At that moment, however, she was struck by how much the scene looked like a painting. The woman had auburn hair decorated with beautiful flowers, which gave her the look of an actress Susan couldn’t remember. A few years later, when Susan was sick at home with the flu she would see The Blue Lagoon on TV and whisper under her breath she’d met the real thing. In a single flash she’d understand that the actress in the film paled in comparison to the real live woman she saw that distant day.
Behind the hotel there was nothing but a lush tropical jungle. The hotel employees warned tourists of the dangerous animals that lurked in the forest and bade them to stay within the compounds of the hotel.
Once in a while a traveler would say they’d seen a jaguar lapping water from the man-made lake. In fact, Susan claimed she’d seen one. It happened on the second night of their honeymoon stay. John and Susan were making love on the artificial sand shore. Susan’s hands had been clutching the sand in exultations of pleasure when, through the trees, she swore she caught a glimpse of a pair of glowing eyes.
Susan once read a book about indigenous tribes who believed that those who share a special connection with nature also share one with God. She doubted it at times but when she saw that jaguar and gazed straight into its glowing eyes she couldn’t help but feel awe.
When the couple reached Susan she took them for a pair of Californian surfers who’d lost their way on a hike.
“What on earth were ya’ll doing in there?” She asked. They look like jungle hippies she thought. “Were ya’ll making love?” She was not afraid of strangers and even less afraid to ask them straightforward questions.
The couple replied in perfect American English that they came from a tribe deep in the center of the Amazon. It didn’t even dawn on Susan until moments later that they were probably lying. But something about their smile, their beauty, and the look in their eyes made her believe whatever came out of their mouths.
John, who was Susan’s husband, was much more of a skeptic and thought they must be on drugs. He called hotel security while his wife chattered on about how fit they looked. John was quiet and reserved. He took things with a grain of salt, partly because as a young boy his neighbor made fun of him for believing in Santa. It was an experience he wasn’t completely over, even if he had never admitted to himself.
In his defense, he felt badly after Hotel security ended up calling the police. The management felt that it was best they take care of the bums, who—they concluded—were obviously under the influence of drugs. It wasn’t uncommon for the riff-raff from the streets to wander in, and it was common protocol to get the police involved. Susan remained sympathetic, but it was still very hard to believe what they claimed. I mean really? White tribesmen? They were very pale, too pale for an un-contacted tribe of the Amazon.
In the end, Susan was able to convince John to speak to the police. “Maybe they need help. They should see a doctor,” he told them with sympathetic authority.
So the couple was taken to a hospital where a local reporter happened to be covering a story on a woman who had swallowed a light bulb.
Ron was a recent university graduate with big dreams, but neither the good pay nor the good stories to launch him there. He resented being assigned the shit stories, but in the back of his mind he, although he may not have admitted to himself, was utterly afraid. He hoped that one day he’d get assigned a really hard-hitting story. He hoped that through his wits he could expose a corrupt politician, or perhaps shine a light to the seedy underground sex trade that was rumored to plague the city but of which no conclusive evidence had been found.
He had interviewed the woman, who he found to be very dumb, and maybe a little off her rocker because, honestly anyone who swallows a light bulb, even on accident must have something wrong with them.
He was in the midst of snapping her photograph when the ragged, but beautiful, couple was escorted in. He gawked, and after some inquiries, was given the chance to snap a picture of them and ask a few questions. The story was absolutely remarkable. Even if it was a lie, the fact that this couple expected everyone to believe them was incredulous enough.
The newspaper article was published the next day, but something strange happened. Journalists began to come from all corners of the earth. The couple’s snapshot was remarkable. Even on the flimsy pages and cheap ink of the newspaper their beauty shone. The woman’s full lips and heavenly body were apparent even through the hospital sheets wrapped around her. The man’s broad shoulders and piercing eyes made those who saw the picture think it was an ad. The couple was pure, innocent, and mysterious, yet that was what made them enticing, even sexy. They became celebrities, but as journalists asked them more questions, they appeared to share a secret.
They knew all the languages of the world. They spoke each fluently and with no accent. Journalists flocked to get an interview, to see the limits of their knwlegdge.
When asked their names, they remained silent, thoughtful, as if they had forgotten, or cautious of trust. They held back a truth, or at least a version of it, that they knew would put them in grave danger. The couple knew the truths of the world, but it was re-adapted and filtered because no one can learn the truth and not change it. They were no longer as innocent or naïve as they’d been before. They had left their naiveté behind. Left it wherever it was they came from. And that was the million-dollar question. Where had they come from?
There were several theories put forth about them. Some said that they were aliens. This rumor grew when they refused to take scientists and journalists back to their home. Some said that they were pulling people’s legs, craving their fifteen minutes of fame. Still others said that it was a publicity stunt for a reality show. When the reality show never premiered, however, they began to wonder if they’d been a little wrong. When it was finally proven that there was no record of them anywhere the world reluctantly accepted that they were in fact part of a tribe deep in the Amazonian jungle.
They never uttered their real names but instead created new ones. After watching a Brazilian soap opera, they decided that the woman would be called Thais, the man Julian. They were granted work permits and identification cards in Brazil. It was where they had suddenly appeared after all.
Paparazzi were absent in Hollywood. From one day to the next, they had disappeared on a journey. Everyone wanted to know more about this beautiful couple. Were they lying? Was it true?
Not everyone was thrilled. There were some, like the young Hollywood starlets who were clamoring for media attention that were flabbergasted to see the tabloids devoid of their antics. They were filled with jealousy. They wondered why the world even cared about this couple.
Starlets everywhere began to overdose, enter rehab, and release sex tapes. In their desperate attempts to get the media’s attention, they slowly lost the glamour and beauty that made them famous. They turned into pretty liars who instilled fear in parents across the globe for fear that their own daughters would turn out like them. It wasn’t until a young starlet died that journalists departed from Brazil to return to Los Angeles. Tragic death always wins the media battle. This is how the media left Thais and Julian alone. After all, they weren’t talking.
In a flash, their life became normal, mundane. They were expected to work for a living and find a place to stay. The Paradise Hotel and Resort© gave them a room for free but only when they made money for the hotel. The hotel offered deals to reporters who came to get their story. It was convenient and efficient but when the out-of-town journalists left, the hotel decided that letting them live there for free was no longer advantageous. In a swift and unceremonious manner they were kicked out, shown the door, and dumped on the streets to rely on their own wits.
They rented an apartment and started living. Really living. Their whole lives were ahead of them now. They knew that for at least some time they were safe. Things had ended very badly where they came from. Yet, somehow, in some mysterious way they had been spared. Most importantly they had stayed together. Julian would have lost himself; he would not be here without Thais. He knew with a sense he couldn’t put his finger on that they were made for each other. Whenever they were apart he would feel a jabbing pain inside him. He would have to take a moment, catch his breath, and remember that he’d see her soon.
When they laid together Thais would run her fingers through his hair and call him Tiger. She smiled without thinking when she saw him. She had counted his moles and knew the location of each one by heart. She knew his likes, dislikes, and the flavor of his kisses, which always reminded her of biting into a peach.
Time for them went slowly at first. They got jobs and began to fill their days with the humdrum distractions of life. Bills. Work. Rent. They began to fight and say bitter things in anger. Thais began looking for a way out, and Julian began to look to the sky. Dark clouds were on the horizon.
By the end of their first year out of the jungle Thais started to go out to bars and clubs. She began drinking, wearing short skirts, and dying her hair blonde. Thais had acclimated well. In fact, to the horror of Julian, she even created a Facebook profile.
Julian had a much harder time. He missed his home. He missed the connection he felt with nature. The fruits, the vegetables, and the animals that kept him fed and gave him company. He loved Thais with the whole weight of his being. He was so in love with her he did the unimaginable knowing full well the consequences. Julian knew that no matter what happened he’d die without Thais by his side. He couldn’t have tolerated life without her. Now things seemed so different. A year had passed in a flash, and they were on completely different planes.
There were times he would remember how, when they stepped out of the jungle, the world quaked underneath their toes. He remembered thinking he would turn to dust. Then he would think of how he met Susan who had looked at them with welcoming eyes after they had walked for seven days in the dark lonely jungle.
He remembered the fright he felt that first night. He awoke in complete darkness. And he thought “where is the light?” Because there was no light. He was scared, troubled by thoughts that maybe he was dead. Julian had never seen darkness in his life before then. Then a wave of intense and excruciating fear washed over him. Thais was gone he thought. He didn’t see her near him. Maybe that would be his punishment. But then he heard her —still asleep— a few feet from him. Mercy was shown.
On the second day there was so much water falling from the sky that they wondered, where the separation of the earth and sky had gone? They were so soaked and Julian thought that this was their punishment. On the third day the rain stopped and the soil turned hard and brittle. The plants and trees around them began to whither and die.
The rest of their travel was arduous, their skin cracked, blistered, and scraped. Plants seemed to want to tear away at them. It was painful to be reborn, because that’s what they were. Born again into a new world. The mistakes of their past did not matter because they had learned. Evil comes in all shapes. In this new world things would be different because they would know better. Second chances come only a handful of times. Yet with all the knowledge they had learned there was some force, whether natural or unnatural, that blinded them from the utter truth. The more time passed it seemed the more this force grew stronger.
Three years after their escape (or exile), all the knowledge they had gained in those times slowly dissipated. You could only speak to them in one language. They had all but forgotten where they came from. Like the majority of the world, they were whimsical and had even lost the passion they felt for each other.
The little joy they found was in looking good. Julian joined a gym. His muscles grew. He wore tighter clothes than before, but not as tight as Thais.
Thais worked in a café as a waitress and reveled in being the self-proclaimed ‘pretty one’.
One day a man with a deep booming voice walked in and sat at one of her tables. He was so well put together he had the other waitresses fantasizing marriage. He was rugged and handsome. He had the face of an angel, and Thais caught herself smiling at him. She took his order: a coffee, black. He was charming with eyes that looked into her soul. His eyes smoldered when they caught her gaze. A male siren of the caffeine seas.
“What time is your break?”
His name was Bruno, and typically she’d answer, “I don’t sit with customers,” but Bruno’s intensity gave her pause. The clouds in their coffee grew as they spoke.
Bruno turned her world upside down. Love for Thais had been unquestionable. She was part of Julian, and she felt that deep inside her, but Bruno saw a flicker of opportunity. Some part of her wanted more. Some part of her had changed since she had left her jungle paradise. As she spoke to him her eyes were full of sorrow, and she wringed her hands in nervousness. He was ridiculously handsome. Bruno saw an opportunity in the ease with which she had accepted his invitation. Like a lion stalking a gazelle he listened intently to her. He hypnotized her giving into her vanity. He whispered sweet things in her ear that brought forth thrilling and exciting images.
He began to visit her often, and every time without fail he’d ask her to sit with him. The other waitresses started talking behind her back.
“Isn’t she married?” They’d whisper in haughty tones. Thais wouldn’t care, however, because when Bruno came, he made her feel like she was the only one in the room.
They touched hands once, and Thais was left weak for the whole day. The next time they touched it was at his hotel room. They lingered in each other’s arms, and Thais felt her lips swell with anticipation. Her blood boiled with intimate desire to kiss him. She felt Bruno’s muscles tighten. They kissed violently, as if the world around them was breaking away and that soon nothing else would matter. Then a flash. A past life. No, not a past life. A vision shot across her mind. A déjà vu perhaps, but something far more powerful because her eyes watered. Bitter pleasures, and foolish vices end in the void of guilt. She broke down. Pushed Bruno off her and ran home.
She cried the entire afternoon hoping that each tear took away that feeling which made her feel so dirty. She thought she was one way but was not, and the image of herself shattered. She fell apart and realized that she had only been held together by the frailest of threads. She was broken into a million puzzle pieces that no longer fit together. She thought she was tough as nails, that she was special and could do anything. She found she was not that person. She was not good, or bad, but only herself. Complex and simple. She was each thing at once and none at all. Thais thought she would and could be with Bruno but she was only really fooling herself. Life comes in loops and curves but always ends full circle. She’d almost done it, and that scared her. Then she saw things for what they really where. This place was not her own.
After work Julian always went to the gym. On the day Thais cried away her afternoon Julian met the man named Bruno in his hotel room. After meeting with Thais Bruno headed to the gym. There he offered to spot Julian as he bench pressed some weights. They talked. Bruno said he had studied in America and was staying in a hotel nearby. When they were done he asked Julian if he played tennis. Julian answered no but was up for a challenge.
Bruno beat Julian but told him he was impressive.
“You should really consider playing more often. You know my hotel has a great gym, and they have a tennis court there too. Come by and we’ll play.”
Bruno thought it over but he agreed. “Sure,” he said “I’ll stop by but be ready to lose. I’m a fast learner.”
They both chuckled. A plan had been set in motion already, and once it was put in motion there was no turning back.
Bruno had answered the door in a towel. His body dripping from the shower and led Julian to a chair to wait while he changed. Bruno dropped the towel in front of Julian while he changed. Julian was nervous. Uncomfortable. “You like what you see?”
The moment was quiet. Tense. Bruno walked towards him and with his hands on his crotch. Julian stood not knowing what to do. He was ready to leave.
“Give me your hand.” Bruno seized him and pulled him close. Mouth open. It was as if it was happening to someone else. He liked it but he didn’t. He wasn’t sure. White-hot heat seeped in him. He let himself be touched. It felt good, and he gave in. He was traversing an unknown world and discovered in it a primal pleasure.
Afterwards Julian ran towards home, hands in his pockets. Angry and in a rage, he spotted a couple. They were arguing in front of a bar. The woman slapped the man who then pushed her back. Julian saw this and felt his face get hot. He rushed forward to tackle the man. The woman screamed in shock. He let out a force of strength that shook the very core of Earth. She lunged forward to scratch Julian. “What are you doing?!” His fists pumped with blood while the man yelled in pain. When the man’s nose bled, their fluids mixed. The woman didn’t stop screaming “For the love of God, stop!”
People stared. And then the man lost consciousness. Julian stood in a moment of clarity. He looked at the man sprawled out on the cement and then his own bloody knuckles. He immediately regretted it. The woman kneeled beside her boyfriend. She kissed him on the forehead. “You’re fucking crazy!” She meant to yell at Julian but only caught a glimpse of his back as he ran away.
Julian walked in his apartment and didn’t stop until he reached the bathroom. He was afraid Thais would see him. However, she felt the same way and locked the bedroom door. He washed his hands until the water turned a foamy red. He still felt dirty. He splashed water on his face and undressed. Water cleanses the soul and washes the sin. It makes us whole again, but what does it do to those who have already been saved? Julian felt such a painful anguish on his loins and on his tongue. A sulfuric smell burned his nostril and made him tear up from behind his eyes. He fell asleep in the tub amongst his bath of sorrow.
An hour passed before Thais decided to clean herself up. She didn’t dare put on make up. She went to knock on the bathroom door. Julian awoke, turned off the water, got a towel and flung the door open. The mounting anticipation and urgency with which the door swung open surprised him, and in unison, they both announced “I want to go back.”
The couple, held each other not knowing why the other felt the same but understanding that no questions needed to be asked. No more pain or tears to be shed. They have to go back, back, back. The problem with that is once you’ve changed and once you’ve moved on can you ever go back? Julian and Thais set about going to the Paradise Hotel and Resort©.
The Paradise Hotel and Resort© decided to expand. The Whole E. One corporation—the corporation that owned the hotel— had gotten an exponential gross profit ever since they had been the center of a news story. But the bigger story in the end had been the spread of publicity the hotel received. Critics rated their service outstanding and the establishment as luxurious and decadent. For three straight years the resort had seen their clientele list expand. They held conventions now and made a name for themselves for international business travelers.
They decided to buy the outlying land behind the man-made lake. Bulldozers razed the flora, scared away the fauna and began construction on the freshly flattened land. John and Susan now five years into their marriage even saw an article about the Hotel back in Mobile, Alabama. They’d been looking for ways to regain the spark they had when they met, and the article said so many good things about the hotel so that made them want to visit it again all the more. So they packed up for a second honeymoon but what the article couldn’t have possibly have mentioned was that it was the worst possible time to go. There were bulldozers everywhere, the pool was closed, and the noise was so loud you could barely hear yourself think.
There had been a hiccup in production however, which was quickly swept under the rug. A construction worker had discovered the remains of two bodies with hands interlocked. Ron came back to the Hotel to write an article about the possible murder but was called off by the newspaper because the hotel had just bought a full-page ad promoting their new buildings in the coming month. Their flesh had rotted off already, and some bones were missing, probably carried off by animals or ants. No one really knew.