Filho de Peixe, Peixinho é1
‘Bem-vindo à aldeia do Rio dos Juncos2’ read the dark red letters on the driftwood sign at the entrance to Reed River Village, a small settlement consisting of forty brown river mud homes. Named for the mountain tributary that ran through its center, the village’s inhabitants were sustained by the cool water and its fish. A bed of round glistening stones resembling ancient eggs bordered the wide river of pristine water, which grew and shrank with the seasons.
The typical 20 Celsius temperature of Reed River valley sharply contrasted the biting cold of wintry Antarctica which lay all around the valley, and its surrounding, slightly colder prairie lands. From the river marched a neat military-line of creamy-capped mushrooms, starting from their nestling place between the rocks and leading from the summery valley to the colder prairie, a vast expanse of frozen earth and frost-tipped grass. The sun reflected off the mirror-like plain, almost blinding the rare visitor.
Isaque’s grandmother lived in a small hut, right where chilly plains yielded to frigid mountains. Its walls were tightly woven from long, thin straw and sun-dried reeds from the river, the cold was kept at bay by its insulation. The salty, smoky aroma of freshly cooked bacalhau, cod caught by the rare ice fisher that ventured past the valley and sold as a delicacy, wafted through the air and Isaque swore he could smell it half a mile before he arrived at her home. The tangy smell was of the sea (or so Isaque had heard – he’d never visited the sea which lay many miles north of the valley), mixed with the citrus tang of sumac and the earthy undertones of mushrooms.
Tall stalks of wildflowers, as colorful as the sunset, dotted the outside of the hut, gently swaying in the breeze, seemingly waving hello as Isaque rubbed dirt off his shoes against his grandmother’s seal-skin welcome mat. He opened the door which made a slight scratching noise as the cold straw moved for the first time in days.
“Isaque? Is that you?”
His grandmother was a determined, tenacious woman. Before reaching her 80s, she was a renowned hunter, and well respected by the Reed River denizens. The walls were lined with spears and hunting weapons of all kinds. Of them all, his grandmother was most proud to own a harpoon, tipped with a black rock and carved with stories of fishermen.
Now slowed down by age, Vó Cida maintained a respected position in the village, but was less able to move about outside the hut. Short, and with a matted thatch of thick black and gray hair that Isaque shared (minus the gray), her face was scarred with a lifetime of stories.
“Sim vó. It’s me.” Isaque responded, taking off his fur-lined shoes before walking over to where his grandmother cooked the cod in her cracked stone oven, removing the sizzling bacalhau from between the heated rocks with practiced hands. The sweltering kitchen warmed Isaque’s frozen skin, and he removed his coat to drop it onto a stool.
When his grandmother turned, she gave him a wide smile, a scar stretching her top lip. Vó Cida had gotten it from a fishing incident decades ago, a story well-known and frequently embellished as time passed.
Isaque knew the story behind every one of her scars; in fact, he knew them twenty times over. He knew she had a bite mark on her leg from a shark, a damaged ear from falling into the rocks bordering Reed River. Most of all, he knew she had a deep scar on her leg, never to heal and never to discuss, from a sailing accident sixty years ago.
“Do you think you’ll leave soon?” His grandmother asked.
Isaque prevented himself from blubbering his response. He couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her alone, though his heart yearned to see the sea.
“I don’t think so, vó.” He replied, taking a seat on one of the driftwood stools his grandmother had set up around the table. “I don’t want to leave you.”
“I see,” murmured his grandmother, pausing long seconds before she asked: “Do you want to hear a story?”
If they had been discussing anything but the possibility of Isaque leaving, he would have practically yelled his eagerness to listen. Now, he simply nodded, hoping her tale would give him clarity in his decision.
“Centuries ago, our ancestors were unlike today’s insular and incurious folk of Reed River. They were sailors, explorers from a far-off land. Their captain had hoped to traverse through a stormy strait so that her crew could be the first to discover and categorize new lands. But the spirits were against our noble forebears, and they found the seas treacherous. The changeable winds blew their entire fleet into the Antarctic rocks; they survived only by happening upon the warmth of Reed River Valley–a total anomaly. But years passed, people got comfortable and fear grew of leaving the protection of Reed River. Our once-respected forefathers were forgotten, or worse, thought of as fools for having the urge to traverse the globe. Rediscovering a world outside of Reed River was deemed impossible. Some, the more adventurous, tried. Including me.
“When I was young like you, I was determined to show everyone that there was a world outside our valley. One day, after months of working on my father’s fishing boat with my best friend, we felt we were ready and sailed down the Reed River. Soon the river became an angry mess of waves and winds and we were scared. We forgot who we were and panicked. We came to a raging sea–we had chosen our timing wrong in the middle of winter’s nasty storms. Our bright curiosity of exploring new lands soon faded as before we were two days into the voyage, my friend fell ill. We turned back; I had foolishly hoped we would make it back in time to save her.”
At this point, Vó Cida fell silent, the memories of decades past behind her wet eyes. With a tremble in her lip, she continued haltingly. “I couldn’t sail the ship alone. My friend was sinking into fever. The ship crashed into the coastal rocks, just like our ancestors had done before, and splintered into a thousand pieces. My friend disappeared under the crashing waves. When I came back to, I had lost everything but my will to survive. Bleeding and battered, I limped my way home, days passed and I don’t even know how I made it. My foolish childhood dream had transformed into a nightmare.”
The room fell into absolute silence except for the crackling of the fire.
“Are you telling me not to go?” Isaque asked.
“No,” his grandmother said. “I’m telling you to go prepared. Leave knowing what you’ll face, and be ready for it. I wish I had tried again–my friend would have wanted me to. But my courage and leg are too damaged. But you, I want you to go if you feel it in your heart, which I think you do.”
“I do feel a pull that I find hard to ignore,” said Isaque, almost in a whisper.
“Do you believe in that phrase of our ancestors? ‘Filho de peixe, peixinho é’. The son of a fish is a little fish. This may seem obvious, meu neto querido, but know that it also means that the grandson of an adventurer is also an adventurer. Follow your heart and return with stories.”
1 A Portuguese saying: ‘Son of a fish, little fish he is’; essentially, like father like son
2‘Welcome to the village of Reed River’ in Portuguese
Nicolas Barbieri grew up in São Paulo, Brazil, until he was seven years old. His dad is Brazilian and his mom is American. He has always felt a part of the two cultures, but somehow his writing always includes a piece of his Brazilian core. No one can tell a story like a Brazilian and he is working on always making his better. When he’s not writing stories, he is the Opinions Editor of the school newspaper, running or playing soccer for Weston school sports or reading books, usually fantasy or fiction. He is a sixteen- year-old sophomore at Weston High School.