in sterile garments etc. the same as the doctors. To this, she agreed, but only to this.

Once the battery of tests was complete, Doctor Hoffmeister took her aside and pleaded with her.

“Senhora, por favor, você viu o resultado dos testes, se nós não operarmos, seu filho vai morrer, isso é certo,” – Madam, please, you have seen the test results, if we do not operate, your son is going to die, that is certain.

Diva refused to accept his advice at this moment; instead, trying to placate him, she told him she would give her decision in the morning.

“Mas senhora, se nós não operarmos imediamente, seu filho vai morrer, isso é certo,” – But madam, if we do not operate immediately, your son is going to die, that is certain, he again reiterated.

Not only did Dionathon have extensive burns covering his entire body, it appeared that his internal organs had been par cooked as well. Doctor Hoffmeister warned that even if he did ever regain consciousness, he would be a vegetable; the heat from the lightning bolt had boiled his brain fluids and broiled his cerebellum.

“Na verdade, é inútil esperar qualquer coisa dele, simplesmente seria melhor planejar o funeral dele, se nós não lhe prestarmos atenção imediata,” – In truth, it is futile to hope for anything from him, it would simply be better to plan his funeral if we don’t give him immediate attention – he tried as a final gambit, but was nonetheless firmly convinced of the veracity of his words.

Unlike many of her peers, who lived their life in perpetual fear, implicitly trusting the authoritative voice of those claiming greater reason, Diva was different. She trusted in a higher faith than that, plus, after surviving the ditadura – dictatorship era, she had learned that the authorities had their own best interests at heart, not that of the people. She forbade Doctor Hoffmeister from doing anything, beyond keeping her filho alive until she had consulted her “group”. He was livid, fit to burst, but had no option other than to accede to her demands; he could not legally do anything without the parent’s formal consent.

Diva’s group, well, not technically her group, as she was not a member, but a few friends of hers were, was known as “As Bruxas da Mata” – The Witches of the Forest, and she had far more faith in them than she had in the médicos. In her opinion the doctors only prescribed the medicines that the pharmaceutical reps bribed them to. And as for the pharmaceutical industry itself well, they were only interested in patients using their products for as long as possible to maximise their profit potential. As for curing people, why would they want to do that when they could have lifelong customers? The bruxas on the other hand practiced and kept alive folkloric remedies that worked and had been handed down from the indigenous people for generation after generation until there were virtually no indigenous people left to hand them down to. Fortunately, there were sympathisers and these few retained the ancient wisdom and it was to these that Diva would turn.

The first thing Dona Neusa advised was not to let them put anything on the burns; instead, to plaster the affected area with honey. Divair was dubious, not about the efficacy of the treatment, she had no doubt about that, but about the hospital system allowing her to do this and her doubts were well founded.

Doctor Marko Souza Hoffmeister was adamant. No, no and on no account, would they allow the practice of witchcraft in a public hospital. Divair had no option other than to discharge her filho and care for him at home herself. The administration was aghast, informing her that it simply was not possible. Divair was steadfast and refused to budge from her position; she was a mother and would do the very best for her filho; it was her duty, her obligation as a mãe, no one else had that same responsibility and no one was going to take that right away from her.

After many hours of desperate phone calls back and forth between the hospital administration and their legal advisor, it was finally resolved that the pais had the final say in such matter and they were powerless to stop her.

Such an unprecedented action required many hours of patient waiting and an interminable parade of legal documents to be signed, predominantly absolving the hospital of any legal obligation for Dionathon, but finally the process was complete and Diva was free to take her son. The hospital staff was horrified to see their patient transferred from the sterile environment of their hospital to the filthy horse and carroça parked outside the front door of the hospital.

Under the watchful care of Dona Neusa and her faithful bruxas, Dionathon’s exterior had slowly and almost miraculously healed; where the burns were once so livid and ugly, pink, fresh, unscarred skin had taken their place. It was the interior that worried Diva the most; he had not opened his eyes or uttered a word in almost six agonisingly long weeks and she was well aware that his insides had suffered far worse damage than his exterior, but he was alive and still breathing and all the while he did that, hope burned strong in her breast.

What was that? Had she heard something? She was convinced she had heard something and her eyes shot to her son. His eyes were still as firmly shut as they had been, but there was something new.

“Mãe, vá pegar Veronika, agora!” – Mum, go get Veronika, now! Dionathon murmered in a low, shallow voice.

She had heard right! He was awake at last!!! Her prayers to all the saints had been at last answered.

“Meu filho, meu filho, eu soube que daria certo,” – My son, I knew you would be alright. “Eu rezei a noite e dia aos santos pra ti,”– I prayed night and day to the saints for you!

His eyes opened wide and she got the second shock of the moment; his once dark, almost black eyes were now a bright, vibrant green; they weren’t the eyes of the son she had known, but she didn’t care, she threw her arms around him, smothering him with kisses and hugs and gratitude that he was alive.

“Calma, calma, mãe; tem bastante tempo pra isso,” – Calm down, calm down, mum; we have plenty of time for this. “Mas, primeiro, eu tenho que falar com Veronika,” – But first, I have to talk with Veronika.

“É uma questão de vida ou de morte, entendeu?” – It’s a matter of life and death, understand?

His seriousness caught her aback and stopped her expressions of gratitude in their tracks; this was so unlike her Dionathon; he never back-chatted her, let alone gave her orders.

“Mas querido, Veronika, não tá aqui neste momento,” But, darling, Veronika’s not here at the moment, she replied soothingly, regaining her wits, trying to relax and calm him.

“Mãe, Veronika tá fora de casa agora,” – Mum, she’s outside the house now, – he explained calmly, in a way she was not accustomed to.

“Não, não,” she started to say, remembering that Veronika had told her that she wouldn’t be back until nightfall, but, thinking of what her son had been through, she thought better of it and stopped herself.

“Confie em mim mãe, ela tá lá; por favor, diga a ela para entrar e me ver, é super importante” – Trust me mother, she is there; please send her in to see me, it’s very important.

“Isso é por que eu escolhi me acordar neste momento,”– This is why I chose to wake at this moment.

Diva, not wishing to upset her son at this auspicious moment, decided to humour him and forced herself to leave his sickbed. She couldn’t believe her eyes when she spotted Veronika coming in the gate, but quickly collected her wits and called her over and ordered her to see her brother immediately.

“Mãe, por favor, nos deixe a sós por alguns minutos,” – Mother, please leave us alone for a few minutes, – he ordered tersely when they both entered his sick room.

She was shocked. How could her filho único talk to her this way after the way she had nursed him back from the dead? But the look in his eyes was enough to send her scurrying out of the room in compliance.

Seeing Dionathon awake, with his eyes open for the first time in nearly two months, Veronika rushed to his bed and threw her arms around him, burying him with her hugs and kisses and then she noticed his eyes.

“Irmão, o que aconteceu com os seus olhos?” Brother, what happened to your eyes, she asked incredulously.

A smile flickered over his lips and his now green eyes twinkled as he responded.

“Eu quis algo diferente, então eu decidi mudá-los verde, gosta deles?” – I wanted something different, so I decided to change them to green, you like them?

“Gosto, mas…” – I like them, but.., – she answered feeling flustered; this was not the answer she expected and she had no idea how to react to this.

“Não tem importância, irmã,” – It’s not important, sis, – he responded before adding with a note of urgency: “Mas o importante é que você diga para o Zecão e o Lucas virem me ver,” – But what is important is that you tell Zecão and Lucas to come and see me.

At the mention of those two names, Veronika visibly stiffened; what could Dionathon possibly want with these two? And why would they agree to come and see her brother? As if hearing her unspoken question he continued, his voice dark and deadly serious.

“É uma questão de vida ou de morte; deles, e eles virão,” – It’s a matter of life and death; theirs, and they will come.

He explained in great detail exactly why they would come and also where they could be found: Zecão was at the house of his namorada and was preparing for a shipment of pó – cocaine – which was due to arrive from Colombia via Paraguay later that day, and Lucas was finishing lunch at home with his mãe and would be leaving the vila as soon as he finished, so he counselled her to fetch Lucas first.

Veronika eyed her brother sceptically; he had no way of knowing any of this, but, humouring him all the same, she left her brother’s sick bed to carry out his wishes nonetheless, totally lacking confidence in her mission.

The moment Veronika left the room Diva pounced on her son again, wrapping her arms around his shrivelled, puny body.

“Mãe, mãe, calma, calma; tô melhor, o que pensa que eu estava fazendo durante as últimas seis semanas?”– Mum, mum, relax, relax; what do you think I have been doing for the last six weeks? He said soothingly, running his hand tenderly and affectionately through her near white hair.

“Hein? O que? A puzzled frown added further creases to furrowed forehead.

“Mãe, estava me curando,” – I have been curing myself, – he continued, trying to assuage her fears, “mas as poções das bruxas, também me ajudara imensamente,” – but the potions from the bruxas helped me immensely as well, – “ainda que tivessem gosto horrível,” – even though they tasted horrible, he added with a gleam in his green eyes and a cheeky smile on his face.

Diva was incredulous, how could he know about that? Then it dawned on her that it was obvious; he was her son after all; it was obvious that she would seek their aid.

As if reading her thoughts he added: “Mãe, posso lhe contar tudo o que aconteceu nas últimas seis semanas, desde o momento que você chegou na beira e voltou comigo na ambulância para o Pronto Socorro,” – I can tell you everything that has happened in the last six weeks, from the moment you arrived at the beira and went with me in the ambulance back to the Pronto Socorro, – he told her seriously.

A smile lit up his mischievous features when he noticed her reaction; he had never seen he slack jawed and lost for words before and he revelled in his triumph.

The vila was a war zone; a war zone with many fronts. It could be argued that the primary front was between the wretched residents and starvation and sickness and poverty itself, but the most deadly of all battlefronts was between the two quadrilhas – a bala nas costas – the bullet in the back – and os diabos vingativos – the vengeful devils, – who vied for control of the drugs which were the heartbeat of the economy of the vila, but they themselves faced an even more dangerous enemy than each other: the various police forces and Denarc, O Departamento Estadual de Investigações do Narcotráfico, whose combined might was waged against the vila with one united aim: the suppression of drugs and dissent and the oppression of those who opposed the tyrannical system of order which protected honest, wealthy, law abiding, docile citizens who accepted their lot in life and who did as they were told, at least within tolerable limits.

Lucas was the leader of the bala nas costas and had assumed command shortly after reaching his nineteenth birthday. The position had become vacant when O Gavião, – The Hawk – the former leader, had mysteriously passed away after his head had disintegrated under a hail of gunfire during a dawn raid by the brigada militar at the start of operação cidadão seguro – operation safe citizen. During this operation, twelve residents, equally split between the two quadrilhas of the vila had also mysteriously died; all riddled with an assortment of bullets fired from pistols to automatic weapons. The deaths were mysterious insofar as there was no official record of their deaths or even their bodies, which had been summarily removed upon their untimely demise; and there was nothing any of the relatives could do to find out anything about what had happened or even to inter their loved ones; they simply ceased to exist.

Lucas was 19 years old, a veteran of the internecine guerra das quadrilhas that had plagued the vila for as long as anyone could remember, and considered himself tough and ruthless – the gun was a powerful tool. The average life expectancy in either quadrilha was around 21, but the average life expectancy of the leader of the quadrilhas could be counted in months; they usually met their demise at the hands of either one of the police forces or the opposing quadrilha, but there was still no shortage of applicants for vacant positions, for the position commanded vast wealth and, above all, power.

Veronika made her way to the front door of the house of Lucas and his mãe and gave a sharp rap on the rotting wooden door. Immediately, the sound of a chair scraping across a bare floor and heavy footsteps treading the short distance to the door could be heard. Veronika was then confronted by Lucas’ mãe; she was almost as round as she was tall and resembled a multicoloured beach ball with a round face topped with tight grizzled hair. The bright look on her face dropped the instant she recognised Veronika and her guard immediately went up, instantly wary of this crack addicted puta.

“O que você quer?” – What do you want? She hissed sharply.

“Quero falar com Lucas,” – I want to talk with Lucas – she replied with dignity, straightening to her full height, towering over the suspicious old woman.

Looking Veronika up and down, her lips curling into a snarl of disdain, she turned and called for her last remaining son, sitting at the table finishing a plate of arroz e feijão.

“Tem uma puta aqui que quer falar contigo,” – There’s a whore here who wants to talk to you, – she sneered, not hiding her derision for the unwelcome visitor, closing the door in her face, but not completely, leaving it slightly ajar, and ambling back to her frugal meal.

Veronika was surprised to discover that Dionathon had been right about Lucas’ whereabouts and activity; how the hell had he known? He hadn’t left his bed since their mãe had brought him back from the hospital and surely no one would have passed that information on to him.

Lucas was obviously asserting his dominance as he left her waiting outside the door until he was ready to see her. She had no option but to wait and, as she waited, she eyed the exterior of the house without interest, appraising the shack. It was little different to most other homes in the vila; roughly built of unrendered bricks, topped by browning corrugated fibre boards, irregular pieces glued over it’s surface to patch the holes that had formed over the years. There was a large square patch where a window had once existed on the front wall of the house, now roughly bricked over, its edges sealed with mortar. There was obvious signs of the damaged caused by the cupim – termites – which infested the vila, and the rest of the country for that matter, ravenously eating their way through any untreated timber.

After what seemed ages, she heard the lazy sound of a chair sliding across the bare wooden floorboards inside, then foot steps padding around the house before finally approaching the door.

“O que?” – What? – He snarled at her, clearly trying to intimidate her, but she was beyond such childish games, beyond fear; she had seen far too much in short life!

“Meu irmão quer falar contigo,” – My brother wants to talk to you, – she stated flatly and without emotion, simply relaying her message.

“Ele ainda tá vivo?” – He’s still alive? He retorted, feigning surprise.

“Eu ouvi dizer que ele estava vegetando, consumindo recursos valiosos,” – I heard he was no more than a vegetable, consuming valuable resources, he sneered at her, but she refused to be baited.

“Ele se acordou esta tarde e pediu para falar contigo,” – He woke up this afternoon and asked to talk with you, she replied in a steady voice.

“Porque eu haveria de me preocupar com aquele bichinha?” – Why should I care about that little faggot? He asked pretending disinterest, but curious nonetheless; he had had nothing to do with him in the past.

“Ele me disse que lhe falasse que tem R$3.759 e 55 centavos escondidos dentro de uma lata atrás de um tijolo solto na churrasqueira,” He told me to tell you that you have R$3759 and 55 cents hidden inside a can behind a loose brick in the churrasqueira.

With this, Lucas’ mouth dropped open stupidly. “Como aquele enfezadinho poderia saber isso? – How could that little runt know that? He searched his mind for an explanation, but could find nothing to account for it except treachery; he had counted the cash right before lunch and that was the exact figure that the can contained.

“Aquele filho da puta vai morrer!” – That son of a bitch is gonna die. With that, Lucas stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him with nary a word to his mãe, who had been listening behind the door, and charged off to see Dionathon, rage boiling in his blood.

Dionathon was a cunning graxaim – pampas fox; he knew that money was power and was one of the commodities most lacking in the vila; he had banked on this to lure Lucas to his side and he counted on the same ruse to work with Zecão as well.

When Lucas arrived at Dionathon’s home, he didn’t even bother knocking and nearly ripped the hinges off the door as he stormed into the small, simple abode. His gun was held directly in front of his face as his head swivelled round trying to locate Dionathon; it didn’t take too long; it was not a large house. He found him sitting up on his rough cot, a smile creasing his face, but looking, if possible, half as skinny as he remembered him.

“Guarde a arma, Lucas,você não vai usar,” – Put the gun away, Lucas; you’re not going to use it, – Dionathon told him with an air of authority.

“Deixe-me decidir por mim mesmo, bichona,” – Let me decide that for myself, faggot, – he snapped, scowling at him.

Dionathon proceeded to explain in minute detail, exactly why he had called him to his bedside and Lucas did indeed put his gun away.

As Lucas readied himself to leave, fear was inscribed on his features; his once dark complexion now pallid and ghost-like. He looked deep into Dionathon’s now green eyes and spoke from the bottom of his heart: “Meu irmão, eu não tenho como lhe agradecer; minha vida é sua,” – My brother, I cannot thank you enough; my life is yours!

He then wheeled on his heels and gratefully made his way out the door, stopping dead in his tracks as his boots hit the waterlogged, red clay street, for striding towards him, large as life, his face uglier and meaner than Lucas could ever remember, was his mortal inimigo, Zecão! Instinctively, his hand reached for his pistol and, quick as a flash, swung it forward, pointing it straight into Zecão’s face. Unfortunately for him, Zecão had already spotted him and his pistol was already in the same position.

The two enemies approached each other warily; circling like wolves, cautiously seeking a moment of weakness, then, Lucas broke the still and pregnant atmosphere.

“Agora não é hora, amigo, neste momento, a gente tem uma briga maior que isso em nossas mãos” – Now is not the time friend, we have a bigger fight than this on our hands at the moment, – he said, trying to ameliorate the situation.

“Não sei o que você tá falando, mas tenho um menino para silenciar,” – I don’t know what you are talking about, but I have a kid to silence, – he retorted, his lips twisting with hate.

Their physical positions had reversed 180 degrees, so that now Zecão was closer to Dionathon’s door and it became obvious that this was a stalemate, but neither side was prepared to give an inch as they retreated, slowly, cautiously, steadily from each other, both pacing backwards, stretching the distance between themselves.

Zecão’s back met the door and he blindly fumbled for the handle, not daring to take his eyes off Lucas for a solitary second. He backed his way vigilantly through the door, slamming it shut the moment he had crossed the threshold and heaved a big sigh before hunting his more immediate prey.
A small yet powerful voiced called out from a room.
“To aqui, entre,” – I’m in here, come in.

Zecão needed no further invitation and strode purposefully into the room, pistol at the ready; ready to assist this little mongrel in meeting his maker.

“Você tem cinco segundos, fala,” You have five seconds, talk. So Dionathon did.

The early morning air was cold, moist and dark as thirty five assorted vehicles, ranging from brigada militar squad cars to grey buses, all without number plates or means to positively identify them, purposefully headed for the vila in convoy. Each vehicle crammed full of heavily armed men, all wearing the uniform of the particular force to which they served. All in all there were over two hundred and fifty men.

This was the start of Operação Proteja o Povo, – Operation Protect the People, – the largest and most complex Police operation ever mounted in the state and its scope had ruffled more than a few feathers. This was the first operation ever to combine the forces of the Brigada Militar, Policia Federal, Policia civil and the Departamento Estadual de Investigações do Narcotráfico (Denarc) and it was this that ruffled the feathers, for each organisation wanted to, and believed that they should, head the operation, but after much gesticulating, posturing, arm waving and foot stamping it was finally agreed that tenente-coronel Menenes of BOE, Brigada de Operações Especiais, would head the operation.

The primary objective of Operação Proteja o Povo was to decapitate the quadrilhas of the most infamous vila in the city; to take out not only the leaders, but their tenentes – lieutenants – as well. They had been given explicit orders to queima os relatórios ¬– burn the reports, in other words, there were to be no files kept, no official records of the operation.

The convey circled the vila with all their lights doused, blockading every rua, every beco, every boca, sealing it tight, allowing no avenue of escape.

The men had been well drilled; they had studied aerial photographs and maps of the vila; their targets clearly identified; each man knew exactly what was expected of him and was confident that his objective would be achieved.

Surprise was the name of the game and silence was paramount. Fortunately, the rough avenues and streets of the vila were no more than soft, moist clay which aided in the suppression of noise, but everyone did whatever they could to keep the noise to the minimum, opening the doors of the vehicles as cautiously as possible and leaving them open. There was no need for words, hand signals were sufficient to direct the squads as they silently moved into position.

The still, quiet morning air was suddenly rent by the sound of shattering timber and gunfire as door after door was kicked in and the interior of each building sprayed with covering fire; the occupants within standing no chance.

Dionathon sat upright in his cot, tears falling from his wide eyes as he listened to the sounds of death and destruction filling the air. He had known exactly what the outcome of this would be, but nonetheless had felt duty bound to try and avoid it and he cursed the arrogance of human beings; at least it had not all been in vain!

As the sun rose in the murky sky, the air filled with the smoke of hundreds of rounds of ammunition, tenente-coronel Menenes cursed loudly; they had failed in their objective; over half of their targets had managed to escape, their houses mysteriously empty when the squads had entered. Now this was deeply worrying him; someone had tipped them off and that meant he had a traitor in the ranks, there was no other logical explanation, but who? This would be almost impossible to discover, but he fully intended to try. Someone was going to pay for this. But no matter, the missing ladrões and traficantes would be found. If they were in the vila they would soon be ferreted out, if not, well then they would have to return sooner or later and his men were going nowhere in a hurry; a barracks was to be erected and the men would stay there as long as was necessary, guarding every entrance, checking the I.D. cards of everyone trying to enter or leave the vila.

The police blockade lasted almost two months and caused a great deal of conflict between the residents of the vila and the brigada militar. The human rights of the residents disappeared with the invasion and encampment and they were searched and I.D’d both on their way in and out, disrupting their usual way of life. The brigada felt completely justified in their actions having been indoctrinated into a general consensus that the residents were all criminals and thus their lives were forfeit. As a result, forty two people had been shot dead for “resisting arrest” and a further 78 arrested for crimes ranging from not holding a valid identification to possession of maconha – marihuana, but there had been not one sighting of Lucas or his tenentes; they had mysteriously disappeared. The decades long war appeared to be over; the backs of the two quadrilhas had been broken, the polícia had won their war. For now at least!

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