of tattooed warriors grips the anthropologist’s arms and
leads him up a hillock to a small round hut. Inside, the
priestess, nude as always, shifts her raised knee to keep
her hammock swaying.
him,” she says. The warriors release their grips. One of
them throws the anthropologist’s frayed and bulky backpack
to the dirt.
rough treatment?” The anthropologist has been here for
months and speaks her language fluently.
learned too much,” says the priestess. “We’re going to have
to kill you.”
understand. You gave me permission to stay as long as I
shrugs one shoulder, a habit of hers. “Now you can stay
the only naked body that has not lost its effect on him.
“I’ve been planning to write all good things about your
people,” he says, “if that’s what you’re worried about.”
lies,” she says. “We’ve been putting on a show for you.”
the most child-like tribes get all the government
benefits.” She clucks her tongue. “Believe me or not as
you wish. You’ll be killed either way.” She opens her hand
and invites him to pull up a mat. “Don’t worry, you have
until the rain stops,” she says. The anthropologist looks
over his shoulder. The warriors are gone and, she’s right,
it’s raining again, one of those light-switch rains that
could quit just as quickly.
one of our customs,” she adds. “Don’t you have that
scratched into your big black notebook somewhere?”
“Execution rituals. I must have missed that one.”
know how. You scratch all day long in your ugly notebook,
and for what?”
notebook! How old is it? Why don’t you ever make a new
one? Why don’t you at least paint something on the cover?
It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen an anthropologist
carry, and that’s saying a lot.”
really an anthropologist,” he confesses. “I’ve lapsed. I
don’t study. I don’t write papers anyone will read.”
what do you do?”
question he’s been avoiding. “I travel and observe…I’m
collecting my thoughts.”
sure how to respond.
find a pile of your thoughts lying around, I will carry it
out to the shitting place before someone steps in it.”
starts to laugh, then remembers she’s about to have him
his arms. She taps the edge of the hammock
stares through the doorless entry. It’s pouring now. The
rain cascades through the rain forest’s leaves, overfilling
those like cupped palms, spattering those like spatulas.
The puddles swell and join hands, climbing toward the hut.
are tired and a little wobbly from nerves. He decides to
take a mat after all. He sits at an awkward distance from
the priestess, near the entry. For a while, they observe
each other out of the corners of their eyes.
priestess pushes her toes against the hammock cords to get
it moving again. The anthropologist puts his forearms on
his knees and lets his head sink. He rubs the back of his
hurts, too. After all his travels, his endless
observations, he wishes he had a comfortable chair for what
now appears to be his last hours on earth. He’s owed that,
at least, isn’t he?
raises his head. “Isn’t it also a custom to allow the
condemned to live like kings, to bring them food and drink
and women, or whatever?”
must have us confused with some other people,” she says.
expect me just to sit here quietly?”
said you had to be quiet.”
warriors don’t catch you, the jaguars will. You needed
three guides just to find us, remember.”
the rain hastens the dusk. After years of moving on, taking
leave at the first sign of entanglement, his worst fear has
at last been realized. He’s overstayed his welcome.
raining,” says the priestess. “Soon you’ll be dead. Now
would be a good time to show me what’s in your very ugly
angers him at first. He doesn’t deserve a death sentence
for notetaking. So why should he entertain his killer?
After a few minutes of silence he reconsiders. She’s right:
he’s going to die soon. Why harbor a grudge? He doesn’t
want to spend his final hours in boredom.
he waits long enough for the silence to register his
dark now, and the rain falls steadily. The anthropologist
takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. He unzips his
backpack and pulls out his ugly notebook. There’s a small
flashlight in there, too. He has sealed it with duct tape
and used it sparingly. It still works.
the notebook and clears his throat.