“Some of these stories are closer to my own life than others are, but not one of them is as close as people seem to think.” Alice Murno, from the intro to Moons of Jupiter

"Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see." Arthur Schopenhauer

“Why does everything you know, and everything you’ve learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more. With every month that passes, the corners are knocked off the certainties of this world: and the next world too. Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory.’ Show me where it says ‘relics, monks, nuns.’ Show me where it says ‘Pope.’” –Thomas Cromwell imagines asking Thomas More—Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

My favorite posts to get started: The Self-Righteousness Instinct, Sabbath Says, Encounters, Inc., and What Makes "Wolf Hall" so Great?.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Of Nabäs and Nobodies: He Borara Chapter 4

(Link to the first chapter. 11,291 words)

When he opens his eyes again, it’s still dark, and he knows, despite having woken without being roused by anyone, that he’s not alone. He swings his legs out of the hammock, disentangling them from the mosquito netting, and folds himself into a sitting position. “Hello,” he says, because he has no idea what else he might say. “Hello,” a man’s voice repeats back to him from the open window. Glad that man isn’t inside the hut, Lac thinks first of the flashlight, but instead reaches for a box of matches he knows is nearby, a move that allows him to gauge the distance between where he sits and where he groggily leaned the shotgun against the wall.

The man at the window utters something inscrutable when Lac strikes the match, the sound of thick paper being ripped lengthwise, the sharp smell of sulfur, a flame borne into this world through a tear in the fabric separating it from another, an infant fire straining to sound bigger than it is. I’ve never considered what a match tip catching fire must seem like to a man who’d never witnessed such an event, he thinks, and I’ve never noticed what it’s like in such minute detail before myself. Whatever I learn or fail to learn about the Yąnomamö culture, I’ll definitely come away from this experience with much deeper insight into my own.

Lac holds up the still burning match as he gets to his feet and moves toward the window, pinching the stem close enough to the descending flame to leave space for the man to grip it from the bottom. Lac doesn’t recognize the face until he’s reaching up for the handoff. It’s the man who cut short his breakfast yesterday.

“Oh, what do you want now?” Lac hears himself saying before deciding to say anything at all.

“Wuddu-ewantow,” the man repeats.

“Ha. Wuddu-ewantow,” Lac says pointing, attempting to christen the man with a new nickname, one that’s safe to use publically.

The man smiles at Lac’s silliness before scanning the ground beneath his hammock for something—for the matchbox. “Yababuji,” he says when he spots it, folding his brow in an ostensibly forced display of angry authority. Lac rolls his eyes with matching ostentation and laughs, rolling back into a recumbent posture.

“Yababuji,” the man repeats, sounding like a child who wants his parents to believe he’s on the verge of a tantrum.

Lac turns away from him, gesturing over his shoulder. “Sorry friend, if you want matches, you’ll have to earn them.”

“Yool-aft-ernahem,” the man echoes.

Lac rolls back to look at him, but the match has gone out, leaving its heavy sulfurous stench, strong enough to overwhelm the man’s body odor—and Lac’s as well. “You. Will. Have. To. Earn. Them,” Lac says, exaggerating the enunciation despite his mild impatience.

“Yoo hill aff do earn hem.”

Lac reaches down to fish around for the matchbox. He strikes a second match and hands it to the man. “You earned it.”

“Oo-earned-hit.”

Lac smiles in the last seconds of light, pantomiming the flick one uses to extinguish matches and nodding to encourage his new friend, nudging him into action with his raised eyebrows. But the man waits too long, spending too much time trying to work out Lac’s strange gestures and expressions. His reaction to being burned is predictably over the top; Lac hears but doesn’t see him dancing around outside the hut, a stream of what must be expletives flowing from his mouth. Then the hut goes abruptly quiet as the man unceremoniously departs from the space outside the window.

“I’m not sure the lesson he’ll take from that exchange is the one I intended,” Lac says. But he can’t help wondering if he’s made a breakthrough. If they’re to help him learn their language, they need to understand that he speaks a different language. He’s not deaf or mute; he has his own names for things. Once again, this particular Yanomamö managed to learn more than he taught, but it could be a start.

Lac sighs at the realization that he’ll probably have to go through the same arduous process—and this was only the first, and simplest, stage—with every informant he works with for the next few months, until he has a workable grasp of the basics. “This is what you signed up for,” he reminds himself. “Now get some sleep so you can be a hundred percent tomorrow to get started.”

Before he can fall asleep, though, he has another disturbing thought: what if Wuddu-ewantow is angry about his mild burn and inclined to retaliate? He reaches over to wrap his fingers around the hard curves of the gunstock, hesitates, and then lifts the gun into the hammock so he can sleep with his hand already gripping it, ready to fire.
***

Instead of pushy men, his hut is filled with young boys as he primes the kerosene stove today, though a few men are about. When he starts a fire on the floor and walls again, he calmly gets to his feet to stamp it out. This must be disappointing to the Yanomamö men, who prod him, saying, “Oh shit a da kuu,” which Lac takes to mean, “Say ‘Oh shit!’” They had come hoping to be entertained again by his klutziness.

Today, it’s a couple of cups of extra strong coffee and a can of sardines, which is another indulgence Lac can’t afford except on rare occasions. He’s woken with a sense of mission, having resolved in his sleep somehow that he needs to be as pushy with the Yanomamö as they are with him. That’s how he’ll participate in their culture; that’s how he’ll get the answers he needs. Coffee mug in hand, Lac wanders out of his hut, stepping around the children, giving his trunks and barrels a quick glance to make sure they’re secure, and then he starts walking the thirty yards to the closest shabono. Some of the people stop and silently gawp at him as he returns to his full height after ducking through the low passageway between cords of firewood at the back of the main outer wall. It’s going to be a while, he thinks, before I can enter one of these villages without my asshole pinching tight. His mind has thrown up an image of the dozen burly men whose ugly faces stared at him down their arrow shafts as he blinked up in the sunlight, the dogs, starved and vicious, biting at his ankles.

The shabono looks very different today. A few people shout what he takes to be taunts, but really the place is astoundingly quiet. Men are scattered about, sitting lazily atop their hammocks, chatting with their neighbors in the next section over. Each twelve or fifteen-foot stretch of the immense thatched roof is occupied by what may be a nuclear family, with one adult male, whose hammock hangs higher than the woman’s and the children’s. But the children are everywhere, making up at least two-thirds of the total population, which Lac perceives to be significantly diminished from the numbers he saw yesterday. Have a bunch of people left the village? Or did they simply get an early start hunting?

How do you begin a conversation as a linguistically challenged nabä entering a shabono first thing in the morning? You wait for the kids to surround you and you listen. “Are your fathers and uncles already out hunting today?” The kids cease their lively chatter and turn toward him. Lac, in addition to deciding he needs to be pushier, has decided he needs to speak more of his own language. The idea is that the more the Yanomamö hear him speak, the more likely they’ll be to understand that he has his own language, and that if they can pick up his words—“Oh shit!”—they can help him pick up theirs.

As the children speak to him, he attempts to write down their words in his notebook using the phonetic alphabet he’s so arduously practiced using to transcribe unknown languages back at U of M. He quickly encounters the next foreseeable, but no less formidable, challenge—it’s impossible to tell where one word stops and another begins. All he hears is a constant stream of syllables. “Can you say that again?” he keeps asking to no avail.

But then a couple of the boys imitate this nabä expression uttered with such urgency. Naturally, none of them understands its meaning, but their efforts give him an idea. Remembering the phrase the men in his hut used earlier—“Oh shit a da kuu”—Lac starts to say, “a da kuu…,” but then has to revert back to English, “again.”

“Ageen,” two of the boys say.

Lac’s next idea is to perform both sides of a conversation, stepping from a position facing an interlocutor to one facing his own ghostly presence from the moment before. “It’s a really nice day today,” he says, and then steps, turns, and says, “Can you say that again?” Stepping back and turning again, he repeats, “It’s a really nice day today.”

Most of the kids laugh at this bit of nabä silliness, but two of them don puzzled expressions, as though they’re trying to work out the mystery of what he’s trying to convey to them. This is promising enough to motivate Lac to perform the exercise again, and then, after receiving a similar response, one more time.

“Cannoo ayt ageen,” one of the boys says.

Lac nods excitedly, lifting his eyebrows in encouragement. “It’s a really nice day today.”

The boy says something incomprehensible.

“Can you say that again?”

The boy repeats what he said while Lac scribbles furiously, a grin spreading across his face. “Yes, yes. Can you say that again?” He reaches up to clasp the boy’s shoulder.

The boy smiles in turn, so obviously having just figured out what he’s done, understanding at last what the nabä is up to, that Lac has to stifle an urge to guffaw in triumph. The boy repeats his statement, which is no less meaningless to Lac on the third hearing. He writes it down as best he can anyway. As he continues the process, though, he sees that it confuses matters as much as it clarifies them. Not knowing where to divide one word from the next, he has no alternative but to transcribe unbroken chains of consonants and vowels. Fortunately, the kids seem to think this is good fun, saying a thing over and over as the crazy nabä scribbles away like mad on his unnaturally gleaming white leaves. All the while, though, Lac sees an adult man, the man who bullied him out of his last bite of oatmeal yesterday, the man who visited his window last night for a discussion about matches and the transfer of ownership, pacing around in the section of the shabono adjacent to the one where he sits surrounded by all the boys in the courtyard.

What the hell does he want now?

Lac can’t help smiling when he recalls the nickname he came up with for the man. But his presence, his obvious interest in Lac’s activities, distracts him from his efforts at absorbing the sounds of the boys’ utterances and rolling them over and over in his mind until one of them snags on a meaningful concept. This is pointless, Lac finally concludes. Pointing at himself, he says, “Nabä.” A few of the boys click their tongues at this. Then he points at one of the boys, and another, and another, saying, “Yanomamö.” They all look at each other perplexed, but gradually their smiles return. When Lac points at a man he guesses to be in his forties, a couple of the boys say, “Yanomamö,” but one says something else.

Lac hurries over to this boy and asks him, “Can you say that again?”

“Waro pata.”

Lac writes it down, repeating it aloud. Next, he wanders away from where they all stand and finds an older woman sitting on her hammock, eating what looks like some type of palm fruit. When he points at her, the same boy says, “Suwa pata.” Lac writes it down, repeating, “Suwa pata,” in case his pronunciation needs correcting. Pata, he infers, must mean something like full-grown or mature.

Soon, the rest of the boys are catching on, and Lac is rushing from one part of the shabono to another, pointing at individuals of different ages and sexes. An infant is an ihirubö, or simply an ihiru—about equal numbers of the boys sound off with each variation. A young child is an oshe. An adolescent boy who’s old enough to tie his penis to his waist string is a yüwä. When Lac, after searching the shabono for a similarly aged female, finally finds one already returning from her first trip into the jungle to collect firewood. He points, but instead of hearing the children respond, he hears a man’s voice. “Modo dude,” it says.

It’s Wuddu-ewantow.

Lac watches him moving toward the girl with a look full of mischief. A feeling of apprehension takes him over, a sense that this man is about to do something awful to the girl—and that he’ll be partly to blame for it. “Wuddu-ewantow!” Lac shouts, fishing in his pocket for anything that may serve as an effective distraction. Already, the man has his hands on the girls’ shoulders and is turning her to face Lac. He begins issuing an excited stream of syllables.

At a loss, Lac lifts his right hand, touches his lips with his fingertips, and then points to his temple, shaking his head and donning an exaggerated expression of confusion. But Wuddu-ewantow doesn’t even bother to slow the stream. He runs his hands down the girls’ arms, reaches up to her chin to push her head up with his fingers, gives her achingly protuberant adolescent breasts a squeeze, and then turns her around by her shoulders to show off her backside. Lac has discarded the idea of removing the folding knife from his shorts pocket and showing it to the man, and he’s discarded the idea of pulling out his handkerchief, which is already horribly dirty, because he has a hunch that something is happening other than what he originally feared.

Indeed, many of the other villagers are laughing, but obviously trying not to do it too conspicuously. Lac takes a step back as Wuddu-ewantow removes his hands and steps away from the girl, whose expression is vacant—if she’s scared or embarrassed, she’s doing a good job of concealing it. “Wuddu-ewantow,” Lac says again to distract him. This time the man halts the flow of his syllables, looks at Lac, and then marches straight toward him, swaggering, intimidating, picking up his rapid speech again. Apparently, Lac has managed to insinuate himself into the performance of this joke, as now all the villagers within earshot are openly laughing, some even exaggerating their amusement—or so it seems to Lac—and now it’s his turn to be spun around by his shoulders.

He sees people doubled over with laughter and feels the warm blood rising up through his cheeks to his temples and ears. I’m probably displaying quite the resplendent blush, he thinks. What will the Yanomamö make of it? Have they ever seen a face do such a thing before? But aside from the nameless embarrassment, Lac is relieved that no harm has come to the girl—aside from a little rough handling—and so he decides that if he needs to play the clown to keep all the attention focused on him, play it he will.

Wuddu-ewantow takes his hands away so he can take up gesturing to add a touch melodrama to his words. He seems to be making a case for something—or rather a case against someone. These people are always pleading, Lac thinks, and apparently now I’m serving as Exhibit B in one of their cases. He scans the surrounding villagers’ faces for someone else who seems aggrieved or indignant.

Most of the people watching are children. Most of the villagers in general are children. Standing there silently, Lac looks at Wuddu-ewantow’s eyes to discern where his attention is directed. As he attempts to follow the man’s eyes, though, Lac realizes that he is addressing everybody except the man or men he’s angry with—perhaps openly slandering them to provoke a response. Meanwhile, the defendant, or defendants, must be going out of his way to give the appearance of not caring in the least what ridiculous accusations and insults are being leveled against him—perhaps because if he takes them seriously it would mean he’d have to fight Wuddu-ewantow, a strapping young man who looks like he could handily overpower pretty much any of the other men in the village.

As the tirade continues, Lac adjusts his strategy to begin searching for the man who seems to care the least about what Wuddu-ewantow is saying—the man who Wuddu-ewantow himself is most pointedly ignoring. But somehow in the process Lac’s own attention keeps being drawn back to the young girl who seems to be the cause, the object, of the dispute. She stands there staring blankly at nothing, not for lack of alertness or because she’s slow-witted, but because she’s deliberately trying to look like she doesn’t have an opinion in the matter one way or the other—like she doesn’t have a thought in her head. “A beautiful little fool,” Lac murmurs, low enough, he thinks, to go unheard. But Wuddu-ewantow halts in his declamations of his enemy’s venality, or whatever, for an instant after he says it, flashing him a look—with that wild glint overflowing with vitality and menace.

The girl has her lower lip and septum pierced with short thin sticks that poke out from her face like a cat’s whiskers. Among so many burly men, skinny-limbed children with round bellies, and saggy, pear-shaped older women, this girl’s shape—the conical breasts, the soft prominent cheeks, the curving hips—it all seems exaggerated, and Lac feels a pang of sympathy for her, as if all these outward signs of fertility and youthful health are as much a burden for her to bear as they are blessings to enjoy. Being in possession of anything as precious as reproductive potential out here makes you a target. And it’s not exactly in her power to divest herself of her own beauty whenever she pleases, any more than it’s in his power to cease being a nabä toting around a bunch of madohe.

Wuddu-ewantow has moved away but keeps up his harangue as Lac watches him pace across the open courtyard, like a pendulum oscillating its way toward some midpoint. Lac tries to narrow his list of the man’s possible targets while wondering whether he has any chance of ever getting to the bottom of the scene he’s witnessing, of ever finding out what Wuddu-ewantow is angry about. When he notices the boy who first began revealing the age and gender categories to him a while ago, Lac steps toward him as nonchalantly as he can, and when he’s closed the distance, he catches the boy’s eye before subtly pointing at the man.

“Sioha,” the boy whispers, before adding, “Karohi-teri.”

Lac doesn’t ask for a repetition. Instead, he repeats the words in his own mind until he can back away far enough to lift his notebook and write them down without drawing any attention to himself—though it seems the vitriol is waning, and with it the potential for violence.

“Karohi-teri,” Lac whispers to himself. Clemens had told him the name of this village is Bisaasi-teri; the suffix teri—if it’s not just a separate word—must mean village. What Lac takes from the boy’s two-word description is that Wuddu-ewantow is from another village, this Karohi-teri, and he’s here in the capacity of a sioha—whatever that is. Maybe he’s some sort of emissary or ambassador. Maybe he’s a prisoner, but that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case. A third possibility is that this man left his home village in search of a marriageable woman, and now he’s undertaking the customary bride service, working off the cost to the woman’s parents of losing their daughter: the drinking water, firewood, and childcare she provides. Could it be the same obscenely ripe young woman—his beautiful little fool—that has set off the whole angry production?

Lac is already writing notes in his head, despairing at his chances of ever answering his questions, wondering how often drama like this erupts in the village; maybe tomorrow, or even later today, someone else will be moved to air a grievance. Even the prospect of so much tension strikes him as exhausting. The girl takes advantage of her tormentor’s diminishing fury, and the fact that he’s currently distracted, to move back toward the shaded protection of the massive roofing structure. Wuddu-ewantow eventually walks over to a section near the one she disappeared under and lies in his hammock. He calls out intermittently, but everyone has gone back to their prior activities.

Lac, frustrated by his own thoroughgoing ignorance, curses himself for not picking Clemens’s brain, for not learning every last detail he could share with him about the language and the customs. It was his hubris that landed him here with no idea what the hell is going on. But he doesn’t have time to give himself a thorough drubbing; he sees a few men gathering their bows, arrows, and bamboo quivers, preparing for their daily hunting excursion.

Lac runs to his hut, stuffs some crackers, peanut butter, and sardine cans into a bag, along with his notebook, a tape recorder, a camera, and extra cartridges for his shotgun. He’s ready for a hunting trip. Ducking under the back part of the shabono roof again—his asshole pinching shut as he emerges—Lac hurries to find the group of men he saw preparing to depart so he can tag along with them for the day, or at least for the next few hours, until they return home for the daily hallucinogen party.

Remarkably enough, an older woman who sees him rushing across the courtyard is quickly able to surmise his intentions and directs him toward the passage the men recently exited through. She says something to him as he passes, he offers his thanks, neither of them with any idea what the other means, but both, perhaps, shocked at how little it seems to matter. Lac awkwardly jogs to the far side of the shabono, clutching his gun in front of him with both hands, his pack bouncing against his back. He ducks down again, taking a breath to fortify himself for whatever he encounters on the opposite side.

As he waddles through the passageway, he smells the old locker room stench of moldy jockstraps emanating from his own crotch, through his own shorts. The drops of sweat falling from his face crater the dirt in front of him, and he wonders whether he’ll have the stamina to keep up with the Yanomamö as they work their way through the jungle, whether he’ll be nimble enough, capable of withstanding whatever physical strain is demanded. But when he stands back up and sees the men he’ll be following, his only thought is about how to convey to them his intention of joining their group, following them around, and documenting their behaviors. A couple of stragglers hear his gear bouncing toward them, turn back, and seemingly share a joke and a couple of laughs at his expense. They turn back and follow the other men at a short distance before Lac can catch up, but when he does he’s surprised at how casually they regard his presence. Some excited words and gestures flow from one man to the next as each in turn learns of his presence at the back of the line, each contributing his own joke—but then they all fall silent as they pick their way through the trees, moving their eyes slowly through the canopy, over the ground, into the understory. 

Lac is disappointed by how quickly he finds himself out of breath, and his sweat pours in such profusion he worries about the adequacy of his water supply. The way the Yanomamö move through the forest impresses Lac more than any other attribute or ability he’s observed so far. What’s amazing is that, though he can cover the same distance they do at any given interval, they cover it like they’re strolling from their house to their neighbor’s house along an even sidewalk, whereas he, just to stay close enough to keep the hindmost of them within eyeshot, exerts his every muscle, launching his body through the dense tangled foliage at what feels like breakneck speed.

Fortunately, the Yanomamö take frequent breaks while hunting, during each of which they laugh and chat casually, while Lac doubles over, his chest heaving, a puddle of sweat forming under his face. He tries to imagine the sweat pooling in the dirt as it would appear in a glass alongside another glass holding the water in the canteen clipped to his belt so he can gauge the balance—or lack thereof. Standing up straight and finally catching his breath, he sees that the Yanomamö are readying themselves to take to the trail again, though the location of this supposed trail is a mystery to him. He has no idea what signs they’re following, and he knows if he falls behind now he’ll have almost no chance of finding the path back to the shabono, back to Clemens’s hut, back to his madohe.

They’re on the move again. If ever he wanted to see the Yanomamö in a mystical light, the activity in which they most closely resemble the mythical beings he dreamt of in the months leading up to his expedition must be their effortless sprints through the forest in search of game. You see them only in flashes through the leaves and branches and vines, that bronze skin pulled taut over dancing muscles actuating weightless limbs. And then they’re gone, an impossible distance away, smiling and joking among themselves, as though they’d appeared there without even expending the effort it would take a normal person to walk.

Lac begins to worry that he won’t be able to keep up a pace to match these damned gazelles for long—with all the hunger pangs and lost sleep—and he tries to recall how long it took for individual men to return to the shabono after leaving to hunt yesterday. Next, he starts trying to formulate a plan for asking them to slow down, but he gets nowhere with it before they spot their quarry some ways up in the canopy. All faces turn upward, fixed atop erect bodies, and Lac has to work hard to suppress the sound of his panting as he rejoins the group, inhaling a gnat—at least one—in the process. After the eternity it takes to catch his breath, he does his best to follow the men’s gazes, but for another long while he sees nothing.

He’s still staring into the empty canopy when he hears the snap of a bow loosing its arrow—with it comes an image in his mind of Malcolm’s belt, one half snapping against the other in a successful attempt at intimidation. Before he can stop himself, he’s leaping away from the archer in a release of pent-up anxiety. The Yąnomamö, even before they take the time to see if the hunter’s aim was true, turn to their skittish nabä tagalong and laugh. Lac smiles—because he can think of nothing else to do. They’re still joking about him some moments later when a couple of the men return with the large black-furred monkey they shot out of the tree. Lac pushes his way through the clutch of excited bodies and sees that the creature required no special poison to fell, as the archer pierced it through the neck with his overlong arrow. A moment before, he was annoyed by all the laughter, but now he feels a great weight building beneath his stomach. These men tracked down a creature less than a third the size of a man and far more sprightly, spotted it in the tree before he was aware of its existence, and put an arrow through its damn neck with so little fanfare that they had plenty of time to loiter and humiliate him before going to gather their catch.

The shotgun slung over his shoulder suddenly seems a much less impressive leveling mechanism than it had when he was struggling to keep up with the Yąnomamö’s miraculous dashing through the jungle. After the arrow is removed, what sounds like a debate ensues—over whether to return to the shabono now or to follow their earlier course and keep hunting? Lac swipes at his face, flings the sweat off his fingers, and slips the shotgun strap off his shoulder.

In his mind, he’s adding up the probabilities that he’ll come to one or another gruesome end before returning from this hunt: he could easily fall behind these men as they sprint through the wilderness with their preternatural agility and endurance; he could anger one of them and receive a dose of slow-acting poison delivered via barded arrow tip; he could, ultimately, prove too great a temptation as a target for bullying—one of them could crush his skull just to amuse his comrades. Lac hasn’t had time to pull his arm through the shotgun strap again before the men are off once more, hurdling through the thick undergrowth. I could catch my damn toe on a root, Lac continues, trip, and break my neck. I could step on a snake, or one could fall out of the trees and land on my head.

He comes to a large branch growing horizontally, about waist-high, and doesn’t immediately know whether he should duck under or climb over. What he ends up doing is slowing as he approaches until he’s standing next to it, leaning against it, laying his shotgun atop the bark and resting his hands on top of the shotgun. Before leaping over—the clear option now—he drags his sleeve over his forehead and takes in a draught of air. When he braces all his weight on his hands, which are still clutching the shotgun, pinching it against the trunk, he feels a strange prickle in his knuckles and has to force himself to avoid going farther down the route of worst possibilities in his mind. Then he hears himself emitting a loud grunt as he swings his knee up over the log—careful not to make contact with any other part of his skin.

Balancing his weight between his hand and his shod toes, Lac hoists himself up onto the branch and allows his momentum to carry him over. Catching himself with both feet planted solidly, he takes a second for another long breath and continues his bouncing strides, his gear clanging noisily at his back as his craving for a cigarette wells up with such rancor that he wants to scream. He stops. It seems he has bigger worries than his desperate need to smoke. The band of hunters he’s supposed to be following is nowhere to be seen. Lac closes his eyes and listens. Okay, he thinks, this is bad. Don’t make it worse. Since his days as a teenager pouring over adventure stories and tales of famous explorers, he’s known that most people, when they lose their bearings in the wilderness, turn their panic into kinetic energy, rushing back and forth in all directions until they’ve gotten themselves so turned around they can’t tell left from right. Then the screaming starts.

For the first time, Lac completely understands what makes people respond so stupidly. “Hey guys!” he calls out, cupping his mouth. “Hey, come back! I’ve fallen behind.” Admitting such a thing in the Michigan woods with his dad and his brothers would be so mortifying he might rather die. But the Yanomamö don’t know him, can’t make sense of his words, and should forget soon enough. Still, the embarrassment slices into him from all sides. He feels like peeling off his own skin and letting his viscera ooze into the forest floor.

When he hears nothing in response to his call, he takes several steps forward, along the trajectory that brought him to the tree trunk he had to climb over. He’s starting to gather momentum when it occurs to him that he’s already violating the rule he just recalled about what not to do when you’re lost in the wilderness. Don’t charge ahead blindly; doing so will more often than not result in you losing track of any landmarks that could help you regain your bearings. Don’t rush around in circles hoping to come across the trail, or hoping to catch sight of your companions; you’ll only get yourself more turned around. So what’s the proper way to respond?

Lac wills his feet to remain stationary while he closes his eyes and listens again. Aside from the accumulating nervous tension, the biggest challenge in his effort to stand still is the bugs, which seemingly recognize his desperate state and see in it an opportunity to more easily devour the blood pulsing so near the surface of his skin. He tries to breathe calmly as he brushes them away, only to watch—to feel—them return in greater numbers. Lac turns back to look at the tree he climbed over. The Yąnomamö hadn’t brought him to this spot along a direct route from the village; they’d weaved their way erratically through the brush in search of their quarry. So retracing his steps would get him nowhere, probably, but more lost.

He removes his backpack and finds the compass tucked in the side pocket. He reckons they left the shabono along a roughly southwesterly path. If worse comes to worst, which it probably already has, he can head northeast and eventually come to either the Mavaca or the Orinoco, either of which he’d be able to recognize by the direction of its flow. The Bisaasi-teri shabonos are built at the confluence, but it may still be difficult to find them unless he happens across the trail they use for access to the water. It’s early enough in the day, he thinks; chances are good I can make it back to Clemens’s hut well before nightfall. Assuming nothing horrible happens along the way.

Lac takes a few steps back to the tree and begins reaching out to brace his hands against it again before becoming aware of the itchiness on the front sides of his knuckles, which he posted his weight on the first time he hoisted himself over the trunk. He wipes his hands on his shorts instead, recalculating his odds of avoiding the jungle’s myriad dangers while traveling off the trail, such as it is, alone, with only the vaguest course to follow. Then he has another idea: why doesn’t he fire off a round from the shotgun?

“Hey guys!” he calls one more time. “Are you there?” One shot, he thinks, and then you listen and wait. You hear their voices, you call back, and then you find them. That’s how this is going to work.

For some reason, though, Lac is reluctant to fire the shot; it seems irresponsible somehow, wasteful. Or maybe it’s that he’s hoping to make an impression the first time he fires it in the Yanomamö’s presence—and he doesn’t want any nonsense about him being lost to diminish the impact. He’s been imagining himself shooting a monkey from a tree, or killing a capybara, or some other impressively large and savory fare. Not only would he be announcing his formidability; he’d be entering into the village economy with a more natural contribution than his damned madohe. No matter. Neither of these benefits will redound to a dead man. He’ll have to salvage what he can of this plan after he’s out of imminent danger.

Lac takes one more look around, sighs, and lifts the shotgun to his shoulder. He squeezes the stock, slowly tightening the grip of his finger around the trigger—until he hears a voice and immediately releases it. Frantically scanning the undergrowth, he’s startled by the appearance of a man’s smiling face. Whatever thoughts and intentions reside behind that smile, Lac decides as he glares at the man, they’re completely unreadable.

The man speaks as he moves toward Lac, threading his way through the branches and thick lianas, and for a second—just a second—Lac wonders if he should fire anyway, at this Yanomamö man effecting a rescue. But he discerns the irrationality in the impulse, a reaction to so passively being found as opposed to doing the finding on his own. There’s something of a sense of ambush to the experience. He feels a pool of shame forming high in his chest and rising up his neck to his cheeks and his temples. The man, when he reaches Lac, who has yet to budge from the spot where he was found, clutches him by the shoulders, turns him in the direction they need to travel, and gives him a tug of encouragement.

Lac shakes the confusion from his head so he can take a closer look at this man, who is by far the most solicitous of the Yąnomamö he’s interacted with up till now. After covering a short distance, Lac and his rescuer meet up with another man who seems equally concerned for his wellbeing. He speaks rapidly as he pats Lac down, ensuring the soundness of this nabä body before him. But midsentence—or what seems like midsentence—he turns and begins anew their march back to the main group, giving Lac a little wave to signal that he’s to come along.

Lac imagines the words he’s just heard to mean, “And keep up this time, you silly man.” He follows his two rescuers until they rejoin the main group of six, the other four of whom are already joking about him when they arrive. Feeling the full burn of humiliation, Lac smiles and nods to each of them in turn, as if in acknowledgement of his dunderheadedness. Mercifully, they don’t linger, and Lac has an opportunity to momentarily forget what’s just happened by being forced to concentrate on his efforts at keeping up, without letting what’s just happened happen again. Only this time it’s different; this time, the man who tracked him down—along with the one who helped him—they’re both going out of their way to check on him at intervals. Lac will be glancing ahead to watch the bounding Yanomamö bodies, looking down at the trail—insofar as there’s anything to see—to monitor his steps and choose his path, and then he’ll look up again to see one of the men’s smiling faces poking out in front of him, nodding to encourage him onward. Nearly every time, Lac is overwhelmed with gratitude. He could hug them, even though he’s now managing to keep up well enough on his own.

“I suppose they can’t all be obnoxious bullies,” he mutters to himself. These two must be among the kinder ones. Even as he’s thinking it, they both start slowing to a near stop ahead of him. The three stragglers, on the heels of the main group, approach what Lac sees is a vast ravine. For a moment, they all stand looking down at the charging waters of what must be one of the larger tributaries of the Orinoco. The trail that’s only visible to the Yanomamö takes them down a steep embankment toward the river, and Lac espies the bridge they’ll be using to cross—long poles lashed together in the middle to form giant X’s lined up in a sequence from the near bank to the far one. Resting atop the joints of all these structures, he sees as he gets closer, is a series of horizontally arranged poles, forming a straight line over the water from one side to the other. Save for a mere rope tied at either end, it’s about the simplest design for a bridge anyone could imagine. The support poles look as though they may wash away with the current any second.

Lac is too busy with the delicate task of clambering down the side of the ravine to notice whether the Indians bother testing the structure to gauge the likelihood of it bearing everybody’s weight. Rather than muse over the consequences should the bridge collapse, he tries to conjure images of all the maps he’s seen of this region, certain that not one shows a river at this location. These maps, it seems, in addition to their poor resolution, are also unreliable. Sliding down the last stretch of the embankment to the level ground alongside the river, he’s somewhat relieved by the sturdier look of the spine-like contraption spanning the distance to the far shore as he looks at it up close.

The purling wavelets sing their suggestions of the blood-lusting carnivorous killers inhabiting the depths. Okay, Shackley, he thinks, you dreamed of adventure—well, here it is. He feels energy surging through his chest, and though that sensation bespeaks impending laughter he simultaneously feels his eyes welling up. The Yanomamö must cross this bridge, and others like it, all the time, he assures himself, and if you fall you’ll probably be fine. Probably. Unless you land on some rocks you can’t see beneath the surface. Unless the current sweeps you along until you’re exhausted from trying to resist it. Unless… Enough.

Resolute, he approaches the first X. When he steps up onto the brace, hoisting himself with his arms, he has to silence any thought of the bridge being shakier than he anticipated. As he’s stepping onto the main connecting pole, he’s brought face-to-face with an oversight: the Yąnomamö skitter along these poles, but they’re all barefoot, their never-shod, widely splayed feet, with their thick-calloused toes, wrapping around the wooden cylinders with just the right amount of flexibility; while he, on the other hand, is wearing these damn jungle boots that don’t wrap at all, that provide no flex and no traction whatsoever.

He glances back to see the two men—his rescuers—still behind him on the bank while the rest are already waiting on the other side. Lac has by now waited an inordinately long time to cross, having climbed up the first X only after the man in front of him had climbed off the last one—so he could be sure no one would shake the thing too much. Now the pressure for him to move is mounting. Seeing no alternative, he crouches down, his shotgun and his backpack swinging awkwardly, and clutches the pole so he can shinny across as securely as possible. It takes a few seconds for the others to grasp what the nabä is doing. At first, Lac thinks the men are shouting at him, that they’re enraged at this waste of their precious time. He expects to look up to see them waving their arms, or worse, sighting him down the shafts of their drawn arrows. But the men, he slowly realizes as he inches farther out along the poles, are not shouting. They’re laughing. Laughing uproariously.

He’s sure he’s providing at least a few of these men their best entertainment in years. He forces himself not to pay them any mind, concentrating on his excruciating inch-by-inch progress across the bridge. At least it’s sturdier than he would have guessed from those first steps onto the brace; he feels it rocking subtly with his shifting weight and the surging current, but giving no indication of imminent collapse. Unfortunately, his squatting down to grab the central pole and sidle along in miniscule increments only partially mitigates his risk of falling, since his bent-kneed, sideways shimmy entails a lot of shifting and bobbing. His shotgun catches on one of the crossbeams, making him have to twist his body to free it. When that fails, he removes his hand from the foot pole to reach back and guide the barrel around the snag. This causes him to pitch backward, upsetting his balance and inducing a panicked scramble to restore it.

The total amount of time—Lac is trying to figure out how this fits into his risk factoring, as the sheer never-endingness of this awkward transit weighs against his decision not to make a mad dash to the other side. Does running through the rain reduce total wetness? Of course, because it reduces total time in the rain. But it’s not just the fixed threat of falling off the bridge at any given moment along the way—risk increases with speed, or so it seems. Probably, Lac concludes, my concern with the duration of my crossing has more to do with how long I can stand these men’s laughter than it does with the relative probabilities of tumbling into the water.

Reaching the midway point, he mutters, “You’d think they’d get bored after this long.” But the mirth has only intensified. Just concentrate on getting yourself across, he tells himself. You can worry about making the necessary repairs to your pride when you’re enjoying the relief of not needing any repairs to your body.

As he makes it to the two-thirds point, the sixth of the nine X’s, the tension from having to precisely measure each movement and the pressure to escape the spotlight begin to overwhelm him. The sweat cascades from his chin and temples and forehead into the current below. The heat presses in from all sides. The air is too dense, too heavy to hold in his lungs. He’s desperate to be done with this exercise, even to the point of having to resist the urge to plunge into the river and, if he can find some decent footing, wade the rest of the way across. The Yanomamö, meanwhile, far from growing impatient, display a superhuman ability to sustain their laughter in all its raucousness. The noise of their howls hasn’t diminished, and if anything has gotten louder, almost as if they’re purposely exaggerating for his sake. He reaches the seventh, and then the eighth X.

When he’s passing the ninth and wobbles off balance before catching himself, they go quiet long enough to see the outcome, only to return to laughing at full force once he’s righted himself again. By the time he’s finally climbing down from the bridge, they’re practically assaulting him with slaps on the shoulder and back, and shoves suggestive of brotherly bonhomie. He wants to slide his shotgun off his shoulder and shoot each of them in the face, one at a time. The last two men, his rescuers from earlier, skitter across the bridge just like the others had, in a tenth of the time it took him to cover the span of the river, further cementing his humiliation.

When they finally take to their invisible trail again, Lac is still stewing: What do I care what these men think? What, are they all psychopaths, pointing and laughing at someone who’s clearly in distress? Are they laughing at my cowardice? I’d like to see any of them do anything as crazy as stranding themselves in some foreign wilderness with a bunch of greedy bullies whose language they’ve never even heard. I’d like to see them all freeze to death their first fucking night in the Upper Peninsula.

Somehow, these men serve as stand-ins for his father and brothers, mercilessly teasing, goading, embarrassing—but not actually intending any real harm. Just psychological harm. He can’t remember the last time he felt so embarrassed. He has to go all the way back to sophomore year in high school when Chris Hendricks tripped him in the middle of an assembly, sending him crashing into and knocking over a half dozen folding chairs, for all the school to witness. Or the time in college when he couldn’t resist bragging about getting Crystal Andersen to agree to a date with him—only to find out everyone else knew her as a notorious hussy. Although—why be so embarrassed about that? Why does he even remember it still? Why, for that matter, should he be embarrassed about having to squat down and use his hands to guide himself along that tight rope of a bridge?

The answer: because he was made to feel that way. Because of the laughter. It’s like they’re saying, “Remember that you’re nobody here; you have zero standing with anybody; you wouldn’t even be standing here if it weren’t for your two rescuers.” Fueled now by the acid in his blood, he has little trouble keeping up with the men as they return to their dash through the jungle. You’re nabä, he thinks, nobody. If you want to cease being nobody, you’ll have to show them who you are. He follows along with the men for some distance before realizing he needs to correct his mindset: this is about who they are—the damned Yąnomamö—not who you are. You have work to do here. Concentrate on doing it.

The word work sets off a cascade of associations in his mind, letting him escape the added heat of his humiliation at long last, as the throbbing in his temples and the burning in his cheeks subside. When next the men stop, Lac darts a glance at each of their faces in turn, trying to ascertain where the game they’ve spotted may be located so he can take the first shot. But they’re mostly looking at each other, and when they’re not, they’re looking off in different directions. No one has spotted any game; they’re conferring on where next to take their hunt. So Lac takes the time to stretch his legs and take in as many breaths as he can. His recent reminder to himself that he’s here, not to prove anything to anybody, but to work has him wondering how he can use this break as an opportunity to learn.

Remembering the minor success of his pointing out people of various age and gender categories, he decides to try something similar. Walking up to one of the men who isn’t currently participating in the group conversation, he points at the section of bamboo dangling against his lower back. “Quiver,” he says. The man turns toward him with a quizzical expression. “Quiver,” Lac repeats, nodding. The man looks down, twisting to see his own back. Lac points to the bamboo section on another man’s back. The first man, still looking bewildered, says at last, “Tora.”

“Tora,” Lac repeats excitedly. “Yes, tora.” He reaches for the pocket of his backpack where he has his notebook and pen. As he writes “tora: bamboo quiver,” he sees that his two friends are watching him intently. Can they possibly understand what he’s doing? His next thought is that learning this language word-by-word like this is horrendously inefficient—it’s going to take him years at this rate to develop even a basic proficiency.

Before he can sink any further into despair though, the group is moving again—floating weightless—along the foliage-encumbered pseudo-trail, all of them except the equipment-laden, stone-footed, clumsy nabä who’s bouncing awkwardly along behind them. He could swear the sweat isn’t so much gushing from his face as it is shooting out in arcing jets, like some filthy jungle version of a Las Vegas fountain.

I’m going to be skin and bones after a week of this, he thinks. For a long while, they’re bounding through the forest at a clip, taking breaks in response to imperceptible cues, or perhaps at familiar sites, and Lac is competently following along behind. His stamina proves adequate to the challenge—until it doesn’t. Checking his watch, he sees they’ve been away from the shabono for going on two hours. We’ve been moving farther away from the village this whole time too, he thinks, which means if we turn back now, we’d still have about two more hours of these start and stop sprints through the thick undergrowth. Panic fixes itself in his throat as he gasps for air, doing his best to screen the gnats from his mouth. If the pinch I feel on his foot worsens, if my underfed body runs dry of energy, if I collapse from exhaustion, what will happen to me? Will my two new friends stick around long enough for me to recover? Or would they all leave me out here, alone, with almost no chance of finding my way back?

He takes the shotgun from his shoulder and scans the brush in the environs of their resting spot. Maybe if I can shoot something substantial enough, he thinks, they’ll be satisfied with the total haul and start heading back. And how did you end up out here so spent in the first place? What were you thinking running after these men? Well, I didn’t know their hunts entailed running at such a pace, he answers himself. Fortunately, the men are idling about now, seemingly with no intention of taking up their travels again any time soon. It could be that they’re feeling the strain as well. It could even be, he realizes, that they’re pushing his limits intentionally to see what he’s made of—or to show off what they are. No sooner does the thought occur to him than he spots movement in the underbrush some thirty feet away.

Lac steps toward the creature, away from the hunting party, leveling his shotgun with his line of sight. And there it is, a wild turkey, just standing there on the shaded forest floor. He takes a steadying breath before pulling the trigger. The shot fills the air and echoes off the underside of the canopy before being abruptly absorbed by the abounding leaves. Lac feels the pleasant ache in his shoulder from the recoil, smells the twisted wholesome bitterness of the spent powder. For some reason, it seems important that he not turn around to examine the effect of his noisy feat on his companions’ faces before having its intended product in hand to show them.

He rushes forth to gather up his kill, covering the distance in a few bounding strides. Reaching down and lifting the turkey by its neck, he turns, smiling proudly, as he would with any group of men he’d accompanied on an afternoon hunt, but the big self-satisfied grin quickly drops from his face. The six Yąnomamö men who led the way deep into the jungle, the men he depended on to see him safely back to the village and the hut he’s borrowing from his kindly missionary friend, the men whose culture he’s here to study are nowhere to be seen.

“Hey guys,” he calls for the second time today. “Are you still out there?”
********

Taking a rough census, he later writes in his notebook while sitting outside of Clemens’s hut, has solidified my sense that there has been a mass departure from Bisaasi-teri. There must have been close to two hundred people between the two shabonos when Clemens and I first arrived; now, I’d put the total number at a little over half that—no more than a maybe a hundred and thirty souls. Where did the others go? The most likely answer is that they were visiting from a neighboring village to which they’ve now returned. (Clemens might have pointed this out, but he was only inside the closest shabono so it’s possible he didn’t notice.) Some of the ritual pomp I witnessed that first day during their hallucinogen session, with all the shaman’s bodily adornment marking it as a special occasion, may have been part of the customary send-off for their neighboring allies. The taking of hallucinogens every afternoon continues, but they seem a less grand production than that first one I saw.

Lac flips back a few pages to see the hand-drawn tables he’s set up for his ongoing census. The population structure of this and surrounding groups—and especially of those he’ll visit later in the more remote inland villages, the uncontacted ones—will be an important part of his research. And it’s something he can begin work on now, even with the paltry count of random Yąnomamö words he’s learned. Lately, he keeps hearing the word “shori,” or “shoriwä”—variations of the same word?—coming prior to the reflexive demands for his possessions. They’re addressing him, he’s concluded, as something other than nabä. Does that mean they now recognize me as a fellow human being? That’s probably hoping for too much at this juncture.

As he looks at the tables, he feels his frustration building, making him want to get ahold of something solid and smash it. All the information he needs to do his work properly is right in front of him, surrounding him, suffusing the goddamned air. Yet it all comes to him garbled, distorted, inscrutable. He knew coming into the territory that he would need a good chunk of time to learn the language—which appears unrelated to any other recorded language—but he didn’t anticipate the dramatic shifts in group composition, the ongoing movements, and the conflicts. And he didn’t anticipate how tantalizing being a dumb mute right in the midst of it all would be.

My first hunt, he continues writing, hoping to calm himself, would have been comical had it not involved so many frightening moments. He halts his pen. He can’t help imagining his brothers getting ahold of his notebook and reading about the day’s misadventures. But they are all grown men now, he tells himself, and the Orinoco Basin is not the Upper Peninsula. Ultimately, his devotion to the anthropological tradition prevails, and that means he needs to maintain a consistent and accurate log of his experiences and the impressions they leave on him. Following at the rear of a group of six men, he writes, I for a time lost sight of the hindmost of them. It amounted to an unwelcome reminder of how deep I am in the jungle, how hopeless my situation would be should I lose the favor, such as it is, of my Yąnomamö hosts.

Now, as he continues writing about the day’s mishaps, it’s Laura he’s worried may find out. “We’ve got two children to raise,” he vividly hears her saying. “What makes you think you can just plop yourself down in the middle of some jungle and start wandering around with a bunch of guys who might kill you on a whim?” Honey, I didn’t know… He doesn’t know what he could say. And Laura isn’t here; she’s with the kids in Caracas, at the research compound at IVIC. He tries to imagine what it must be like for them, but it takes him a while to get past the bliss of being bathed in artificial light, the rapture of a steamy shower, the sheer joy of carpet underfoot, the ecstasy of a can of cold beer in his hand. And a cigarette. Oh God, a cigarette.

Meanwhile, Laura and the kids are actually there, and to them it must be far closer to limbo than to any paradise he can wish up. Waiting to hear if he’s successfully made contact with the Indians, waiting to see if he’s managed to procure steady access to all the creaturely amenities, waiting for him to build a shelter of some sort in the wilderness, within spitting distance of the mysterious jungle people he plans to make a career of studying. Bess was right, he thinks. I had the glamor of anthropology and the stories of all those famous explorers coloring my view of what this research expedition would be like, but already I’m starting to understand how silly terms like research expedition are when applied to the real experience of being out here. Laura must’ve had a clearer view of what he was getting into, what he was expecting her to get into right alongside him, her and the kids.

The scarlet heat of shame washes over the inner surface of his skin. By miscalculating so wildly, he’s let them down, abandoned them, exposed himself to severe dangers, and by extension exposed them as well. After the deeply embarrassing incidents at the log and at the bridge, he continues writing, I sought to redeem myself by shooting a wild turkey with my shotgun. My aim was true, and I soon had the bird in hand as an offer to my guides. But so eager was I to kill and deliver the game I didn’t notice that the Yąnomamö had fled from the report of the shotgun—though I have to expect my response, had I never witnessed such a thing before, would have been the same as theirs. I was so proud to have accomplished something requiring a modicum of competence, it took a while to sink in that I was now alone.

Lac had stood there for some time before a horrible suspicion lodged itself in his mind. The Yąnomamö are so quick and agile of movement, so sharp of eye, that he doubted they would have so easily overlooked the opportunity to put an arrow through the turkey he’d just shot. He’d already seen them spot monkeys and other birds while on the move, from impossible distances, producing the proper tip from their tora, affixing it to a shaft and drawing back the bow string, all before he’d even realized the whole group had come to a halt. So why would he be allowed to kill this turkey, unless…?

Lac’s knees bent automatically, dropping him into a crouching stance. He gripped his shotgun tighter. Unless the turkey wasn’t what they planned to kill. He remembered the constellation of men he’d run into the middle of, right before espying the shadowed brown feathers.

It was suddenly the easiest thing in the world to imagine that they had planned to take him out far into the woods and then turn him into a porcupine, leaving his madohe for them to divvy among their families. It was so easy to imagine this scenario playing out—interrupted by his cataclysmic introduction of a hitherto unknown technology—that it became impossible to imagine any alternative account of the men’s behavior. And so he was no longer sure calling out to announce his location was the best idea. He might have startled them, made them forget their plan momentarily, but they could even now be regrouping, or looking at him down the shafts of their arrows. He considered lunging behind a nearby tree, concealing himself as best he could in the brush—but then what? He had almost no chance of finding his way back along the invisible trail, back over that damned bridge. Even if he did manage to find the village again, what then? Either the men who wanted him dead would do it here and now, or they could wait to do it when he showed up again at Clemens’s hut. If he showed up again at Clemens’s hut.

His only other choice was to hide until he was sure they were gone and then try to make it to one of the mission outposts, probably the Catholic one at Platanal. But considering he’d run two hours in the opposite direction, and considering he had no idea where he stood with relation to any map of the region, he gauged his odds to be pretty dismal. Resigned to whatever fate his hunting guides had determined for him, Lac stood back up to his full height, took a breath, and called out again. “Where did you guys go?”

No arrows whistled through the air. But neither did any human souls appear. Lac continued walking toward the spot where he stood when he took the shot, the turkey still in hand. And just like that one of the two men who’d found him when he’d fallen behind earlier was standing right in front of him, having materialized out of thin air, as if he’d never bolted away in the first place.

When they met back up with the others, he saw that they were understandably wary and bewildered, but also, thankfully, ready to return to the village. By the time they were crossing back over the bridge though, everyone was sufficiently recovered from the shock to laugh at the ridiculous nabä just as hysterically as they had the first time, none of them the least bit concerned when the pain from the blisters on his feet caused him to wince and nearly lose his balance.

Lac looks up from his notebook and sees, of all people, Wuddu-ewantow squatting nearby and watching him write. As word spread among the Yąnomamö about the weapon the crazy nabä used to kill the turkey upon their return from the hunt, Lac felt increasing pressure to put on a demonstration of how the shotgun works, though he was careful not to reveal too much about loading and chambering the shells. Wuddu-ewantow elbowed his way to the front of the crowd of men and children gathered around to witness his feat of reducing a distant tree to splinters with the deafening crack of the rifle. From now on, he thought, I’m going to have to keep an even closer eye on the gun at all times.

Something about the way Wuddu-ewantow is eyeing him now makes him think he would like to talk to him, were it not for the language barrier. He doesn’t look menacing for once; he looks bored, this sioha from Karohi-teri. Somehow, he even looks lonely. “I need to finish writing my notes,” Lac says, as a friendly gesture. Looking back down, though, he feels the man’s eyes on him still, and he finds it mildly annoying. It reminds him of working late at home with Laura hovering in the periphery, unable to mask her abiding need for his company. She has this theory of his writing as a way of managing what he otherwise feels is the utter chaos of his relationships and all the emotions entangled therein. When things get too messy, she propounds, he abstracts himself, writing, taking notes, even if only in his head. Like her other theories about him and his work, this one is hard to discount outright, because it’s merely an alternative way of viewing habits he clearly clings to and has little choice but to repeatedly enact, but for reasons he’d say have little or nothing to do with managing the worrying disorder of his intimate relationships. Worse, he detects a flicker of accusation in her worried explications of these ideas, the subtext being that his work isn’t really about his work but rather about his need to keep her at arm’s length.

Maybe she’s hoping he’ll respond to this demotion of his studies in the rankings of his true priorities by devoting less time to them—and more to her. The thought always rankles him, but so far he’s managed to refrain from voicing his suspicion. Just now, though, he’s undeniably glad she’s a million miles from where he sits, working. He’s glad she has no idea how freaked out he’s been since returning from today’s hunt famished, bone tired, foot-sore, and dehydrated—freaked out by the thought that he’ll probably never know for sure whether his guides, before being scared shitless by the shot he fired, really had planned to kill him.


****** 
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