(Today’s piece is a story by guest contributor Thais Angelica Tavares Lopes. Thais Angelica is my oldest daughter. Her varied background encompasses a range of subjects, including art instruction, drawing, sewing, dress designing, convention-hopping, and creative writing. This specific story is replete with magical realism and the scent of the Amazon rain forest.)
Have you ever wondered about paradise? Does it really exist? If it does, is it an actual place? If it were, would it be a huge palace made out of alabaster stone, covered with massive gold pillars, furnished with delicate embroidered pillows, luscious velveteen royal-purple curtains draped by huge windows, and jewel-bedecked people dancing in merriment?
Well I have. I’ve even thought about painting it, but how does one go about painting paradise? I’ve come to the conclusion that … well, it’s hard to explain without going into all the details. I wondered, if I were to experience a place such as this I would surely find out what paradise looked like, but I was wrong.
It happened long, long ago. I was very young then, a budding painter. I had been asked to come to the New World to depict the various aspects of Brazilian wildlife. Wildlife? Why would I want to paint that? I wanted to paint marble towers and ancient castles, not trees and parrots. But my patrons insisted, and so I relented — much to my dismay.
The trip from Portugal was long and arduous, but when I finally arrived I was met by my longtime friend, Tarius, who was in charge of a camp at the mouth of the Amazon River. He would be my only comfort, the only thing familiar to me in this vast, new land, densely populated by strange vegetation.
“This heat is insufferable,” I complained. “Why can’t the summer be more like fall, cool and breezy, more agreeable to us all?”
“True, but if it were so then it would always be cool, it would be easier to catch a cold,” answered Tarius.
“What do I care about colds? I just don’t want to die from extreme heat, melting like an icecap in Greenland.”
“Is there nothing that pleases you, Yali?” sighed the haughty Tarius.
“Only the cool drink of the guaraná fruit will satisfy my parched lips, Tarius,” I giggled.
“Then I shall ask my servant, the Indian boy, to fix you up with one right away. See hear, George, will you be a gentlemen and fetch Lady Yali a drink?”
“Why certainly, my lord.”
As the servant ran off, I turned again to my longtime friend and inquired, “Is it necessary to send him scampering about all the time? I mean, he is our age, and besides, you could have done it yourself.”
“Indeed, but then I would have to part from this lovely vision here before me.”
I felt a blush rise up to my cheeks and quickly averted my eyes. Luckily, at that moment, George came back and bowed to me, gently handing me the drink made by the Tupi Indians of Brazil with his tanned rough hands.
“I thank you, George, and here, have some money for your trouble.”
“Thank you, but no thank you, Miss. You see, I don’t take money for a simple favor such as this.”
“Are you sure? Well, if you’re certain.”
“Thanks again, George, you can return to your camp duties now.”
As George retreated, I sipped slowly and delicately, as a butterfly sips honey from a flower, or so I thought. I kept my watchful brown eyes on the boy until he left my sight, choosing this moment to finish my drink and turn my attention back to Tarius.
“So what do you think of our tropical gem?” questioned Tarius.
“It’s very different from Portugal, very wild, untamed so to speak. So much nature surrounds this place; you can almost feel the unearthly echo of silence reverberating in your ear. No mighty kingdoms, no luxurious dresses, nothing but trees, trees, and more trees.”
At this mention of silence, a macaw flew down from the nearest fig tree and landed in a nearby shrub. I had never seen such a creature before and was amazed at its long persistent gaze as it perched and munched on wild berries.
“Such a strange looking bird. How do you suppose it became so colorful?” I inquired.
“Oh, I don’t know,” replied Tarius, “probably from the colorful fruit it eats? I really have no idea. Do you see the sun setting? It’s time we ate dinner and got ourselves to bed.”
“I’ll be there in a moment, I want to watch this intriguing fellow a while longer.”
“If you insist. Don’t stay out too long, you never know what lurks behind those bushes.”
“Okay, I promise I won’t.”
With that, Tarius left to go see about the dinner preparations. The macaw was very passive and continued to munch and stare at me as if it knew I was watching it. Its green and blues were as vibrant as the grass, and its yellow and reds were as fierce as a roaring flame. It was a stunning sight to behold such a peaceful animal of the forest.
“I wonder if it will let me get closer to it,” I thought aloud.
As I carefully inched toward it, the bird turned its head and flew in a westward direction. I followed after it, even though I felt somewhat startled. The bird landed on a young boy’s shoulder, who upon seeing the bird, patted it on the head and continued clearing the ground for a fire.
“Hey,” I gingerly called.
The boy whipped his body around so fast that the bird almost fell off of his thin, unstable frame.
“Yes my lord?”
“Oh, it’s you, George!”
“Oh Lady Yali, you scared me witless. I must catch my breath, pardon me.”
“No, pardon me, it was I who startled you. I merely wanted to inquire about that bird, is it yours?”
“Lady Yali, you should know that no animal can truly be tamed, nor can we call a free animal our own, but if by your question you mean has it made my acquaintance, then the answer is yes.”
“How lovely. What kind of bird is it? Have you named it yet? If you have, would you tell it to me?”
“Yes, my lady, one question at a time. It is a male macaw, a member of the tropical parrot family. As for his name, I have not yet decided upon a moniker for him yet. He likes to sit and stare whimsically at me, but he does not seem to enjoy the company of other people in the camp, nor in my village.”
“That indeed is very odd. Do you think he would mind my stroking his feathers?”
“He has bitten all who try, but if you feel up to the challenge I will not try to stop your ladyship.”
I carefully set my hand in front of the macaw and waited for his reaction. The macaw turned his bristly green head, blinked, and cawed. Slowly, I placed a finger on his belly and tickled him. A sharp whistle escaped his fine beak and then he nibbled my finger. The sharp pain stung but I did not recoil. After realizing that I would not back down, the bird let go and I was able to finish petting him.
“Amazing. That is the first time he has backed out of a fight.”
“I am honored to have him on my side, since he is truly fierce. We should name him Dragon.”
“Name him what?” exclaimed George.
“Dragon? Do your people not know the stories and legends of the ancient reptilian animal that is taller than any tree, has large scaly wings twice the size of their bodies, and out of their eternal wrath spout shoots of fire from their foul mouths?”
“Are there such horrible beasts as these among the lands?”
“These are only stories that people in my country tell their children to teach them a lesson. But my point is, this mythological creature is famed for its intolerance of others. Don’t you think this macaw acts much like one of these beasts?”
“Indeed, he does. This name befits him well.”
I smiled, as did George. We stared for a while at each other’s faces but I, being somewhat shy in nature, and he, seemingly to be the same way, turned our attention back to Dragon, who was beginning to nibble on George’s hair.
“Miss, if ever there is anything you require simply ask it of me, I am yours to command. A friend of Dragon’s is most certainly a friend of mine, if I am not being too bold in my statement,” said a bowing George.
“Not at all, in fact …”
“Yali, it is past the time for idle talk. Dinner is almost ready. George, I thought I told you to start that fire,” said Tarius, marching across the camp to join Yali and George.
“Yes, sir, I had forgotten my place, sir. The fire will be lit momentarily.
“Come, Yali, let us walk together.”
“Oh, well, see you later George.” As I walked away in the arms of Tarius, I turned my head back to George but continued to walk on.
Night fell fast in the Amazon. I had never seen a sky so magnificent; it looked as though a dark velvet sheet lay on top of the whole world, while small stars peeked through the vast darkness. Granted that huge trees blocked my perfect view of the firmament, I was still able to enjoy the evening. After dinner, I lay on my wooden cot running the day through my mind. However, it being late and the exhaustion of the first day overcoming me, sleep came quickly and overtook my body.
End of Part One
(To be continued….)
Copyright © 2008 by Thais Angelica Tavares Lopes