A reformed Caipora
Ramblings. Needs reviewing - probably rewriting… About 2550 words.
“How did I end up stranded here… and with him? Or with it?” was all that Aldo could think at that moment.
He remembered leaving his house in the morning to catch crabs and maybe some shrimp on the other margin of the river without his brothers seeing him leave.
There weren’t as many crabs, shrimp, or even fish now as some years ago. And he needed to catch a lot to sell in the city market. He was saving money to go to Curitiba, the capital, and try to find a good job – or at least have some fun trying.
And he knew where were the best parts of the river and the best time of the day to catch crabs. But knowing his older brothers even better, he knew they would take the best catch and try to sell it first. Or worse, make him sell and get their “deserved share” of the money, as they would explain to him. Older brothers, who needed them?
But what was more important was leaving without his mother noticing. His brothers would take a share. But his mother would take everything, and probably beat him for crossing the river.
Many years ago the other margin of the river and a large area around it became a protected area, part of a national park. This meant that his riparian community, the “Ribeirinhos” , were prohibited of hunting, fishing, or even planting or falling trees there.
When he was younger his mother would try to tell scary tales about jaguars, wild dogs, and even crocodiles attacking their neighbours.
That prevented them from going there for a while. And Aldo in special. He knew his way around that area as well as the back of his hand.
Well, except for this day. It was already getting dark, and he couldn’t find his way home.
Sometimes he would be daydreaming, and would end up wandering through trail to a waterfall nearby, or maybe another path that would take to the main road. Until he realized where he was, and then turned back.
But it was already getting dark and he had walked in circles several times. No matter how many times he tried, he ended up in the same place. He tried following the margin up and down, crossing in different places, and looking for points of reference. But that would only lead him to the same place.
Screaming for help was definitely not an option. If one of his brothers or his mother found him with the bucket full of crabs, he would be even more lost.
So he decided to trace his steps back, and look for a place to rest and think about how to get home.
There was an islet just after a small stretch of water that looked like a good place to think. And he knew fishermen would eventually stop in places like this to either eat or to organize their gear.
That’s where, with the bucket full of crabs fighting for their lives trying to jump back into the river or closest mangrove, Aldo spotted that figure sitting down, with a look as if waiting for something – or someone?
He looked like a boy. With long red hair, which was quite unusual amongst the Ribeirinhos. Aldo thought he looked like a city boy. Probably a city boy that got lost – like himself.
“Eh, so what did you say your name was again?” Aldo asked.
“You can call me Caio.” replied the boy, with a funny accent that Aldo couldn’t recognize.
He had a very muscular physique, looking to be no more than twenty years old. Maybe he was a fisherman in a village near the city?
That’s when Aldo noticed something stranger than the color of his hair, his accent, or his physique. Aldo noticed the boy was sitting down and was barefoot, crossing his legs.
That probably prevented his brain of immediately recognizing that there was something wrong. But then with a second look, Aldo was forced to quickly look away.
His mother had taught him well to never stare at people, especially if they had any deficiency.
Now Aldo was sure that that boy was some city boy, a poor deficient boy with crooked feet and ankles, that couldn’t walk well, and had gotten lost. His physique was probably to compensate for the deficiency.
“Listen, Caio, are you lost?” he asked trying to sound patternal. His next step was going to be to pretend the best that he could that he was not also lost.
“Not really. I was actually waiting for you.”.
“Me?” that really caught him unprepared. “Do we know each other?”. Maybe he was a friend of his brothers, or maybe he knew about his father.
One day , when Aldo was still attending primary school, his father told them he was going to fish, but never returned. Whenever anyone mentions his father, his mother always repeats it is a good thing he never came back, and that they were much better that way.
But he thought he saw her looking out of the window some evenings, as if waiting for something or someone to come. Aldo always asked other fishermen and people in the city about his father. But nobody seemed to know his whereabouts, or even had any recollection of what he looked like.
“I don’t believe we have met each other before.”, said the boy. Looking down, with a serious look, but without much interest.
“Then you must have the wrong person. You don’t even know my name… do you?”.
“No”, the boy replied. “But I know you are carrying a bucket full of crabs.”.
Without realizing, Aldo had left the bucket under the shadow of a bush, both to protect the crabs and also to avoid showing the stranger his precious cargo.
“Well, yes. Today was a good day, I tell you. I was on my way home, but decided to take a break here before. What about you?”.
“I was waiting for you, I told you already.”. The boy seemed disappointed for having to repeat himself. As if he was doing house chores on a Sunday, or repeating a task after having done that many times already.
“Well, what were you waiting for? Don’t tell me you were waiting for my crabs… I bet one of my brothers sent you!”.
“No. Your brothers did not send me. Let me explain it to you.”, he said, uncrossing and raising.
Now Aldo could see that the boy was really muscular, and protecting his crabs would not be an easy task. He was used to fighting with his brothers. But this city boy was much bigger than any of his brothers. Whatever these city people were getting in their food, it was working.
And the feet… Aldo was trying his best to not stare. But now that the boy had raised. It looked as if his feet were… facing the wrong direction? Poor boy, thought Aldo. Perhaps he could get some of the crab, if only he asked nicely.
“It is part of my work, you see? There is a balance that I try to keep. I noticed you had been coming here lately to catch the crabs near the margin, or in the mangrove nearby. And also that you would sometimes catch shrimp or fish, even if it was the ‘Piracema’”.
Aldo knew well what was the ‘Piracema’, but still made a face as if he had no idea what the boy had just said. His mother was very proud to say they had indigenous blood. That that made them stronger, fit for farming and fishing. And she would teach them since young age certain words.
She would tell them that the city boys would use them too, but have no idea what they meant. He remembered “capim”, meaning grass. And “capybara” meaning “eats grass”. Very original.
And “Piracicaba” and “Piracema”. The letter was the name of a city somewhere else, and meant the “place where fish stops”. This name came from the fact that fish would swim up there and then stop to reproduce.
And this swimming up was the meaning of “Piracema”. “Pira” meaning fish, and “cema” meaning up or going up. That was the period when fish reproduced, and during which it was illegal to fish.
Well, this city boy was definitely going to take the crab, he thought. But now Aldo was also wondering if he was going to press charges or if he worked for some government department.
The boy continued, “Normally it would be fine. I know you live nearby, and that you are a Ribeirinho. I met your people a long long time ago. They were former slaves, that either ran away, or were freed. But they had no idea how to farm, fish, harvest.”
“Some knew the basics, but coming from far away, speaking strange languages. They were bound to fail here.”, the boy was moving a bit closer, walking between Aldo and the crabs.
“So,” Aldo said, after waiting for a moment to interrupt the boy, “you said something about a long time ago? How long ago are you talking about?”.
“Months, years, centuries. The thing you call time does not affect me, you see. But let me finish, I have other things to do, and I really need to go soon. You took your time to find me here.”.
The boy had opening the bucket and was inspecting, as the first crabs started to jump out. Then he said “Ah! Here it is, a ‘Guaiamum’”.
Aldo knew this word too. Another original word, that simply meant ‘blue crab’, used to describe a – you guessed – blue crab.
“Why are you letting them go? Do you work for one of those groups from the city? The ones that come here and tell us that we cannot fish here, that we need to take a shot for some new disease, or that we must go somewhere else to put our names on a piece of paper?” Aldo said, realizing he had clenched his fists.
Even on his knees, near the bucket, the boy still looked too big for Aldo. And except for the ‘Guaiamum’, the other crabs were not too hard to catch. But that blue one, it was sure to give him a good money. They were so rare to find these days!
The boy was holding the crab on his hand, but strangely the creature was not fighting back. It had two claws, one near the size of its carapace. And they were known to be aggressive, especially after staying for so long inside a trap; or a bucket.
“Why are you doing this? Alright, alright, I will share with you. Don’t let it go, please!”, but the boy gave no ears to Aldo. For one moment the boy seemed to whisper something to the crab.
Then he put the crab down. And Aldo could swear the crab looked at him for a few seconds, and shook one claw, as if cursing him while shaking one fist. Before it went away into the river.
Aldo was desolated. He had no more crabs. He could not prevent the boy from releasing them, and fighting for the crabs was definitely not an option. Worst of all was that it was getting really dark.
And his mother would know that he was up to something. But she would find it even more suspicious after not finding any crab or money. And he thought she wouldn’t believe his story about the boy. His brothers would laugh at him for losing the crabs to a crippled city boy.
That was he looked around and realized the boy was walking away. Or toward him. At least if you looked at his footsteps on the ground, it appeared as if the footsteps were coming to the islet, and not leaving it.
At that moment Aldo remembered about one of his mother’s tales. He went after the boy, “Caio. You said you name was Caio, right?”. “Right” confirmed the boy. They were crossing the stretch back to the margin. The boy seemed to be in a hurry. As if late for supper.
“Could you tell me your full name?”. And at that point the boy stopped, looked back, and grinned.
“It took you that long?”, he said quizzically. “Well, if you ask me, I don’t believe I have what your people call a surname.
“I have had many names, none decided by myself. The old people here used to call me ‘Caipora’. Some called me ‘Curupira’, ‘Caiçara’, ‘Anhanga’. And the old people around here used to call me, simply ‘the demon’. You can pick whatever you prefer.”.
Aldo was carrying his bucket and dropped as soon as he looked again at the feet, after hearing the names. He remembered his mother telling him to never cross the river. That if he did anything wrong there, the Caipora would find him and take him away.
“What are you going to do with me?” he asked, his voice breaking, and his legs refusing to cooperate in a smooth retreat.
“Today? Nothing.”, the Caipora replied, while getting a piece of paper. He whistled, and an enormous wild boar appeared from the bush, rushing in their direction, and stopping right in front of the mystical creature.
“But I will give you a warning.”.
“A warning?” replied Aldo, that was still trying to force one leg to move after the other. As if both legs had gone numb.
“Yes. You see, for many years I have been punishing your people. And I mean simply all of you that wear this funny fabric to cover your body, and that lost most of what the old people here knew.
“As I mentioned, before you interrupted, I know your people from a long time ago. The Ribeirinhos were a mix of people from all origins.
“And they were spreading all over the uninhabited regions. Building their houses on stilts, and trying to farm and hunt nearby”.
“In the beginning I fought them, but eventually I realized they were not going away. So I started to learn their culture, and in exchange I would tell them about the seasons of the year. Explain why some vegetables were dying, or how to plant others.”
“They learned how to work the land, how to respect nature, and to keep the balance of life here. With the exception of a few ones…” he said eyeing the now immobile Aldo.
“That’s why I will give you a warning. I am tired of making people get lost. Creating illusions, and walking around to confuse hunters. So now I am trying a different approach, to see if educating people you will change.”.
“So you will let me go?” Aldo said, sounding relieved and taking the warning from the Caipora’s bureaucratic hand.
“Yes, Aldo. I will let you go. But the next time,” and saying this the the day got even darker than it already was, the whole forest behind the Caipora appeared to be alive and breathing with life “the next time you will have the same end as your father!”.
“My father?!” Aldo asked.
And at that, the Caipora hopped on the boar, laughed for the first time that afternoon, and disappeared into the forest.