The man who could not stop

June 25, 2017

Many years ago in South America after Africa…..

‘Along the 249 and a half mile dust road between Cuiaba and Santos del Norte in a sliver of land in Brazil where angels fear to tread, there are no fewer than three provincial land registries.

Only the land office in the makeshift township of Guaranta overlooked the Madiera rivers and it was here, the Chinaman decided to register his land claim as he stood in long line of dreary disheveled souls – just two months ago, Guaranta did not exist – it like the many cowboy towns along the meandering Madeira sprung right out of the ground like wild mushrooms just around the period of the Great Amazon land rush – when Brazil’s military dictatorship pursued the infamous land reform policy of ‘integrar para nao entregar’ – a free for all where settlers were given title to the land they worked.

It was just around the end of the harvest season in Guaranta – a period when fleets of pickups, yellow and green John Deere’s tractors hauling cane and soy from the Amazonian interior had ceased rumbling and now they were all splayed out like the drunks and spent prostitutes. Running parallel to the zinc roofed container township on the only boulevard known as Ignacio da Silva. A great Madeira ran fast and deep – on the quay river barges belonging to ADM, Cargill and Bunge laden with golden soy rested indolently like rust colored hippo’s cooling their heels – the sight of these strange rusting behemoths must have reminded the Chinaman of Africa. As he had paused to light a cigarillo and leaned on the railings to watch them before entering the land registry. It struck the man just then that this was first time in his long treacherous 1,600 mile journey starting from Argentina to Brazil southern ports that he had ever paused….he wondered to himself why had he paused – why had he suddenly come to a stop in the way a raging river suddenly loses it’s vigor as it discovers the infinity of the sea – he hadn’t done so till then.

The Chinaman had not paused. Not even when he had heard rumors of a large swathes of new lands opening up in Santarem in a bar down south in Beuno Aries and had decided to travel all the way to brigand infested jungles to stake his claim before a frenzied land grab ensued. Neither did he pause when he came across a band of brigands after driving his stake on a piece of land that overlooked a bend shaped like a shoulder of a woman on the Madeira Rivers – the man only remembered narrowing his eyes at these menacing marauders when they had told him…the land he had staked had already been taken by a rich landowner….he did not even pause when one of the trigger happy grileiros leveled his lupara at him…the Chinaman just blew the man’s head off….and told them…he would be back to put their boss in a coffin…he did not pause as it felt right…just like Africa…this the man reckoned was after all the way politics was conducted deep in the Amazon…or for that matter anywhere else where men carried guns like cowboys – the man did not pause…not even when he came across a wandering priest preaching to Panara Indians deep in the Amazon who suddenly turned to him, read from chapter five of Matthew and asked whether he would like to confess his sins with the words…

‘Bem aventurados os que tem fome e sede de justica, pois servo satisfeitos.’

He did not pause. The Chinaman merely got up and walked away. All the while wondering with each step how long could such a fool in his silly frock would last in grileiros infested lands who roamed a godless sky – maybe a week….maybe a month….he did not pause….only when he was leaning against the railings by the harbor overlooking the Madeira that day did he pause…there was something he needed to do – though it escaped him just then…something important…then suddenly as if remembering. The Chinaman took out a dog eared color postcard which he had always carried in his breast pocket long before he even boarded the sardine tub in the coite de noire which eventually berthed in Santiago….the man looked at it again as he had always done during the hour just before the sun would slip over the mountains in Africa. He knew all the buildings framed against the clean cool peppermint blue skyline by heart and even those which he didn’t quite understand such as the white half lion and fish in the foreground which seemed to be vomiting water – the Chinaman knew it, as a creature which must had eaten something that didn’t agree with it’s – then he tore it up in two and threw it into the dark waters of the Madeira.

It was a picture of a distant dreamy place that he had always wanted to try his luck in..to met the right girl, settle down, forget his past, get an ordinary nine to five job, grow fat and to just lead an ordinary life……now there was only this life.

That was the only time the Chinaman ever paused.

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