Tabitha had heard rumors about a diner in the middle of the forest.
She spoke a smattering of Portuguese, but the dialect in the town was difficult to understand. The locals laughed when she asked them to show her the way to the restaurant in the jungle.
A young woman, toting a large backpack and wearing a yellow t-shirt with ‘Eat and Greet’ written across the chest, approached her as she struggled to ask directions of a stall holder.
“You American?” she asked.
“Yes,” Tabitha said, relieved to hear an English accent. “Can you show me the way to the airplane diner?”
“The cooking lady?”
“I’ll take you,” she held out her hand and Tabitha frowned down at it.
“I don’t,” she began. “Ah, okay.”
She reached into her pocket and counted out ten Reals, the woman’s hand stayed outstretched. Tabitha sighed and added another ten. The woman smiled.
“I’m Georgie,” she said and bounced away toward the outskirts of the town. Tabitha followed.
They reached the forest and Georgie used a machete to cut a trail through the undergrowth.
The day took on a greenish hue and Tabitha glanced up towards the canopy, feeling a sudden claustrophobia beneath the immense trees.
Her shirt stuck to her body. She slapped her arms and face every few seconds at the insects buzzing around her.
The trees were alive with the croaking of frogs and the calling of birds.
“Do you know the cooking lady?” Georgie asked.
Tabitha struggled to keep up.
“Well, no,” she said. “I’ve heard about her. And her restaurant. Although no-one seems to have ever been. I’ve been thinking it must just be a rumor. An urban legend.”
“And her plane?”
“Yes. Do you think we could take a break?”
“We’re not far now,” Georgie glanced over her shoulder at Tabitha and smiled.
“So you’ve been there? It’s real?”
“Oh yes,” Georgie said.
Tabitha daydreamed about swimming pools and waiters bringing her drinks with tiny umbrellas shading them.
“She crashed it, you know? There were a dozen passengers and they just left her.” There was an edge to Georgie’s tone, an accusation bubbling just beneath the words.
“She had a baby,” she continued. “And they left her there.”
“How did she get out?”
“It took her a while. She was starving and close to death and the baby, poor thing, it barely survived,” Georgie turned to face Tabitha. “She made it to a village. The same village the other passengers had found. She gathered as much food as she could and trekked back to the plane.”
“And then opened a restaurant?” Tabitha was incredulous. She felt she was missing something.
“That came later,” Georgie said. “There was some kind of convention in Rio that the passengers had been going to. A chefs’ convention or cooking or something,” Georgie’s voice trailed off.
A large, colorful bird flew above them, its call an alarm issuing a warning to all that would listen.
“She found all kinds of equipment in the hold. Perfect for cooking the most delicious, gourmet meals you could ever dream of.”
“I imagine it must be difficult to get supplies so far into the jungle,” Tabitha said.
“Oh, not as difficult as you’d think,” Georgie said.
They had come to a clearing. In the middle was the wreckage of an airplane. The cockpit was buried nose deep in the trees and the wings were nowhere to be seen, but the rest of the aircraft was miraculously intact.
A large, hand-painted sign leaned against the plane, it read ‘The Fuselage.’ Flames leaped out of two metal drums placed closely together and a large grill sat over the top.
A woman stepped down from the plane. She was wearing a long, black apron and aviator goggles. She carried a cast-iron skillet to the grill.
When she saw the two women approaching she gave a big, welcoming smile.
Tabitha relaxed. She had started to think that Georgie was leading her on a wild-goose chase.
“Georgie,” the woman called, waving the women over.
Georgie gave the same smile and strode towards the woman, arms outstretched.
“Mom,” she called.
Tabitha froze. Georgie turned to her and Tabitha couldn’t help but glance at the machete she was carrying.
“I didn’t think you’d be back so soon,” said the ‘cooking lady.’
“Yeah, well, just one this time. Hope you’re not too hungry.”
Tabitha wondered how fast she could run back through the trees.