As a Dewdrop in the Bed of a Tropical Leaf

by Sylvie Taussig

The blazing heat is less oppressive than the pile of luggage. The rich colours of the clothes, the brown paper of the parcels, the heady smell of fruits she never saw, the dark skin in the gloomy light of the airport, the shrill voices of the loudspeaker: she has arrived. The conveyor belt is now de-populated. She is alone. There is no time to cry; a drought of tears springs in the dampness of the air. She has been travelling for 36 hours; 36 hours without a weep.

The long journey from Moscow to Tarapoto in Peru is tentative; it comes to terms with the chaos of her mind. In her birth city, Moscow, she conceived the very phantasm to sleep as a dewdrop in the bed of a tropical leaf, deep green. To be a dewdrop between thousands of others of the same size, and not this woman, loved by God like every other human being, God’s creature.

Airport. Taxi. The car sneaks through a cacophony of irreducible images, unattainable sounds, voices and sputtering, scents that she can’t identify. Already was her heart in the jaws of the Great Russian cold, now she gets her senses torn apart.

And, paradoxically, it is the jolting of the car-tomb on the ruts of the road, without yet being, which becomes comfortable as a routine. She is clinging to the path. Where is she? Cpacibo. The wife of the curandero gives her a plate full of food, rice, spicy meat and some of the 42 fruits which bend Amazonian trees. Luba rids her of her money, passport, and books – all that the rainforest could dissolve. Leather belt, leather soles, electronics, she is now stripped even more than she was at security checks in the four airports she crossed in 36 hours. Each time her identity returned to her intact after the search.

A four-wheel drive car is waiting for them, already loaded with packets of rice, cackling chickens that will be used to pay the ferry on the Huallaga, and other closed boxes; the passengers have only to adapt. On the bench in front of her, a man with a goatee and a hardened air, looking like he has come from afar. The vehicle moves off. The forecasted six-hour drive will actually be nine: it rained, the dirt road, carved on the mountainside, is crumbling; the ground slides, stones tumble, road sections sink into the void. The ravine threatens from below, the mountain from above, and above it all, the sky. She had forgotten that she came also for this, for the sky falling on her head, for nature imposing itself as a divinity, instead of a transcendent God who had become in recent times the Grand Inquisitor – the free faith had become a belief by constraint and freedom of faith, a faith imposed by fear. She put all her hopes in the Amazonia where nature is wonderful: nature would reveal its majesty to her and instill in her a less overwhelming belief system: the elements, mother earth, and the divine in all things.

Reduced to a waiting on a red clay esplanade, suspended over the void, while the run-down road is being cleared by hands of men and women, she speaks in broken English with an Iranian: ethereally build, colors of the will, fumes, he lives almost ecstatically this cosmological breath she would like to fill her soul with, instead of the Trinitarian theory. Later, she will meet a French girl from Brocéliande with her four-month old newborn who has come to regain the vital strength in the mighty forest and be penetrated by its energies. Then also a couple inhabited by the universal souls. The deification of nature gives them a speech which has left her. Things are not dumb anymore: full of life, strongly connected, they welcome them as a pearl on his bed sheet.

After the road, the pier: the boat is late. The hens are put aside. It is coming, people set up, the boatman pushes on his pole and soon the boat glides over the brown waters. The goatee is sitting in the stern: he is much thinner than she thought; in fact he is a fashion model, in normal life. Where am I? She asks herself. The waters let her see the swarms of piranhas. Who am I? The boat drifts, the boatman fight against their strength: they have to reach the other side, to the pier, without being drawn further downstream. The drift would be irreversible and then no other alternative than a shipwreck. The Indian who drives the boat leads a fight against the strength of the water every day, twice a day; every day and twice a day he risks his life and the lives of his passengers, women, children, poultry.

She cries: he is not there, the one who left her; he whom she wants to forget. If only the current carried the barge to a larger nowhere. A friend told her: “A month or more in the forest, a diet of plants, some ayahuasca as an accelerated psychoanalysis and you will forget him. The plants will release new energy inside you.” What she had heard was the word detoxification. The beloved had entered her life as a lethal flower, the “Molly” of Ulysses, wiping away all that constituted her. Friends, career, thoughts, and songs: going through the narrow gate and exclusive love. She had pushed the door, but on the other side it was empty. The lover was not there. He had been a seducer, but also the revealer: she was nothing else but a big void, a huge draft. The door was a pitfall, and the only emergency, back in Moscow, was to leave this rat hole where the magician led her and where he was definitely no more. But the return to a world where there is neither path nor door to knock on was to go through an immersion in the vastness: the road and its violent jolts, the river, then hiking in the forest, over colossal trunks, above ravines, on a trail soon buried and found again with machetes, the alternation of the two legs and the stick used to scare away snakes. And to think that four days ago she had been wearing high heels under her fur-lined boots, and her lips had been shining with a perfect gloss.

Anything was better than that gyrovaguian race in the desert-like enclosure of a love which had become obsession.

Tears, tears, tears. The moly, yes, that’s it, you are drinking your own tears and only that, cry, and soon no longer cry, stop only to allow you to sip them, because you have forgotten everything about yourself, even forgetting that other beverage exist.

A glass full of concentrated tobacco juice was waiting for her on the bank of the torrent, to be swallowed in one gulp, followed by three liters of hot water so that the bowels are less torn by the acrid liquid that makes the entire contents of the stomach come back up, with all flawed energies, and the stench and pollution of the urban world after the moly, the waters of Lethe. How many times must we die to finally happen? The potion, which was not a love philter, hit her to the point of making her unconscious. She recovered her senses hours later, on a hammock, as the dewdrop on the giant green leaf. But attacked by all the beasts of the jungle: the worst – not cougars, but ants, ticks, mosquitoes.

Her stay was a long ordeal.

Mourn the missing man. Drink bitter liquids and concoction of herbs full of virtues.

Eat noodles in rainwater.

Flay, by dint of scratching, to the point of bloodshed, her arms and legs and cheeks and her hands and feet and ears and belly and buttocks and eyelids and toes and her skull. This biblical plague without a prophet to suspend it, without a goat to be sent to the desert, without even a desert, though her fourty days in the tangled jungle remembered well enough the exodus from Egypt – and her house looked very much like a succah. Fourty days so magnificent and so desperately hopeless that she regretted not extending her stay to fourty nine, to match those of the omer and receive some divine gift.

Noodles in rain water that the cook used to bring her at day fall, the only person with whom she had the right to exchange a few words, feed her sadness. But in the morning, the lady brought her a carrot, a beet, and a potato. Orange, purple, pale yellow embellished the canopy. The morning life was perfect, but the nature is still not sovereign.

Ants advanced in battalions and won their trophy like a queen on her stretcher: the little pasta that had been on the floor since the night she had frantically eaten with her fingers, hungrily, ineffectually. In the morning, the wind caressed the tree trunks it bends year after year. She calmly ate. Lunch even more: rice, some lens. Happy as Jacob. The river sparkled. It was not nature but the wisdom that ordered it.

The man she loved, and who she had canceled from her life, had been the first to truly talk to her. His Russian language still whispered as the deceptive snake.

And there in the forest, the diet food was also a speech diet. The various residents of this retreat did not have the right to speak to each other. On days when the tropical rain had dampened any surface, their rubber boots glided silently on the mud lanes up to the maloca, this large round room, very high, which was used in the ceremony of ayahuasca: dirt floor, four wooden pillars, a stowed roof with ropes, a single door facing side of sunrise, in front was an altar. They left the boots at the entrance; the maloca became a sacred space. They sat on thin mattresses. The curandero was waiting for them; a hat made of shells on his head, with large blue feathers, his shoulders slightly undressed, transparent look, absent eyes, the spirit of a fearsome presence. Now, he was the master of time and the master of the guests. Strange melodies speaking about the Messiah and care and healing were coming out of his mouth.

The curandero sings icaros. He sings, and from his mouth come small swirls of smoke. He sings. The night is dark, stripped of fireflies. The rustle of the night, odd insects, owls, night birds, intermingle with the singing, relentless as a succession of waves. The curandero prepares the beverage, blows on it, and drinks it. One after another, the attendants surround the altar and drink from it. It’s her turn to partake. It is thick and slimy. She returns to her place. The curandero stands up, and blows a bitter smoke over each of them. The singing grows in a bombardment of a twangy voice; around her there is vomiting, candles flickering. For her, time could not be abolished. His body was there, and sometimes aching or stiff. The music enveloped her but did not get into her: she did not let it in, as if she now had to resist to anything that would contrive to enter. She also looked at the others. They were drooling, vomiting. She did not. Only once did she have to run through the muddy field, to the hole of the toilet to void her bowels and come back to her place. Absolutely no hallucination, no far-sighted introspection, facilitated by the plant. Mosquitoes, boredom and pain that drilled her spine. In fact, the plant was moving up and down along her spine, as if looking for an exit, from above, from below. Hodos ano kato kai mia hoto: the way up and the way down are one and the same. Then it went suddenly irresistibly down and she again ran like blazes to the latrines across the muddy field and the storm. Fourty days. The days were long. The nights were sparkling. The little people of the moving forest were swarming and buzzing. She slept on a thin mattress placed on a wooden board, mounted on stakes, dug into the ground. A mosquito net, a wooden roof, in the middle of a clearing whose surface was not a quarter of Lenin’s tomb, threatened by the proliferation of leaves. Yet, unlike the dream of a cradle leaf, she had the physical experience on this raft of wood between two blooms that nature did not exist as god. A word preceded it, even in the forest. Like a story that told her a different story than the one she was telling herself. One evening, many hours after the return to her taambo and another failure to lower her resistance, there was suddenly something rather than nothing, something that was not the sleep, but like a black hen or a crow of the same color, and the black was simultaneously being fragmented in every color of the rainbow without ceasing to be black and whose every movement was broken then repeated indefinitely, as in the mirror maze of a funfair whose no shooting would break. The space around, however saturated, no longer existed. Infinity on which everyone relies was abolished.

The repetitive saturation model and iridescent diffraction extended to the sound, not the cry of the bird of darkness, but the inner voice of the young woman, who said no. This “no” was repeated as the expending ringtone of a bell, as if she was inside a Tibetan bowl. The phenomenon was so powerful that she could not restrain herself to serenity nor build any rationalization.  Her life was in danger. That was the only thought that came into her mind; besides, she could not hear the tiny nightlife anymore and its microscopic traffic. The beak of the black bird was going to swallow her own speech, there was the threat. There was no more bird, no more beaks, an angular spiral, thousands of thousands of crystalblades. She was no match for a frontal fight, she must resist differently. Chema Israel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad. She repeated ten times, a hundred times, the first sentence of the shema she knew by heart, at once familiar and foreign, which also required as little energy as a “no” but whose complexity challenged the infinite repercussion system; whose complexity was however not large enough to mobilize the intellectual forces annihilated by what was left of the bird, that is to say, by the nothingness. She repeated. Repeated. Litany, and on her right some night lights began to glow under a dark brown tent. Repeating a memorized phrase that broke the repetitiveness. Centimeter by centimeter, she returned to the shelter of that black wing. And she fell asleep under the tent.

The next morning, she made herself the reproach: if I had followed this iris, wouldn’t I have discovered the secrets of nature? And mine?

The curandero did not invite her to the sacred nights anymore. She begged in vain.

Remained the mosquitoes, remained the boredom, and remained the pain of the betrayed, withdrawn given word; remained the incapability to get out of this circle.

She counted the hours and days in keeping rainwater pasta, each passing day. Belly pierced by hunger.

From time to time, arose from the forest -from where to where- a woman carrying with the strength of her neck a bunch of bananas two or three times her weight, held on by a headband placed on her forehead.

Occasionally, a deluge of rain poured down, the river volume quadrupled; its mud and stones roll resounded; the torrent roared, sweeping aside everything in its path. An untamed monster. The next day the waters, clear, and flow lazily.

And so moving day arrived, after fourty days of facing the excessive violence of all the elements united, but nothing strong enough to erase the burn – and flatten transcendence.

Departure. She had to chase away from her bag-pack the nest of ants.  The tired body qualified for a shower, the first one after all this time. She had the deep and sore feeling of being evermore removed from the river now crystalline.

The way back is similar to reverse search. Gradually, step by step returns to electricity, engines, newspapers, and people.

The airplane. She simply sits down on the seat, feeling the waste inside. I’m incurable. Beg your pardon, don’t mind if I pass to occupy the window seat? A man with a very dark skin, shiny hair urges her to take his hand. I’m scared. She gives him her hand. He presses it, the plane takes off, and the clasp on her hand grows closer.  Then they talk.

All of a sudden her Spanish flows like the waters she left behind. He comes from Iquitos and makes his way to Lima. She explains who she is, where she comes from. She states the forest. But the words to reveal the suffering, the boredom, the solitude, the incomprehension, the failure, the lack and loss, the mosquitoes slip out. Instead comes up the organization of the forest: the eternal creative wisdom.

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
23 I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no fountains abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills, I was brought forth;
26 While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields,
Or the primal dust of the world.
27 When He prepared the heavens, I was there,
When He drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 When He established the clouds above,
When He strengthened the fountains of the deep,
29 When He assigned to the sea its limit,
So that the waters would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman;[]
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
31 Rejoicing in His inhabited world,
And my delight was with the sons of men”.

That is what she shared, with other words, in Spanish, with her own words, which only belong to the chorus of their profound love; the language that orders and rules the cosmos. He approves and gives his voice to the same sentence in unison. Neither the forest is chaos, nor is the nature omnipotent all-sufficient. What she says, he is saying the very same, with the proper expressions of the pure curandero. They speak as one. The wonder and delight of the ants. Traces of mud on rille. The nights huddled under the net. The hyper spiritual sensitivity of the incarnated things, plants and animalcules. The song of the world which the world did not compose, but the partition, but the interpreter, and the amateur. She tells him the joy of this perfect harmony. Her, him, the nature, the wisdom, the creator, the word. The failure of the plant, her failure, the alienation, everything fades away. He offers her his hands; she holds on to it. Is she a dewdrop? Is she a leaf?

They separate in Lima. They embrace, cuddle up, becoming one. Their souls made love all throughout the flight. Their bodies split.

 

About the Writer:

Sylvie Taussig is a French writer born in 1969 in Paris, France. She has published four novels, of which one is about the strange death of Paris (Dans les Plis Sinueux des Vieilles Capitales). Currently, she is living in Peru and writing short stories and poetry.
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