Eloísa dipped her paddle, gently displacing the green water as her canoe glided near the river’s edge. It was a magnificent day, the sunlight sparkling through the tree branches, creating glints along the surface of the water. Mangroves lined the shores and giant ferns grazed her boat. Little brown robed Capuchin monkeys chattered in the treetops. Scarlet Macaws squawked and screamed at each other.
She heard the coarse croak of the Toco Toucan. Perched high in a fig tree the bird reached for a fruit and skinned the fig with his great yellow orange bill.
She had many important stops to make today. The women who lived along the river awaited her visit.
The shores were lined with shanties supported by stilts. In nearly every house lived women—wives and mothers, brides to be, teenagers, grandmothers—all waiting for what only she, Eloisa could bring.
Her husband Rodrigo believed in her work. He knew its importance to the people of Brazil’s great Amazon River.
This morning was so peaceful, that Eloísa could almost believe that she was safe. Maybe, just maybe, she might fulfill today’s mission without calamity.
But alas, fate decreed otherwise.
Is that a log?
The log has eyes!
A black caiman, cousin to the crocodile, surfaced and reared his ugly head towards the canoe.
Eloísa wasted no time. She bopped the beast over the head with her paddle.
“Você réptil estúpido!” she shouted. “I do not wish to speak with you! Come back and see me when you are a handbag or a pair of shoes!”
The astonished animal did as he was bid and vanished back into the river.
“Obrigado, Jesus,” she whispered. Nothing must be allowed to deter her from her mission.
In the distance she heard the sound of a motorboat. The canoe rolled and pitched in the waves created by the wake of the larger boat.
Eloísa’s canoe capsized, dumping her and her precious cargo into the waters.
Down, down, down she descended. Just when she thought she could sink no further, just as quickly she bobbed to the surface.
She grabbed the paddles and holding onto the boat, rested for a moment.
She managed to right the canoe and was about to climb in when she remembered her belongings.
“My things!” she cried. “My precious possessions!”
Eloísa positioned her mask and snorkel and dove down to retrieve her treasures. She hauled them up, a few cases at a time.
As she hoisted one of the cases into the canoe, she brushed her arm against a sharp edge. A tiny drop of blood seeped into the water.
When she dove down again she saw coming towards her a mouthful of teeth.
“A morte vermelha!” A red bellied piranha had been drawn to the smell of blood.
“Doce Jesus!” Eloísa implored. “Help me!”
She scrambled into the canoe, the piranha just missing her foot by two inches.
“Obrigado, Jesus!” For the second time that day she was indebted to God for her deliverance.
She heard a splash and saw that she was not alone. A stocky blue gray dolphin jumped and somersaulted alongside the canoe.
“It is the tubby Tucuxi!” she laughed. “But he does not usually approach boats. The bom Deus must have sent the Tucuxi to accompany me on the remainder of my journey.”
Eloísa came to a landing, moored her boat, and climbed onto the dock.
She took out several cases and began walking along a path surrounded by moss cover.
The moss is moving!
Slithering towards her, was a four foot long pit viper, olive colored with trapezoidal markings.
“The jararaca,” she whispered.
Eloísa started running as swiftly as her baggage would allow.
“Santa Maria! Ajuda!” she cried.
She stopped and caught her breath. She turned to look behind her.
Jararaca was gone!
“Obrigado, Jesus!” she said, for the third time that day.
She continued walking when suddenly a woman came running toward her.
“Senhora Eloísa!” she called.
Another woman came running. And a third.
“Senhora Eloísa, you are here at last! We have watched and prayed for your arrival.”
“Berry Bloom, Forever Fuchsia, Golden Glow, Mad For Mauve….” cried Eloísa. “Senhoras, I have brought everything your hearts desire. Lipsticks, nail polish, eyeshadow, mascara……”
“Who are you, Senhora Eloísa?” asked a fourth woman.
“Senhora,” answered Eloísa. “I bring beauty to the women of the Amazon. I am the Avon Lady.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This entry was inspired by a true story that appeared in The New York Times and was also broadcast on National Public Radio:
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