Part 36

I woke up a few hours later, stomach a rumble for anything to fill it, Graham sitting by patiently, his piece already said.

How mad is she, I asked. She’s still around, I hope.

Yes, and I’m not sure, but very. It’s your show, kid, and it makes sense you don’t want to steal a local to hop around the continent. He cleared his throat. He looked as if he could just as easily be on a patio, smoking, reading the news.

How’s your new friend, I asked, instead of what I really wanted to know.

Greedy, but not too expensive. His voice was smooth, his stare straight and narrow. If you didn’t know him better, you could swear it was an act. We’re all lucky you paid us out in US dollars, even if it was just the once.

So they didn’t want to know more about us? They weren’t mad at finding we were all at the doctor’s? I asked. Another thought struck like an uneasy snake on a trail: Do they know what we’re doing?

No, not really, and no, said the older man, giving in a little to the sloped back of the chair. They’re anxious, folks, desperate at times, but what could they do? Rob us, maybe. Or beat us and the scientists. But they know the gringos won’t go away, and even out here, there would be questions and more angry people. They also know what their good-for-nothing politicians will do if pushed internationally. Not anything pretty, you can be damn sure.

It’s amazing to hear you say more than a sentence, I said. I’m also really fucking hungry.

We ate later, simple and unceremonious, even though the village leader came and had words with Graham and Três and my caretaker. It was hard to make out what they were saying, and doubly so since the effort wasn’t in me. More and more, it felt like we were interlopers, getting under the skin.

Três sat way far away, wheels turning, trying to figure out how to win me over. Graham sat across, said that there was a canoe waiting for us already, to take us back to the NGO camp.

The next day the rain was back, Três and my bandages came off, and two sturdy older teenagers loaded us onto their river canoe. They looked us over for a moment before grabbing their poles and paddles, and I noticed they had enough for all of us, though no offer was made.

I thought that someone should say something, or try to make small talk or dumb jokes or anything, but we sliced through the water below and all around, spilling over beaten plastic ponchos, steaming our faces. I wondered how my mother was doing, how everyone back home was.