"You can return," Pojucan said directly.
"I remain only because I know how many lands lie between this place and the one I left."
"Only because of this?"
Ubiratan nodded. Until now, he had shown little emotion, but he could see what the Tupiniquin was leading up to, and a keener note rose in his voice: "It is a long and terrible journey, beyond even those stars that mean so much to you."
"But did you not make such a journey, my friend?"
Ubiratan had often thought of heading up along the white sands or into the forest, and there had been many opportunities, but not for a man alone.
"There is nothing for me here," Pojucan continued, "but dishonorable death. I will go with you, to your village."
Ubiratan leapt forward and embraced Pojucan, clasping him to his chest. "Oh, my friend! What I said about the dangers is true, but with two of us they can be overcome."
They agreed that there was no time to lose. They must go that night, when people were about in the clearing, make their separate ways to the small forest behind the clan's fields, and start from there.
Aruanã was out of scale in the forest, dwarfed in this twilight world, where the simplest ferns and shrubs grew to a height twice his own and patches of light played through the latticed branches in the canopy far above, filtering through the lower trees and making strange shadows dance before his eyes.
Cautiously he slipped between writhing shapes of trees held in the grip of the strangler fig or hung with the tendrils of great lianas, vines too thick to encircle with both hands. It was a soggy, dripping world, mostly silent now that the waking chorus had stilled, but there were occasional cries from various levels above, parrots and toucans shattering the quiet with maniacal conversation as they took to wing, a cacophony of screeches and squawks that rose until, abruptly, they ceased. In the distance, a pack of howler monkeys started up.
The boy was nervous but also experienced a strange elation the deeper he walked into the forest. His life had begun in such a place: When his mother had felt the child, she had gone beyond the village to the trees, where she squatted on the damp cover to give birth.
Little happened in Aruanã's world that was not bound up with the jungle. The forest was mysterious and dangerous, and if its luxuriance and fecundity were not held back at the edge of the clearing, the trees and shrubs would invade the malocas.
In the forest were animals and plants that provided food, medicines, shelter, and weapons, more than man could ever need. But this paradise was also a land filled with a fantastic parade of evil.
Several times before crossing the river at dawn, Aruanã had inspected the dye smeared over his body. It was his only protection against Caipora, whom he feared most, and the others: The forest demons were unlikely to see a human who wore the red paint. And then, once on the other side, he had abruptly stopped, his heart beating furiously as he awaited a dreadful apparition. But there had been nothing, and he had walked on, a little bolder.
When a group of large brilliant blue butterflies flew in front of him, he dashed after them. Entering the forest where the fragrances were especially heavy, he paused and breathed deeply of the exotic perfume, examined strange insects, and plants growing high on the trees themselves, splashes of color flowering amid the dark green clouds of leaves.
Twice already he had caught a movement in the middle branches, where his father had told him to look for Macaw. The first time he'd watched in disgust as a turkey thrashed to the ground. The second time it had been a brilliantly feathered macaw, and he'd got a shot off into the trees but missed, and the arrow was lost. He stood there trying to attract Macaw by mimicking his call. Macaw screeched back, mocking him from very close, but he never saw him again.
Copyright Errol Uys. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this excerpt contact the author at http://www.erroluys.com.
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