Calming her fears with a few extra berries and another taste of the sweet fresh water, she napped briefly. Nearby noises and men’s shouting in what sounded like Portuguese banter startled her awake. Taking care to remain as quiet as possible, she gently moved the leaves to try to see the location of the voices. Sighing with relief, she saw a modest-sized fishing boat near this side of the shore, slowly heading south at odds with the current. She did not hear a motor, so they must be drifting while enjoying their mid-day meal. The four men she counted looked happy and pleased with one another as if they were good friends. She suspected they had had a fine day of fishing and were taking their catch to sell or just to go home. With the direction they were traveling, she hoped maybe to Goiânia. If that was the case, she had a good chance of finding some sort of work in that big city.
Feeling it was time she took a chance, she left the security of the leaves and flowers and rapidly headed toward the river’s edge, waving her hands and calling out in her limited Portuguese vocabulary. “Hello, please help. Hey, please wait.”
One of the men noticed her and pointed. The other men followed his signal and looked to the young lady waving for help. Jovana reached the water and continued to make her way deeper into the water toward the boat. One man took a life preserver and tossed it into the water ahead of her. The current brought it to her just as the weight of her soaked dress was starting to pull her down. She latched onto the ring and, lying on her back, watched as they pulled the rope to the side of the boat. Two strong arms pulled her up and over the side, where she crumpled into a mess of wet clothing. She was grateful the bag with her belongings tied about her waist under her dress was still attached.
Looking at the men as they stared at her, she noted they were all clean shaven and roughly the age of her father. Their sinewy limbs, extending out of the sleeves of their various t-shirts, showed the strength gained from hard work. They had on jeans and boots, reasonably common to many people in Brazil. All had dark hair nearly the color of their chocolate eyes. Jovana was relieved when the one who had lifted her over the edge smiled and spoke in Spanish. “Young lady, what are you doing on the edge of this river alone? Did something happen to your family? Do we need to go and help?”
Taking a chance and comforted by the Spanish, her native language, she confidently stated, “My family is gone and I have walked a very long way. I am trying to reach the city and find work. Please, may I ride along with you to your destination?”
The man looked sad at her statement and replied, “My name is Luiz, this is Gabriel, Victor, and Pedro. We are brothers and from Goiânia. We have had a relaxing day of fishing together and are headed home. You are welcome to ride along and I will bring you to my wife.”
Jovana nearly cried with joy. “Thank you all so much. Luiz, you look like my papa did. My name is Jovana. We had such a hard time. Both my parents are gone now, but they wanted me to find a job. I have no money to pay for the ride, but I will pay from my wages as soon as I get a job.” She scanned the horizon for the fearful drones, now realizing she was out in the open. Luiz noticed her subtle visual scanning and nodded.
Luiz patted her arm and smiled. “Don’t worry, Jovana, we will get you there safely. Our family is a kind lot and helps others whenever we can. We also share our food.”
She looked over at Pedro as he handed her a sandwich, and she grabbed at it greedily. Jovana was so grateful at the welcome, she quietly nibbled at the sandwich even as Pedro passed her a bottle of water. The men returned to finishing their meal and pulled up the anchor as Luiz started the motor and Gabriel took the helm to guide their boat toward home. The chatty comradery the men had displayed when she first approached them, had been replaced with somberness as they headed back to the village.
It was nightfall when they made their berth. Three smiling women were on the dock and cheered their men’s return. After the craft was tied up, they filed onto the dock. Luiz introduced Jovana to his wife, Fransica, even as he explained her circumstances.
Fransica was about the same size as Jovana with graying dark hair and practical shirtwaist dress of purple and yellow cotton. Fransica’s smile was very sweet as she gathered Jovana into her arms, cooing words of welcome.
“Come, my little Jovana. I will help you bathe and comb out your beautiful hair. Do you have any other clothes?”
Jovana responded, “No, I have nothing but what I’m wearing. I’m sorry.” Tears welled up in her eyes, but she held them in as she smiled back at the friendly face. “I’m so happy to be with you.”
“Come now, let’s fix you up. Luckily we have an extra room which I hope you will stay in.”
Fransica noticed the wounds on Jovana’s hand and casually remarked, “And let’s get those wounds dressed so they will heal properly. Perhaps after some time here you will provide more details of your family. In your time, Jovana. Here you are safe.”
These were the kind of people Jovana had grown up with. They understood but asked nothing further than, how can we help?
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