The conclusion to our guest contributor, Thais Angelica Tavares Lopes’ two-part fiction story about a young painter’s colorful excursion into the Amazon rain forest.
With the sun slowly climbing into the horizon, I took out my painting set and went out to find George. I had this nagging feeling — an urge, if you will — to see him and ask if I could perhaps try to paint Dragon. I searched the camp, asking this one and that one for the Indian boy, but all of the Portuguese settlers hadn’t seen him since supper the previous evening. Finally, I went up to Tarius and personally asked him if he knew where George had gone.
“Ah, yes,” he replied. “I had asked him to run an errand for me. He won’t be back for some time. Why, what do you need him for?”
“I wished to paint his macaw. He’s so gorgeous, I just have to paint him.”
“You’ll have to wait, then, though it’s good that you have your paints with you. Do you mind tagging along with the botanist and sketching the different plants around the camp until George comes back?”
“No,” I sighed. “I don’t mind. Where is he?” But in truth I did mind, very much so.
“Over there, in that brown tent near the large capirona tree. You’ll find him delved deep into the pages of his classification books.”
I left him for the botanist, a bespectacled red-haired man about ten years older than myself. We worked together all that day making surprisingly pleasant conversation about this species of orchid or that species of rubber tree. I would sometimes mention a certain shading technique or a certain brush stroke, and so passed the day with no George.
The next day I came up to Tarius to inquire about George. He told me he had not yet returned and sent me to the botanist again. Day past day, week past week, a whole month went by in this same monotonous fashion, with no George and no Dragon. It was all right for the first day, even for the first week, but after that I couldn’t take it anymore; I had to know what was taking them so long. I marched straight up to Tarius’ tent on the thirty-first day with no regard for the hour or for Tarius’ state of mind.
“I demand to know where you sent George and why is it that he still has not yet returned.”
“Lady, what right do you have to burst into my tent while I am in the midst of an important meeting? Lars, would you be so kind as to lead her outside and keep her there until the end of the conference? Thank you.”
His heavyset second-in-command bowed and escorted me through the flap. I was flustered and furious that Tarius would treat me in this manner, so rough and coarse. I had always known him to be courteous in every situation, even during times when he was stressed. But he had never denied me anything, and to me this was truly a strange and uncomfortable experience. For the most part, I did not protest but waited patiently for him to end the meeting.
Lars stood as stiff as a statue, rigidly looking forward and paying as little attention to me as possible. Finally, after an hour’s long wait, I got my chance to ask about George’s whereabouts.
“Tarius, I beg your pardon for interrupting your duties but I simply can’t go on like this. You don’t understand my overwhelming desire to paint Dragon. I’ve drawn all of the plants in the camp at least three times over, in between painting leaves and stems. I’ve sketched the various parrots and toucans around here but none of them compare to Dragon. Another thing: where have you sent George? It’s been so long since I’ve seen him.”
Once my complaint was made I took a long and calculated look at Tarius. Whatever he had been doing and discussing with the men in the camp had left him visibly drained.
“I don’t know if you were informed upon your arrival, but this trip you made was no peaceful vacation. The Tupi Indians are not pleased with our invasion of their territory and are trying to push us off into the dense part of the forest, away from the river that supports our very existence. I sent George back to his people to perhaps negotiate with his Chief to allow us to share the land equally. It was a risky maneuver, since the Chief seems not to trust us, nor those closely associated with us.”
“So what you are telling me is that you purposefully sent him into harm’s way? You just let him enter his angry Chief’s grasp to do whatever he likes with him? Tarius, have you no shame?”
“Shame? Lady, we are at the brink of war. Do you think a few hundred men can compare to the might of a whole Indian village?”
“But would it not have been better to go yourself and solve the problem and not send others to do the work for you?”
“What insolence is this? You were never this coarse with me.”
“Nor you with me. Now, if this is how you will be I must bid you good night and leave your presence. I had thought most highly of you, but now I think you most impertinent. Good-bye.”
I turned to leave his tent, but no sooner had my shoe touched the soil than Tarius took my wrist and swung me around.
“What does this mean? Why are you so attached to this Indian boy you only just met? What attracts you to him, his looks, his mannerisms, his bird, what? Tell me, what is it?”
“I, uh, I …”
I was completely taken aback. I was astonished by Tarius’ questioning intonation, his steadfast hold of my arm, and — most terrifying of all — his cold icy-blue eyes staring intently at me, searching the very depths of my being.
“It’s nothing of the sort. You are simply being jealous of the attention I bestowed on him due to his exquisite bird. Now let me go.”
“Are you sure that that is all it is?”
“What, do you not trust me? We’ve known each other for eighteen years. I would have hoped you had more confidence in me.”
Although I feared what he would do to me I spoke truthfully and did not break from his penetrating gaze. Slowly his grip lessened and his eyes fell to the ground.
“I should have trusted you. I don’t know what made me be so harsh to you. I beg your forgiveness. If there is anything I can do to right the wrong I’ve done you, I beseech you, tell me now.”
“It must be this incredible amount of work you’ve been doing recently,” I offered. “I can see where you could have misinterpreted the time I spent with George as being for alternative reasons, though I assure you none were ever intended. As for your forgiveness, I accept it and only ask that you take me to see the Chief. Perhaps I can talk to him.”
“Yali, I don’t think you should go.”
“Oh, but don’t you see: it is the only way. They could be torturing poor George, no one else would volunteer to rescue him since he is, in a sense, one of them. Please Tarius, never have I asked you anything more important in my life than this.”
Tarius thought it over carefully, moving his lower jaw ever so slightly.
“Only if someone goes with you will I allow you to go in search of George, and the only person who knows where the Indian village is located is me. I will put Lars in charge of the camp and we will head off immediately tomorrow morning. How does that sound, love?”
“I’m speechless. You would actually come with me?”
“Thank you, dearest. I will never forget this.”
Bright and early the next day we set out on horseback, following the edge of the Amazon River so as to not get lost. Several hours went by, followed by several days, until about a week-and-a-half later a clearing began to be visible through the thick branches of the forest.
“Here we will turn east and follow this trail. It will lead us straight into the Indian village.”
The horses were weary, but they continued on, determined to carry their masters to their destination. Throughout our travels we grew closer together, discussing our various interests anew to each other as if we had never truly known them (and ourselves) before. I would sit down to paint on our breaks, as he would talk of his various accomplishments as a captain and explorer.
Just as the trail was ending our horses began to shy away.
“What is wrong with the horses?” But as I asked I heard shrieks from above and darkness fell upon me.
What seemed to be days later, but in truth only hours, I awoke to a great big headache and the sight of Indians all around me. As I tried to regain some composure, I noticed Tarius was talking very quickly at my side. He was pale but his posture was set in a way that would intimidate any man with any sense about him. He was kneeling on the dry ground, his feet and hands were bound with coarse rope but this did not stop him from speaking. I felt the rope on my own wrists and ankles and tried to sit up rather than stay in the position that I was in, flat on my face.
As I sat, I heard another familiar voice, that of George. He, too, was bound with rope and seemed to be interpreting what Tarius said to the Chief of the village, but who in turn seemed to be angry and uncooperative. There seemed to be a harsh look about the Chief; his eyes shifted slowly from George to Tarius every so often, but his intense gaze never betrayed his emotions. However, his voice showed them all, harsh bitter words that stung my ears, anger permeated through every one of them. I felt afraid of him; afraid of his unintelligible words, afraid of his tall presence, and afraid of the way he seemed to treat both George and Tarius. I was compelled to speak, but did not know what to say.
Tarius was not getting across to him that we wanted to negotiate for peace and to share their territory equally, not take it away from them. George tried his best to appease both Tarius, his master, and the Chief, his lord, but he looked helpless and lost.
It was then that I spotted Dragon on his shoulder, and it appeared that Dragon also saw me, for he leapt from George’s shoulder, just as the Chief was about to strike at us, and landed on my lap. I showed him my finger and he nibbled at it but soon stopped and let me stroke him. All was very quiet; no one said a word as all of the villagers, including George and the Chief, stared at Dragon and me. Soon the spell was broken by the Chief’s words. These seemed to show amazement and a hint of confusion. George translated for us:
“My Chief asks, what spell has the young woman cast on Dragon. He is a fierce creature. How can one who knows him not have such power over him?” George smiled at me as he said this, for he knew about Dragon and me. He nodded his head so that I could say what had transpired before and how I came to be in Dragon’s favor.
So I told the story of Dragon, George, and my friendship. The Chief listened patiently and when I was done a sense of calm could be seen in his rugged countenance. He spoke briefly and George again translated:
“This truly is an astonishing event. How can I turn someone away who has tamed the untamable, who has calmed the beast that is Dragon? Come, stay in my house, we will eat together and be friends. Release them, they are no longer prisoners and there will be no war.”
At this, the Indians closest to us cut our bindings and helped us to our feet. Dragon hopped onto my shoulder where he made chirping noises of irritation to my sudden change in position. Tarius and I looked at each other for a long time before going after the Chief and the villagers.
“You are an amazing woman, Yali. I should have never doubted your compassionate heart.”
“Think nothing of it, Tarius, it was Dragon who did all. Besides, you acted very bravely in the sight of the Chief.”
“Yes, you both should be congratulated for bringing our two villages together. I thank you on behalf of everyone,” beamed George.
The Chief came up to us and spoke some words.
“My Chief insists on your presence for dinner.”
At the mention of dinner and a meal, an idea came to me.
“Tell your Chief that we will join him shortly, but first let me make him an offering. Let me paint him a picture of Dragon, the symbol of our union.”
George spoke to his Chief with great enthusiasm and the Chief agreed. I began to paint the picture, paying close attention to Dragon’s every detail, his colors, feathers, beak, everything, and felt an ease and fluidity in my strokes I had not felt before.
As I reached for a dab of chartreuse paint, I noticed I had run out of colors. My palette was dry and I had no more paint to replenish it. My enchanting experiences had made me forget all about replacing my old paint set with a fresh one. What was I to do?
In my anguish and moment of stress, Dragon flapped his wings, distracting me from my dilemma. As I watched him a miraculous thing began to occur. I gasped for breath, as slowly the colors of his wings and body began to come undone. They seemed to leap into the air, sparkling in tiny fragments of dust and move as if in a graceful dance.
Suddenly, the particles landed on my palette and turned into puddles of paint, giving me all of the colors I needed to complete my canvas. I stared, amazed at my palette and then at Dragon, who was now completely devoid of color, save for white.
His purity reminded me of the palace I had envisioned paradise to be. The great stone wall and exquisite fabrics, however, no longer interested me. I had found a new meaning for paradise: unity. Dragon brought us Portuguese and the Tupi Indians together. With this, we could build our own version of paradise.
So, how do you paint paradise? You don’t, but a parrot could paint paradise for you, and Dragon was just such a bird.
Copyright © 2008 by Thais Angelica Tavares Lopes