What wasn’t natural
was the jolt of electricity that I felt as I
grasped her hand, or the flash of fire I saw in her dark eyes
as she smiled at me. I thought: I am going to drown in her
eyes, and I probably would have done so if the captain hadn’t
chosen that moment to slap me on the back and offer me a beer.
A month long trip to Brazil’s
northern Amazon was just what I needed to get over a broken heart. I thought
a break from the university where I taught would refresh my mind and allow
me to see that there were more options than giving up and going home. I took
a bus north for two days and then found hammock space on the first tramp steamer
going up-river. I didn’t know where it was going or when it would arrive.
It seemed the perfect place to sit, drink and write anguished letters. And
then I met Ana.
We had stopped at a small
riverside wharf to drop off essential suppliespowdered milk, a crank
shaft, four dozen boxes of contraceptiveswhen Ana, her young son and
her grandmother came screaming down the quay. Their cries sent the flock of
parrots, which had perched on our bow, spiralling noisily into the air.
A heated argument between
Ana and the captain followed, the crux of which was that Ana desperately needed
to take her young son up-river for medical treatment regardless of how full
the boat was. Eventually, after much hand-wringing and pleading the captain
relented and gallantly helped them aboard.
Sitting with my feet hanging
in the warm chocolate-coloured water I had had a perfect view of the human
drama that had just been played out, and it felt natural for me to reach out
and offer Ana a hand onto the boat. What wasn’t natural was the jolt of electricity
that I felt as I grasped her hand, or the flash of fire I saw in her dark
eyes as she smiled at me. I thought: I am going to drown in her eyes, and
I probably would have done so if the captain hadn’t chosen that moment to
slap me on the back and offer me a beer.
Later, when Ana had slung
her hammock next to mine and her son had taken up residence in the wheel house,
we sat swinging in the soft breeze, oblivious to the warm looks the rest of
the passengers were giving us. Ana was a few years younger than I was but
had already had a troubled life. Widowed shortly after her son was born, she
was taking him up-river for urgent treatment on an ulcerated leg. She hoped
the doctor could do something miraculous, but we both knew the prognosis wasn’t
We let the conversation
comfortably fade until we sat in the disappearing light, lost in our own thoughts
and the movement of the boat. Every time Ana looked at me I felt the hairs
on the back of my neck stand on end and my stomach turn over. Her son crawled
into my hammock and felt asleep whilst Ana brushed out her long silky hair.
It was the first time in my life that I wanted to give myself entirely to
After dinner of rice and
beans we laid in our hammocks and spoke about the different worlds we came
from. I told Ana about London, the cold winters, my apartment that froze from
November through March and my daily commute to work. In return she told me
stories of her small village, the one-room house she had and how, as a girl,
she had swum in the mighty Amazon. I closed my eyes and let the rhythm of
her voice and the candor of her words enchant me. It must have been apparent
to everyone on the boat that I was bewitched.
Later that night, when
the rest of the boat was asleep, Ana went to freshen up. When she slid back
into her hammock a short while later her hair was neatly combed, and a faint
smell of England in the spring wafted over me. Her smell, her curves and her
twinkling eyes made my skin tingle. I was truly smitten. In the dark she leaned
closer, until our lips were just a hair’s breadth apart. I thought: if we
kiss now I shall never leave this river. Static danced between us. Instead
of a kiss she reached out to stroke my cheek and said, "Thank you for
bandaging my son’s leg."
That night was long and
calm. Whilst her son slept Ana and I lay chastely in our hammocks and shared
our deepest dreams and fears. Eventually she fell asleep on my chest, and
when the sun finally came up I felt reborn and cleansed.
We spent the next few
days chugging gently up-river. I translated Crime and Punishment into Portuguese,
and Ana taught me a Brazilian love song. Each night her son would curl up
next to me in my hammock and ask me to tell him about London and my life there.
When he finally fell asleep Ana would take his place and we would talk till
dawn. There was never any question of consummating the relationship; it felt
much too intense for that.
Three days, and one lifetime,
after meeting Ana the boat chugged into the small docks of its final destination.
When everyone else had melted away and the last of the stevedores had retired
to the nearest bar, Ana and I were left alone in the watery twilight. Ana
took my hand in hers and told me that she knew we were from different worlds,
but could I wait a week for her? We could travel back down-river and start
life afresh in her little one room house. As she took my hand and gave it
a shy squeeze I thought: Yes, I belong here with you. But, deep inside I knew
I could never stay. We came from different worlds, our hopes and fears were
different, and I had a life away from the river.
Ana never looked back
as she walked along the dock in search of a taxi. For this I was glad, as
she would have seen the tears rolling down my cheeks and I would never have
left her side. Months later, back in London, I received a card from her which
said: "Be happy, be free… be in my dreams for ever."
lived and worked in Brazil for two years. He describes these times as some
of the most rewarding and richest in his life. He currently divides his
time between California (where he works) and Cambridge (UK) where he lives
with his son and partner. Further articles can be found at www.philipblazdell.com and
he can be contacted at email@example.com