My name is Ann Sheldon. A tourist? Yes, but having hopes to become a local. I’m a poet, you see, hunting peace and quiet and inspiration. Ha, ha! Very little money in poetry. No, not rich and not American. I come from a small village in Britain nobody knows. Oh, the wedding ring? My husband is dead several years. Thank you, that’s very kind. I like very much to stay here, but I don’t know how long. The plan is to survive the rainy season and take profit from the summer, but we’ll see. So beautiful this island, you’re lucky. I must return to my poems. Nice talking to you, have a good day.
Just fluent enough to be understood with sufficient mistakes to mark her as a gringa. It takes practice to do something you do well badly. Ann practised and did very badly indeed. Patronising looks, amused smiles and gentle corrections were proof that her strategy was convincing. The weather worked in her favour, keeping people mostly indoors, so that her occasional encounters were generally limited to a nod and a smile from beneath her umbrella.
Speaking the language poorly was only one of her achievements. In all her other skills, she aimed for excellence. Security took priority and she devoted several hours a day to ensuring her shack was as safe as she could make it. Not quite an underground panic room but there were ways of protecting herself, even in a wooden hut on a Brazilian beach.
The old woman who negotiated the six-month rental had made no secret of her bewilderment. “But there’s nothing there,” huffed Dona Emilia. “Just rain and mosquitoes and water buffaloes until the rainy season is over. The restaurants are closed, there is no market and even if you bring food from Soure, how do you want to cook? There’s no electricity, no Wi-Fi, none of the things you people want. It’s not a good place for a young single lady, I’m telling you.”
Ann stood her ground and due to the woman’s own down-selling of the place, managed to rent the house for a pittance. What she saved on accommodation, she spent on purchasing a generator. As the old lady had said, certain things she did want. Whether it was a good place for a young single lady or not, Ann could think of worse. She spent two weeks fixing the place to her own specifications. For a driftwood shack with a corrugated tin roof on a remote beach, it was the equivalent of MI5.
Nothing here, Dona Emilia? Ann had never heard anything further from the truth. Herons and cranes clattered out of the trees, heralded by their plangent call, the sound of a grieving widow. Cormorants and vultures scanned the shoreline for fish corpses and snatched the odd unwary crab. Buffaloes lumbered in and out of the mangrove swamps, giving her no more regard than a snort. When the rains ceased for a moment, Ann wandered along the edge of the jungle, spotting humming-birds, a group of foraging capybara and squirrel monkeys shrieking from the trees. She retreated to the safety of her hut. The monkeys were warning each other of a predator; perhaps an alligator or a leopard. She didn’t stay to find out which. Above her head, a hawk was trying to escape a pair of kiskadees dive-bombing it from above, releasing their two-syllable curses. This little corner of the world teemed with bird, animal and insect life. The only thing missing was humans. And that was exactly what made it perfect.
People were naturally curious about this foreigner coming to dwell amongst them in the most inhospitable months of the year, but after discovering her name and marital status, they generally left her alone. She limited herself to the minimum of pleasantries and discouraged small talk. Her nearest neighbours, around a kilometre up the beach, were a young couple who seemed to do nothing but argue. They showed no interest in her, for which she was grateful. The days passed peacefully enough as she tended her tomato plant on the veranda, sewed up tears in her clothes and made soup once a week. When the sun began to set, she buried broken bottles in the sand, jagged side up, all around the property except the path leading to the steps.
Depending on the severity of the nightmares, she woke early and performed her exercises. Weights and skipping, usually, or a beach run if the weather allowed. Twice she walked into Soure for provisions, which was a twenty-kilometre round trip. 20K was not unreasonable for her level of fitness, but half of it with a full backpack in torrential rain took its toll. She skipped the beach run the next day. She ate what the locals ate, not just out of a desire to blend in but because she had no choice. Manioc flour, rice and cassava, black or red beans made up the bulk of her diet, complemented by plantains, papaya, tomatoes and açai. Fish was an occasional treat to begin with until she grew more confident about approaching the river fishermen returning with their hauls of crab, prawns and catfish. Buoyed by her success in negotiation, she tried her hand with the sea-going boats. Some days, she could score anchovy, tuna and cação; others, she was lucky to get enough scraps to flavour a stew.
The last few days she’d come back empty handed and her tinned or dried supplies were running dangerously low. Rain or no rain, she would have to buy something to eat. When the wet season ended, there would be a market, a bakery and even a restaurant at the other end of the beach. Fewer than two kilometres away. But when would the rains ever end?