It Happened One Night in Brazil

     It Happened One Night 
in Brazil

    What wasn’t natural
    was the jolt of electricity that I felt as I
    grasped her hand, or the flash of fire I saw in her dark eyes

    as she smiled at me. I thought: I am going to drown in her
    eyes, and I probably would have done so if the captain hadn’t

    chosen that moment to slap me on the back and offer me a beer.

    by: Philip


    A month long trip to Brazil’s
    northern Amazon was just what I needed to get over a broken heart. I thought
    a break from the university where I taught would refresh my mind and allow
    me to see that there were more options than giving up and going home. I took
    a bus north for two days and then found hammock space on the first tramp steamer
    going up-river. I didn’t know where it was going or when it would arrive.
    It seemed the perfect place to sit, drink and write anguished letters. And
    then I met Ana.

    We had stopped at a small
    riverside wharf to drop off essential supplies—powdered milk, a crank
    shaft, four dozen boxes of contraceptives—when Ana, her young son and
    her grandmother came screaming down the quay. Their cries sent the flock of
    parrots, which had perched on our bow, spiralling noisily into the air.

    A heated argument between
    Ana and the captain followed, the crux of which was that Ana desperately needed
    to take her young son up-river for medical treatment regardless of how full
    the boat was. Eventually, after much hand-wringing and pleading the captain
    relented and gallantly helped them aboard.

    Sitting with my feet hanging
    in the warm chocolate-coloured water I had had a perfect view of the human
    drama that had just been played out, and it felt natural for me to reach out
    and offer Ana a hand onto the boat. What wasn’t natural was the jolt of electricity
    that I felt as I grasped her hand, or the flash of fire I saw in her dark
    eyes as she smiled at me. I thought: I am going to drown in her eyes, and
    I probably would have done so if the captain hadn’t chosen that moment to
    slap me on the back and offer me a beer.

    Later, when Ana had slung
    her hammock next to mine and her son had taken up residence in the wheel house,
    we sat swinging in the soft breeze, oblivious to the warm looks the rest of
    the passengers were giving us. Ana was a few years younger than I was but
    had already had a troubled life. Widowed shortly after her son was born, she
    was taking him up-river for urgent treatment on an ulcerated leg. She hoped
    the doctor could do something miraculous, but we both knew the prognosis wasn’t
    overly hopeful.

    We let the conversation
    comfortably fade until we sat in the disappearing light, lost in our own thoughts
    and the movement of the boat. Every time Ana looked at me I felt the hairs
    on the back of my neck stand on end and my stomach turn over. Her son crawled
    into my hammock and felt asleep whilst Ana brushed out her long silky hair.
    It was the first time in my life that I wanted to give myself entirely to

    After dinner of rice and
    beans we laid in our hammocks and spoke about the different worlds we came
    from. I told Ana about London, the cold winters, my apartment that froze from
    November through March and my daily commute to work. In return she told me
    stories of her small village, the one-room house she had and how, as a girl,
    she had swum in the mighty Amazon. I closed my eyes and let the rhythm of
    her voice and the candor of her words enchant me. It must have been apparent
    to everyone on the boat that I was bewitched.

    Later that night, when
    the rest of the boat was asleep, Ana went to freshen up. When she slid back
    into her hammock a short while later her hair was neatly combed, and a faint
    smell of England in the spring wafted over me. Her smell, her curves and her
    twinkling eyes made my skin tingle. I was truly smitten. In the dark she leaned
    closer, until our lips were just a hair’s breadth apart. I thought: if we
    kiss now I shall never leave this river. Static danced between us. Instead
    of a kiss she reached out to stroke my cheek and said, "Thank you for
    bandaging my son’s leg."

    That night was long and
    calm. Whilst her son slept Ana and I lay chastely in our hammocks and shared
    our deepest dreams and fears. Eventually she fell asleep on my chest, and
    when the sun finally came up I felt reborn and cleansed.

    We spent the next few
    days chugging gently up-river. I translated Crime and Punishment into Portuguese,
    and Ana taught me a Brazilian love song. Each night her son would curl up
    next to me in my hammock and ask me to tell him about London and my life there.
    When he finally fell asleep Ana would take his place and we would talk till
    dawn. There was never any question of consummating the relationship; it felt
    much too intense for that.

    Three days, and one lifetime,
    after meeting Ana the boat chugged into the small docks of its final destination.
    When everyone else had melted away and the last of the stevedores had retired
    to the nearest bar, Ana and I were left alone in the watery twilight. Ana
    took my hand in hers and told me that she knew we were from different worlds,
    but could I wait a week for her? We could travel back down-river and start
    life afresh in her little one room house. As she took my hand and gave it
    a shy squeeze I thought: Yes, I belong here with you. But, deep inside I knew
    I could never stay. We came from different worlds, our hopes and fears were
    different, and I had a life away from the river.

    Ana never looked back
    as she walked along the dock in search of a taxi. For this I was glad, as
    she would have seen the tears rolling down my cheeks and I would never have
    left her side. Months later, back in London, I received a card from her which
    said: "Be happy, be free… be in my dreams for ever."


    Philip Blazdell
    lived and worked in Brazil for two years. He describes these times as some
    of the most rewarding and richest in his life. He currently divides his
    time between California (where he works) and Cambridge (UK) where he lives
    with his son and partner. Further articles can be found at and
    he can be contacted at

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