En la selva de T.D. Bingo, we have victory at last!
For the doomed capybara races through paradise,
for lovers who want the sunset to slow down,
to survive the desert donde no hay agua.
So now we dance, and the toucan sings,
an ode to Jácopo…
A Legend of the Great T.D. Bingo…
“Hello, good sir! A drink for my steed, if you would be so kind. Our journey’s been long, and the road longer.”
The dozing man was propped against a tree trunk in the anemic shade of its spindly, leafless branches. A fine layer of sand covered his eyelids. He opened them slightly, slow to reply, as grains clung to his eyelashes. “Is that some sort of joke, stranger?”
“I am not often known to be inadvertently humorous. Truly, my steed is thirsty.”
The man closed his partially open eyes against an assault of wind and hot, swirling sand. “Then that old mule of yours better like tequila or beer. It’s all you’ll find around here.” The dozing man heard a sharp intake of breath from the stranger, an indignant gasp.
“I have never been accused of sainthood or scoundreldom. Still and all, a man must have his honor, and I will not fight one who’s already down. But such an insult cannot stand. So you must stand, sir, in its stead, so we might duel. I prefer pistols, but swords or sticks will do if provided.”
The man opened his eyes fully now. Backlit against the blazing, unrelenting fist of the sun, the stranger stood with his hands on his hips. His tattered leather hat rested at an angle atop his head and obstructed his eyes. Even through the shimmering, distorting waves of heat, he could see whatever the stranger had ridden in on was no mule nor horse at all. “Is that a…capybara? It’s a big one! With a bit and saddle?”
“Why, I have not made introductions! Now you have cause to duel ME for my rudeness. We shall exchange names rather than bullets and call it a happy draw. Yes, that is fair and just. ” The stranger bore down on the resting man and vigorously shook his hand. Plumes of sand flew from their shirts. “This is faithful, loyal Jácopo. Far superior to any mere horse. And I am Theodore Domingo Bingo. T. D. to friends, my friend. Self-professed itinerant adventurer and current seeker of water. As I mentioned, it has been a long and dusty road.”
The man exhaled. T. D. seemed at least to have relinquished his talk of dueling. “I’m Luiz, but you’ve come to the wrong place for water. There’s not a drop to be had in the whole town. We haven’t seen as much as a cloud in over a year.”
A smile full of dazzling, white teeth spread across T. D.’s face. “A drought, you say?”
Luiz frowned back. “Listen, pal. This is no joke. The wells are dry and the river stopped running. And it sure as hell isn’t anything to grin over.”
“That is truth. Unassailable and solid. A normal drought is no laughing matter. But your town is suffering no such thing.”
“You’re trying to tell me we’re not in a drought?”
“A drought of this severity transcends the ordinary. Months of arid, cloudless skies. That can only be a curse.” The capybara snorted and pawed at the ground. “Jácopo agrees.”
Luiz was starting to get a pain behind his eye. T. D. Bingo’s ceaseless stream of words conjured images of flowing rivers sparkling in the sun, and Luiz swallowed painfully. The back of his throat felt like sand. “And how is a curse better?”
“A curse is worse, for certain, under almost any circumstance. However, hear the deliverance in the very name my prophetic parents appointed. T. D. is more than Theodore Domingo. It is all things liquid. T. D. is to drink. Or two drinks, depending on the occasion. It is there initially—and finally—for you to see. I am T. D. Talented dowser and town deliverer. I will break this curse and deliver your torrential downpour.”
Before Luiz could respond, T. D. snapped a thin switch from the tree under which he sat. He weighed it in each hand. “What do you think, Jácopo? Is this the one?” The capybara blinked slowly. “No, you say? Surely, my furry friend, you’re losing your touch. Look here.” T. D. balanced the stick on his index finger. It seesawed and then fell to the ground. T. D. looked Jácopo in his round, black eyes. “Don’t gloat. It’s unbecoming. Which then? There? You’re certain? It’s not too thick? OK. OK. There’s no need to be rude. You have my trust. As always.”
T.D. snapped another twig and balanced it on his finger. Slowly it began to spin like a compass needle and came to rest due west. “Toward the setting sun it is. Luiz, gather your pails. Prepare the glasses. Tell the others this accursed year is through. Water comes!”
Luiz opened his mouth, but T. D. clutched the stick in his fist, jumped astride Jácopo, and dug his spurs into the capybara’s thick haunches. The beast gave T. D. a reproachful look, but T. D. merely brandished his hat into the air with an outstretched arm. Jácopo lumbered off at a lope.
A swirl of hot wind rushed across the open plain of sand, and Luiz shielded his face in the crook of his arm. When the gust had passed, he looked up and due west. T. D. and Jácopo were nowhere to be seen, and the sweep of wind and sand had erased Jácopo’s slightly webbed paw prints from the earth.
That night lightning split the sky in intermittent flashes, and thunder shook the adobe houses. Awakened in his bed, Luiz suddenly saw all the hairs on his wife’s arm stand on end. He felt his own hair shoot outwards from his scalp. Blinding light and deafening sound merged as the tree under which Luiz had sought solace from the unrelenting sun was struck and burst into a fantastic blaze of yellow and orange flames.
The distant sound of crackling, dry wood filled the quiet night. Luiz listened to the burning tree and tried to quell the sting of betrayal he felt lodged at the top of his ribcage. “The mind,” Luiz reminded himself for the umpteenth time since that afternoon, “does strange things when deprived of water. It could even conjure men riding giant rodents and promising rain.”
Luiz wrapped his arms around his wife and kissed her earlobe. “Go back to sleep, love. It’s just heat lightning.” He closed his eyes but soon heard an odd sound—a smattering of muted thuds. The sound grew faster and louder. Before long, voices joined the chorus. Low at first, the voices quickly became an excited, chattering hum.
Confused, Luiz got out of bed, and looked out the window. “I must be dreaming.” He ran to wake his wife. Rain was falling in thick sheets. Black, impenetrable clouds were overhead, and they dropped so much water the baked earth couldn’t accommodate it all.Puddles were forming everywhere, and they were already connecting into a network of small, flowing rivers.People were spilling from their doorways into the storm. Their nightclothes, soaked and translucent, clung to their skin, and wisps of hair worked free from women’s plaits in the ferocious deluge. Nearly everyone was spinning splay-armed and catching the sweet drops on outstretched tongues.
Luiz smiled wide enough to split his parched lips. He grabbed his wife’s hand, and they ran barefoot into the storm to join the others. They laughed and spun and drank from each other’s cupped palms. Luiz brushed a sopping strand of hair from his wife’s cheek, and kissed a raindrop poised to fall from the tip of her nose.
-Prose by Liz Herrin