condor 305 x 380

On The River Dark

Here’s an excerpt:


“By the rivers dark where I could not see who was waiting there, who was hunting me.”

– Leonard Cohen, 2001


Fall 2027

The great black bird with white tipped wings circled in the twilight, head tucked to the side, eyes narrowed against the pelting rain. Beneath him, the jungle stretched for hundreds of miles.  He soared gracefully in his element. Weighing only twenty-seven pounds with a wingspan close to eleven feet, the condor could easily sail up to altitudes of eighteen-thousand feet. But for now he was intent on maintaining a lower glide path to watch over his fledgling. He looked down along the tops of the trees at the female hatchling’s dark shadow against the sparkling, wet green of the vegetation. In the warm thermal updrafts, ruffling his wings to slow his movement, the condor waited with great patience for the nine month old chick to gain altitude.

An almost extinct breed  because of deforestation from the growing human demand for more space on the coast of the South American continent he and his mate were drawn to the confluence of the Rio Solimoes and Rio Negro by their search for food. Condors mate for life and he and the female had spent the better part of the previous year preparing a nest for their third hatchling close to where the two rivers joined. He had chosen the hollow of a tall kapok tree for the shelter, an unusually low lying site for these cliff dwelling birds.  The pair shared the care of their newest offspring  until three months ago when a Quilombola hunter came across their singular nest on the fluvial island of Tupinambarana.  Seeking the mystical powers of condor bones, entrails and feathers, the maroon killed the nesting female but the chick had managed to escape.

Moving his head away from his downy white neck ruff, the condor peered down. From almost a mile away he watched his offspring wheel into a dive toward an open spot on the side of a corduroy road near the river bank where the decaying remains of a body lay.

Without effort the majestic beast slipped the air column he was riding and plunged toward the river’s edge to join his fledgling.

Part I

Glissade: A Sliding Step

South of the hydro electric dam where the the Vakhsh and Panj rivers form the Amu Darya, to flow into the Arel Sea, the Russian Anton SUV pulled out of the water. It climbed up onto the cobble road kicking up a cloud of dust in its wake and rumbled away just as Abigail arrived. She was close but she had missed.

ص. قذر, غير طاهر, نجس,” she could hear the burqa clad women of the roadside bazaar scream and shout before she had fully materialized. “Unclean!” They shouted at the top of their voices and then began clicking disgust in ululation. Some of the men on the fringe of her vision, in the open stalls of the ragged market tents ringing the souk, began to throw stones hastily grabbed up from the loose gravel of the sun baked roadway.

It was then that Abigail realized the virtual holo anomaly used to produce a suitable abaya and hajab, did not transfer with her.  She stood naked beside the marketplace near the Pakistani border. Her unencumbered  hair blew free in the evening breeze.

Within moments the men found the range for their missiles. The rough aggregate stung as it dimpled her skin. Her escape was Aganor and the other catchers. She crossed her fingers motioned to the Curupira and executed a Soutenu en tournant to jump back across her mark.

Aganor, Ronale and Fabian missed Abigail’s reentry. She landed heavily on the stage of the Bumbodromo stadium at Parintins The startled groan from the crowd, watching her awkward appearance in the garb of a Garantido family dancer, filled her ears. It wasn’t as though Aganor and the other two catchers had missed their queue or failed to execute a coda, it was just that her hurried echappe from the vortex was unexpected.

The disorientation, more pronounced this time, began to take hold of her. She felt queasy, sick to her stomach. It wasn’t getting any easier to make the jumps. Abigail couldn’t remember where she had been and what she had done until she closed her eyes to conjure up the roadside bazaar again.

Aganor put his hands around her waist lifting her into a pas de deux that moved her into the flow of the evening’s Bio-Bumba routine.

I am, she thought, becoming the sum of all the jumps that I have performed with and without Rosalie’s crisp clean choreography. Precision, precision, precision. But without Rosalie to mentor her moves it was becoming a tempest that Abigail struggled with alone.

Outwardly the dance continued. A major party for the other Boi-Bumba dancers, it was an energizing piece of choreography for the galleria of spectators as well. Each Garantido dance number called for precise execution and suitable period dress. No variants were acceptable. The same story had to be woven into all three nights of the festival or the shaman’s task would fail. The Boi-Bumba’s fairy tale, full of powerful villains and brave heroes was more than a folk art presentation with a repetitive hypnotic beat to her now; it was a dispensed reality within an abstraction. Life wasn’t about how to dance on the river but how to survive the swirl of the currents vortex. How many more performances of these hypnotic rituals, Abigail wondered, could she handle before the task was accomplished?

It seemed almost impossible. Every night was different no matter how faithful to the legends the shaman’s mind held the story-line. The dances, puppet placements, garments, and twentieth century allegories all changed in some small imperceptible way from night to night. A missing button, a loose thread, the wrong piece of jewelry, an unforeseen color variant in a garment, a missed step in the planned choreography and tonight – she didn’t want to think about it. Her head throbbed. She had a splitting migraine. She could taste the bile in the back of her throat.

To thunderous applause, whistles and shouts of praise from the spectators in the Bumbodromo the evenings Garantido dance routine ended.

“Don’t think about it now, tomorrow night you will try again.”

No, she didn’t ever want to ever think about tonight. No she didn’t want to think about tomorrow night either.