10. La Chiasse

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"What's going on here?" Pamela asked, glowering at Chris who sat in the smelly water.

"He..." Yves' hand trembled as he pointed at the man in the pond. "He tried to take Nita's lighter, again. It is hers."

Nita tugged at the sleeve of Yves' red shirt. "Let it rest."

I tried to remember the strategies they had taught us in a mediation seminary some years ago. Sound out the objective and subjective interests involved, make them apparent to everyone, seek ways to reconcile them, don't judge.

But Pamela wasn't burdened by such knowledge. "Chris," she snapped and waved her fist at him as if about to reenact what Yves had done. "Who the fuck do you think you are? You're not our boss. That lighter is Nita's."

Chris got up and stepped out of the pond, his gray pants darkened by the water. He ignored Pamela and looked at Yves.

"Did you hear me, Chris?" Pamela took a step towards him and poked his arm.

Slowly, he turned his head to face her while pointing a finger at Nita. "That lighter is an essential resource. It needs guarding. It mustn't be wasted for smokes."

"And who decides that?" Pamela crossed her arms.

Chris opened his mouth and closed it again. Then he spread his hands, palms forward, and looked at each of us in turn. "Don't you agree that the lighter's important?"

"Yes," I said, "I agree. The lighter is important. But it's Nita's. And I fully trust Nita to use it wisely." Fuck mediation.

Chris huffed.

"She's right," said Farid. He stood some steps away from the pond, feet solidly anchored on the ground, his gaze just as solidly planted on Chris. "The lighter belongs to Nita. And us fighting over it is as stupid as it is ridiculous." His words weren't loud—but spoken one by one in Farid's harsh accent, they were almost palpable.

Bruna stood at Farid's side, her arms crossed and a smirk on her thin lips.

"Okay," Chris murmured and glanced at Yves and then at Pamela, rubbing his chin. "We'll... let this rest. I guess we're all strung out and irritated. Let's get a grip on ourselves."

Get a grip on yourself, man.

With that, the argument was finished, but it hung over the campsite all evening, like that smell of rotten eggs—a heavy shroud stifling conversation.

I wondered how long we'd last without starting to hit each other with sticks and rocks.


Next morning, I was up with the first light of dawn.


Hoping it would end the cramps in my stomach.

It didn't.

And I missed toilet paper. Leaves weren't the same thing.

When I emerged from the bushes, Yves and Nita stood beside Chris Pond.

"How do you feel?" Nita asked me.

"Stomach cramps," I said, looking for a downriver puddle to wash my hands in.

"Same here." She brushed a hand along Yves' arm. "Both of us."

He gave her a pained smile.

"Do you think it's the water?" I asked while rubbing my hands in the stuff.

"I don't know," she said. "It might also be the fruits. Maybe they're not pandan. Or they are an inedible variety of pandan."

Yves groaned. A sheeny layer of sweat covered his pale face. He looked as miserable as the sudden cramp in my belly made me feel.

Footfalls from our campsite made us look up. Chris ran for the shrubs, making the birds mutter at the intrusion.

"It seems that our général has got it, too." Yves smirked. "La chiasse."

"La she-ass?" I knew 'merde', but this one was new to me.

"You don't want to know." His smile was forced.

Nita giggled, her hand over her mouth.

Farid, who had slept close to Bruna some way downriver, stirred and sat up. Yawning, he looked at the spot where the bushes still shook from Chris' hurried exit. When he saw us, he nodded, got up, and scratched his stubble.

Bruna rose, too. Her loose hair hid part of her face and made her look like a red-maned animal. She pulled a ribbon from a pocket of her soot-blackened jeans and bound her ponytail.

"Do you think they're lovers?" Nita whispered.

Good question.

"They are like an old couple," Yves replied.

Nita smiled and clutched his arm.

Farid and Bruna might be the old couple here, but it looked as if we had a new one, too. I didn't say this aloud, though.

Bruna strode to the pond, her usual lopsided grin on her lips. "Buenos dias, guys."

Before I could stop her, she ladled up a handful of the water and drank it. Then she walked over to us, followed by Farid.

"How do you feel?" Nita asked her.

"Better, Doc." Bruna half-grinned up at Nita. She was the shortest of us.

"And you?" I looked at Farid.

He nodded at me. "Thanks, fine. Why do you ask?"

"We all have stomach trouble," I said. It took an effort to smile at him as I held a hand over my still cramping intestines. "We thought it must be the water or the fruits."

"I have iron bowels," Farid said. "They have weathered worse."

Chris emerged, scowling and sweaty, and told us of his own digestive troubles.

We discussed the issue, deciding to shun the fruits for the moment and see what would happen. It would be best to boil the water, too. But without a pan, boiling was an option unavailable to us.

"Maybe our co-pilot has an idea how to handle this," Chris said. "Where is she, by the way?"

I scanned the site for her. "I haven't seen her today."

"Maybe she's using the toilettes," Yves said, a weak grin on his face.

When she wasn't back ten minutes later, we started a search of the ravine and shouted her name.

The only reply we got came from the pale gray birds. Their idignant screeching echoed between the rocks.

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