Short Stories

Under the Canopy (part 2)

February 24, 2015

Choosing

 

Here I was in the Amazon jungle, my life hanging on the word of a man, who can’t spell his own name. And now this person decides I should have a wife or concubine. I had no choice but to pick a woman among the group offered. I honestly didn’t find these people very attractive when I first got here. Forming an alliance with any of these women was the farthest thing from my mind.

As the weeks went by I did see beauty in these people, most unexpectedly I might say. Their honesty and natural manner was something I had never experienced before. They smiled a lot making each of them shine from the inside. I eventually found the faces of my jailers to be pleasant rather than repulsive. Or was it simply because there was no other choice.

I worried about the implications of marriage. I assumed if a marriage ritual were performed in the jungle, such a union would not be recognized in the outside world. There was no marriage license, no minister or priest. What harm could there be in going along with their ploy?

Charlie came for me a couple hours before dark. I didn’t know what to expect so dressed in my regular clothes hoping to add some formality to this blessed event. The large structure with hammocks, open on one side, was our meeting place, the chief framed on both sides by his two wives. Monogamy was the usual practice for practical purposes for most but for some, like the chief or shaman, they might opt for a second wife, even a third. Several small children clung to these two women as the chief reclined in a hammock awaiting my decision.

Nine or so women stood to the side, laughing and poking one another, entertained by my reluctant choosing. It reminded me of a school dance where the girls waited to be asked to dance speculating on the boys willing to ask them. Unlike the girls at the dance these young women displayed everything one could possibly see. Having been here for some time I recognized most of the women, a few being quite young, Charlie assuring me the girls old enough by the standards of the Indians. In fact the ages of these women varied considerably, Charlie explaining that the older ones lost husbands and were now available to remarry. Except for their physical attributes, which were clearly visible I had no idea, which of them would be a suitable mate.

The chief mumbled some command allowing the group to bunch up less, affording a clearer view. He wanted to be sure I got a good look at them all. It reminded me a little of the red light district I had visited when I was sixteen. This display was extremely informative for my sensitivities though I found a few of the women quite appealing. I shrugged throwing my hands in the air in frustration.

The chief eyed me with interest and an understanding, of some sort. Flipping the back of his hand to the group, he spoke to Charlie while dismissing the eligible women; they didn’t disperse immediately lingering to see if I favored any of them.

“Wait for one moon,” Charlie explained. “You decide.”

Charlie’s English was getting a bit better, though some things were lost in the translation. What he tried to say, I was to choose after one month, the women deciding along with me; they also had the option to refuse me, though the chief might override their protest if he chose.

Several of the women came up to me studying me as they had done once before, tugging at my shirt and trousers as they commented to one another about the unrealistic necessity for all these clothes; that much I could gather by their actions. One woman brazenly pulled the front of my pants forward to inspect my penis as she had also done once before. She mumbled something to her audience, all of them responding with exclamations. Put off by this I yanked my belt back into place.

Over the next few days several of the women brought food they had prepared for me. Yes, I was being courted and fed the delicacies of their culture. I passed on the roasted grubs and a few other cooked insects. I suppose this was their attempt to find the way to a man’s heart through his stomach. I was brought oils to put on my skin to protect me from the ever, pesky mosquitoes. I don’t believe the chief himself, was fussed over as much as I.

The unexpected was the nocturnal visits by women wishing to participate in the honeymoon before the wedding. Their availability and intentions were quite obvious. Tempted though I might be, I turned each of them away concerned I might give them the wrong impression. Was this a trap, a way to secure preference over the others? I was appalled at these displays, though I realized they have relaxed philosophies regarding sexual behavior.

Charlie reminded me after the passing of time, the choosing was growing near. The constant insistence of intimacy was getting to me. I was a normal man with all the drives and desires a man should have. It was only a matter of time before I succumbed to the advances of these women.

It happened four days before I was to choose. Ahan, a lovely slip of a girl spirited into my hut and expertly brought me to a point of desire. Too weak to resist I let it happen. I couldn’t say I was unhappy with my behavior but was certain I had given the girl the wrong message. She uttered a few indiscernible words and left shortly after, smiling like that cat that ate the canary. I wasn’t sure if I had made a mistake but the word got out. The floodgates of my vulnerability had opened inviting others to take advantage of the opportunity.

If I was a good Christian I should have been disgusted with my display of carnal promiscuity, though I had crossed that line times before. It wasn’t as if I were a missionary holding myself to a higher standard. In reality, I hadn’t had this much fun in my entire life. These people were so natural and easy about sex I began to wonder which of us was the primitive. Still I had to consider the seriousness of my situation. There was no time left to procrastinate, a decision had to be made.

 

 

Fitting In and Marriage

 

I watched a ritual these people practiced, where they placed some white powder at the end of a hollow tube. A friend would blow into the tube sending the powder into the nose and mouth at the other end. The recipient would shake, convulse, vomit then stagger to the covered area where the hammocks were strung, sleeping for several hours afterwards.

The powder provided an altered state in which the subject would hallucinate finding some meaning in a spiritual realm. Violently ill or not they partook in the practice as often as they could. It was not restricted to men either. Women did the same except they used a rolled up leaf to dispense the powder.

I had been offered to try it out but refused, no desire to vomit and get sick. Charlie did partake having done this with his own band before leaving years before. I believe this was the closest thing to recreation for these people. Most other activities were limited to spear throwing practice, hunting and a dip in the water to cool down avoiding things that bite in the water.

I sensed the men in the village weren’t too pleased with my status, especially the shaman. To be offered any available woman in the band was unheard of except for special cases. I thought it over and found a way to diminish the effect between the men and myself.

“Charlie, I want to ask you something,” I said in the early morning of my last day. “From the women I have to choose from, which is least desirable to the men?”

At first he couldn’t understand the question, the language barrier and question inconsistent with what he expected to hear. After some verbal and visual maneuvering he figured out what I was asking. I found it surprising that he knew the names of each of the women. I, on the other hand, could only remember one or two of the names.

Charlie explained in simple terms; all were acceptable, even the older widowed women, who were slightly older than the others. Men wanted a woman who could cook and bear children, the bottom line in this culture for mating. A woman who was too fat or skinny would not be at the top of the list. Only Ahan was slight in build, the others maintained a fleshy body types. When I mentioned her he grimaced.

“Laaneh better,” he touted forming an arc on his belly. “Make many babies, cook good.”

“The men would not choose Ahan?” I pressed.

“No,” he answered simply, still having trouble with my intent.

“Good,” I replied. “I want Ahan.”

It wasn’t until late afternoon before the chief summoned me. The eligible women were lined up once again, several smiling directly at me; those were the ones who bribed me with their bodies, hoping to increase their status by being chosen. The chief waved his hand to displaying the choices that stood before me. I could see this was becoming a quite a game for everyone, the women included.

I pointed and said, “Ahan.”

The other women ceased smiling as a result, a few made remarks I’m sure were not complimentary. The chief looked at me in disbelief furrowing his brow, baffled at the choosing. Grabbing me by the arm he brought me closer to the group of women, picking out several, pointing out their physical characteristics and advantages, also patting ample thighs and strong backs. I assumed that’s what he was telling me. I hated to disappoint the fellow but I thought it was better to appease the other warriors who might seek the better choices when they wished a wife.

“Ahan,” I repeated. Ahan looked as confused as the chief, not expecting much of a chance given the superior choices surrounding her. I was glad I didn’t have to explain my decision to her. It might have hurt her feelings.

The chief folded his arms in thought as Ahan stepped out of the bunch and slightly to the side. He turned to me and indicated with two fingers that I choose a second woman. I held up one finger showing my satisfaction with a single woman. He did not relent keeping the two fingers before me. As my interpreter, Charlie told me the chief wanted to be sure I would have many children. My present choice might limit my success of offspring unless I had another woman.

“Take woman,” encouraged Charlie. “No argue. Bad for Chief.”

I could tell by Charlie’s expression to refuse might create a bigger problem. I had not expected to pick a second wife. I wasn’t prepared to have the one let alone a second. The shaman hissed at this and was silenced by the leader’s glare. Mapala would not take no for an answer or any disrespect from the shaman. In matters of the spirits and gods, the shaman enjoyed his unchallenged position. In other matters of the band Mapala had complete power.

Inches away from the group I studied the faces, once again smiling. I pointed to one of the widows, who appeared to be in her early twenties, older than the others. She had been one of the eager candidates to visit my hut. Young men generally chose young women because of their potential to breed longer, providing more children. The older ones might marry as a helper to the first wife. Sadly I could not remember her name.

Once again the chief shrugged at my choice, flipping hands in the air, his fingers spread in frustration. The choosing was over and a ceremony of some sort would take place later that evening. My small hut was going to be quite crowded from now on. I thought of my prospects with these two wives; a platonic relationship with both might be better in the long run. I refused to compromise them or myself with the possibility of children, though I had sampled both of them during my weakened moral state. There were two possibilities; I might be set free or killed. In either case, an absent father would not be beneficial to these women and I would feel guilty. Of course in the event of being killed my guilt would be short lived.

The ceremony was simple with little, if any, pomp and circumstance one might expect. The leader stood in center of the group and yammered on about something I couldn’t fathom. Charlie shrugged when I looked his way for help, smiling in resignation. I was the man of the hour and about to be joined with two women, a serious distinction in this band. There was some sort of song with clapping, which ended a couple minutes later. Everyone pivoted in place and returned to their homes, while I stood with two women I hardly knew. My wives, I shuddered to think of the word, smiled and guided me back to our humble abode with promises I did not understand.

The women carefully prepared a meal for me as if I were the King of England. Someone had donated food since my skill, as a hunter had not yet been honed. Wielding a spear, I was lucky not to stab myself in the foot, and that was only due to the length of my spear. With two wives I will have to get better at hunting or starve all of us. My magic will only last so long as I have film and chemicals to develop them. That’s not something I can rely on forever.

A cluster of feathers and sticks hung on the entrance of our hut when we arrived. The women treated it as an offering of good faith. Charlie told me later, it was a fertility symbol designed to give me many sons. He also said the device promised to keep me thoroughly aroused in order to service both wives a long time ensuring productivity. To work, it had to be left there for one cycle of the moon before taken down or my chances would diminish considerably. Charlie had already impregnated his woman, Maria and was looking forward to a son of his own. Maria slowly learned to speak the tongue of our wild Indians under Charlie’s tutelage.

My wedding night was nothing like I had thought it might be, not in America that is. Two women expected me to fornicate and begin the process of creating children. When I indicated my refusal of sex, they reluctantly retired together on the other side of the hut; I was left to myself as requested. The prior wanton intimacy did not darken out wedding bed, not that one can claim a pile of leaves with bugs, a bed.

I managed to put off consummating the marriage for several days. The women went about their tasks without complaint, not that I could understand if they had complained. Finally Ahan took the initiative while Caihe curled in her bed to sleep. Put off by the additional spectator in my hut I tried to protest. Ahan managed to find a way to make me forget I had another woman in the same hut. I wrestled with the idea of intimacy with a woman I did not plan to stay with; married or not, this was not my home.

 

Neither of my wives nor any in the villagers could pronounce my name, James. Charlie explained that it did not mean anything to them; a name must have meaning or the person has no meaning in the band. Instead they called Ja-meh, a word that meant something to them, nothing to me. I asked Charlie what it meant. He smiled and said it was the name of a large beetle that was good to eat. He also told me my choice of women amused the warriors who claim my choosing was as bad as my spear throwing. They warmed to me as one might warm to a retarded child, taking pity, though not as much as I wished.

My training as a hunter was a slow process, once, nearly spearing a fellow hunter. Part of my difficulty was in understanding the directions since I didn’t have command of the language. Hunting is done collectively, some herding the animal while others ambushed the prey. Though no one is singled out as the man to dispatch the animal, an intuitive sense existed between the hunters. When the crucial moment arrives, any one of the hunters may elect to spear the prey. Everyone except me my job relegated to beating the bush, flushing out hidden animals, a reasonable job under the circumstances.

An older man took me aside and demonstrated the use of a blowgun. I was less likely to kill any of the other hunters and this was a good instrument for the patient hunter. Dipped in poison the dart acted slowly on creatures living in the trees. The hunter shot the animal and waited for it to fall out of the tree. Depending on the shot this could be a couple hours. The older man made me practice a long time before setting me adrift with a dozen poison darts.

Monkeys and birds are the primary targets. The birds are hard to hit because of their size. You didn’t have to wait long if you shot one, however. The poison acted fast on them. The bad thing about birds is their ability to fly. They’d take off flying to another area where they will make a fine meal for another lucky predator. Monkeys were easier because they stayed reasonably close, then the waiting game began.

Now I was returning home with meat for my household or more accurately my huthold. I was learning a little of their language and they tried to speak mine, with considerable difficulty. Ahan was beginning to have a slight swelling in her belly while Caihe made an effort to follow suit; I finally submitted to intimacy with both of them. I found the arrangement strange; neither was jealous of the other during our sexual sessions, ignoring it as if it were nothing more than raindrops falling from the sky. Caihe called Ahan her little sister, treating her with as much love as a real sister. Though I had been given the name Ja-meh they called me another name, which had something to do with snake; Charlie found it humorous when I told him.

The more I watched these people the more I began to see the beauty in their lives, simple, yet so complex when you understand their relationship to the land. If one believes that all Creation came from Adam and Eve this could have been Eden. The people were not inherently violent by nature, except when provoked by an enemy, conflict avoided at all costs. In fact they blended into nature so well it was difficult to think of them as an intrusive species among the rainforest creatures.

I’d been busy trying to fit in, learning to hunt for our meals and listening for the signs nature provided. A movement in the underbrush can be something to eat or something that could eat you, very important to know the difference. A rustle in the canopy could be a bird, monkey or jaguar. The latter do climb trees quite well but generally leave people alone. The people view the jaguar as a god, powerful and cunning, a connection to the spirit world. Our shaman speaks to the jaguar as well as the other animals. He claims they come to him in his dreams, especially when he is using that special powder. Ahan said he has the whisker of the jaguar to prove his spiritual calling; that was what I thought she said. It was impossible to find out more since my language barrier was still very acute.

I have stopped thinking about escape or leaving, though I miss certain comforts of civilization. A cold drink with ice is unheard of in this place, being transported by auto or other modern vehicles is beyond their comprehension. The chief was still undecided what to do with me; at least he hadn’t given me any bad news. Ahan was now showing quite well her belly definitely sticking out beyond her small breasts, which have increased in size somewhat. Caihe believes she is also pregnant also, which doesn’t surprise me, since we engaged in sex regularly; she would have to be barren if she hadn’t become pregnant. Both wives are attentive in that respect, lovemaking as natural as breathing, no thought given to it beyond our mutual pleasure. Being an outsider, I still had reservations about such activities though I did not resist this activity.

I had mixed feelings about my children to be, though it would seem I have little choice at this point. Replicating a part of myself feeds the need to procreate from a selfish standpoint but there is more to it than making a carbon copy of self, not that they will bear too much resemblance to me, since both women are rather dark and definitely different looking than I. My children would grow up being Indians like their mothers; their lives would be that of these primitives without benefit of school or sophistication. However, creating new life is a miracle; I looked at other small children and imagined them as one of mine. Each will grow up and become a member in the larger family, making their own contribution and becoming part of nature’s balance. In this, I discovered I would always be an outsider no matter how many months or years I stay in the jungle.

These people held that the spirit of a new being comes into the womb after a certain time, the gods deciding who and what it shall be, male or female. The shaman speaks to the child to help him or her reach their spiritual peak before he takes his first breath outside of his mother. The gods in turn give their blessings to the child assigning traits that will benefit the band. It is for that reason I had to submit to having Ahan tended by Yanomi, which was entirely innocent, including his droning incantations that went on for hours.

He and I were still on shaky ground but he was beginning to see that my magic was not the same as his. I have no gods to beseech or rituals to enact my magic, a small fact that gave him considerable pleasure. He’d snort with satisfaction when I couldn’t summon the gods to nurture Ahan’s unborn child. As far as I’m concerned the child will come into the world regardless of what anyone does, good, bad, male or female. Yanomi did not share my philosophy, insisting my child would be born according to the gods’ intervention via Yanomi.

Among these people I was referred to as the giant, since most of them barely reach five feet, a respectable height for an Indian. These were not the pygmy Indians we were told about, who are even smaller in stature. Charlie told me these people know about the pygmies but have rarely seen them. They were quite distant from our village and very secretive by choice.

I discovered the Indians liked to make up nicknames much like our American Indians do. A young boy may be called ‘monkey’ because he climbs trees like one. A woman may be called ‘turtle’ because she walks slowly. A strong hunter might be called ‘Jaguar,’ a name reserved for only the best hunter or shaman of great power. This cautioned me to watch my step lest I be saddled with some unsavory name. To my dismay the name my wives gave me means snake, derived from a rather personal observation on their part. This stirs up unwanted interest from other women, who think nothing of pulling at my waistband to investigate. I know it was all in good humor and probably harmless but my sensibilities were bothered by such inspections.

Charlie suggested that women of the band might wish to be included in my household as an additional wife. He only has one wife but has availed himself of the delights of a few single unmarried women in the band. Two wives are enough for anyone; to have more would have diminished the leader’s status as well as pressure me to hunt a lot more to feed them. I noticed some of the unattached women sought attention from men regardless of their status. No one seemed to object and I am in no position to say anything. Being monogamous, or in essence mated to two women, I did not wish to further compromise myself.

I’ve tried explaining issues of vanity to my wives; they couldn’t grasp the reason for covering up one’s body. In spite of the lax practices of nudity, I maintained some clothing below the waist, though it was becoming difficult; my shorts were becoming threadbare with each washing. Much longer and I will be as naked as the rest, which might put to rest my fruitless attempts to encourage modesty to my wives. It was odd; I did not find their nakedness offensive, yet was careful to maintain clothing on my body.

What these women lacked in clothes they make up for in personal adornments. Caihe has several object stuck through her nose and ears. Both wives had made necklaces of bones and other objects native to the land. The tiny waist decorations have some meaning of which I was not aware. This was not an attempt at covering anything only pure decoration for it covers nothing vital at all.

Did the expedition ever plan to return and bring me home, I pondered now and then? I was afraid they counted me as dead, a condition not necessitating risk or rescue. I sensed no danger in this place, so I didn’t worry about it. I did wonder what would happen when my magic was gone, the last of my film depleted within weeks of this day. I managed to develop a good many of the negatives but had run out of chemicals to do the rest. The remaining film would not last long in this heat. Perhaps the images would be lost before I ever got back to civilization, assuming I got back.

 

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply