João o Doido Discovers America

by Norma Sims Roche

Once there was a boy named João who lived in a fishing village on the coast of Portugal. João was the youngest of three brothers, and he was clever and curious. He would climb as far up the hills behind the village as he had time to do between chores, and he would look at the ocean and wonder how far you could sail before you reached the edge of the Earth.

When João was old enough, he went fishing with his father and brothers. The fleet left the village in spring and roamed the ocean all summer in search of the best fishing. The boats came back in the fall with their holds full of salt cod, which the people ate all winter.

One day, after sailing out of sight of land for a long time, the boats found a huge school of cod near a low island. After filling their nets many times, they landed on the beach and began to spread out fish to dry.

“I’ll bet no one has ever been here before,” said João.

“We have. Last year,” said his eldest brother Jorge.

“No, I mean no one but us. We’ve come all away across the ocean. This is the land on the other side of the ocean!”

“You’re crazy,” said his second eldest brother Manuel. “João o Doido.”

“What do you care?” asked Jorge. “It’s a good place to catch fish and dry fish. That’s all that matters.”

“No, I’m serious, brothers!” said João. “We’ve discovered a new land! I can’t wait to tell everybody at home!”

“You’d better not, doido!” said Manuel. “Then all the ships from the other villages will be coming here after our fish. Now shut your mouth and get back to work before I come over there and knock some sense into you!”

So João never told anyone.

""Norma Sims Roche grew up on Cape Cod, but has lived in Northampton since graduating from UMass Amherst many years ago. She’s an editor of college science textbooks and a Class III whitewater kayaker. She writes mainly memoir, personal essays, poems, and fiction based on true events.

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