Volume 10, Issue 3, page 4

The Watcher at the Graveyard
HE NAKED caboclo -- a word which means,
roughly, "Indian-descended, illiterate jungle Brazilian" -- wakened
easily and all at once. There was
Ino sleepiness, no rubbing of the
eyes. He stood erect on his tough
bare feet and looked around. The
funeral was over, had been over for
a long time, and everyone had gone
home. The sun had sunk in the Amazon
Valley hours ago and the stars were out,
hanging low over the black Mapua, close
enough to touch. He scarcely noted the
stars, knowing them really beyond reach.

He stood in the cemetery -- grass-grown,
rock-bordered. The crosses were all wooden because caboclos were too poor to buy

The ebon Mapua, one of the many tongues
in the mouth of the Amazon, was his river.
He had been born on it, would die on it
as his immediate family had. The last
close relative had been buried this afternoon. There were other relatives on
the Taujori but that was far away and they
were afraid of the bad air on the black
river which set peoples' skins afire and
burned them until they died. They had come
to the funeral. They had stayed only as
long as decency required. They were accustomed to death, as The Watcher was. It
was everywhere.

Right here was death, close to the
jungles, where night caught only the unwary. Fireflies, huge and silent, darted
thru the undergrowth at the river's bank.
The tall trees were of many kinds. There
were the rubber tree, the cotton tree,
the graceful assaf palm, But the slender
palm did not grow where years of death
had erected so many weathered crosses.
They grew around the house wherein all
save The Watcher had died, the house to
which he would not return, into which,
when death had entirely passed, some other
cabbclo would move with his numerous and
growing family, of which two in 10 lived.

The Watcher stiffened. Even his breath
stopped. A sound had come out of the forest, a gentle cat sound. The Watcher,
there among the now-black crosses, waited
for the jaguar to approach, to leap, to
slay. It came. Its yellowish eyes, like
two fireflies close together flying low,
appeared among the very blackest shadows
where the moonlight scarcely touched. They
stayed there, always close together, as
if for a long time they studied the neutral, silent Watcher. Why the jaguar did
not rush and spring no one would ever
-know for certain. Perhaps he had already
fed. The two fireflies dipped away, vanished, and the cat moved off thru the

The Watcher breathed again. His mouth
opened a little and moisture appeared at
its corners. That had been very close. He
shivered slightly in the lowering cold,
just off the equator.

The moon rode higher. Its mellow light,
by which one out on the river might read
a newspaper, seemed to be struggling
against the coal-blackness, blacker even
than the ebony Mapua, to push it into and
under the trees. On three sides of the
cemetery the jungle rose high. The river
side was open but it was blacker than the
blackness that piled itself so thickly in
the trees. The Watcher had known the soft
almost-still voice of the Mapua all his
life. He heard it as he slept. It was the
first sound he remembered.

Now another sound stiffened his head,
a snake sound this time. It was nearer
than the cat sound had been. It crawled
along, inched along, night-hunting for
squeaking mice and rats perhaps. It could
be a boa constrictor, a deadly bushmaster,
even a parrot snake, or a gorgeously colored coral. One did not need to fear it
if one stood very still; that was one of
the first things The Watcher had learned.

A round warmness crawled upon one of
his feet, down between them, over the
other, then away, but there was much of
it and it kept crawling over his feet for
a long time, as long as he could hold his
breath. Then he breathed again and was
thankful he had wakened. In sleep, one
might move without knowing, and be bitten
grievously, fatally.

The moon dropped behind a black cloud
that covered all the sky and the ebon
crosses. As The Watcher watched, the
crosses all seemed to approach him, as if
to push him back to the river whence he
had come, whither he would go, up and
down which all Brazilians traveled in
their hardwood canoes. He shivered again.
Winter rain was due and nights were cold.
He could feel night things crawling on
him. The humming pests sang their song in
his ears, bit him in many places. Infinitely patient, he did not fight them.
They simply dodged and returned if he did.

A bird beganto screech, "You're cheap!
You're cheap ! " far back in the forest. He
knew it was the jumping bird that jumped
as it screeched, as if words gave it power
to jump. It traveled at night, but went
JUNE, 1963 The ABERREE 5