Part 13

Did she say anything about why this particular doctor or place? I pressed on.

Not at all, she said, the only thing I noticed was all her notes, piles of tablet, paper, her petite phone full of text. She said the closer they got to truth, the better the story.

And you took them out two, three weeks ago? How far is the doc? Graham interrupted.

Something like that, she continued. If they came back, I was away. No one else has said a thing about any return. And they would be very much on the lookout for that duo.

Três nudged at me and whispered that there was no other way out but the river, they could have come back out downstream somewhere. Then she said to Lena, under the tent full of crawling, clicking, working drones and soldiers, Did she write anything of interest, did you sneak a look?

Lena put her fists to her hips as if to dismiss that notion.

The way she had said ‘duo’ earlier was strange and amusing. It also reminded me of something, there in the darkling jungle among the constant buzz and shriek and scurry. Lena, I said (already so informal), then what was all this about a fire?

She took off her hat finally to reveal actually fairly well-kept auburn hair, though a bit compacted. For the first time she seemed sheepish. Well, they were doing me a favour. Mel… Ava was. You see, I had told them about the peculiarities of Paraponera Clavata, and about the rituals the indigenous ones use them in.

I smiled and wiped at my brow. And which one is that? Looking back, I think it was obvious, given who we were talking to.

The ones called the bullet ant. Ava was looking for nests at la nuit, but Wilson was swinging around a gas lamp and thought one had bit him, which it hadn’t of course, but the flame jumped out and fwauu, it caught. She shook her head at the thought.

Três picked up at that, asking Don’t you have enough bullet ants here? What do you want them for?

It was then that we all noticed the the wrappings around her left hand, being as she removed her glove at that time.

They say the rituals are to prove manhood, masculinite’, but that is not true. She held the hand aloft, unravelling the gauze on it. It is true they bite with the most powerful venom but you have to channel the pain. You need to do it several times to get the full recognition.

And she displayed her hand under the flickering camp light, grotesque and swollen, red-purple and in places yellowed by stings upon stings.