LONG-LASTING DRIVE / Ana Carolina Meira de Souza

The bus starts. It’s not time to open the sand beige curtains, yet you try to spy through the gap between them and the early light hurts your eyes. The vintage caramel color of the light trying to pass through the curtain’s fabric changes the density of the air. You try to inhale deeply, damn it’s hot. You will feel dizzy in a few moments, but right now you just keep expecting the air conditioner to work, it must be only gathering its strength, right? You squeeze a little to the left, to the illusion of personal space. You don’t even look at the passenger next to you, you just regret the fact that this person doesn’t even bother to close their legs a little. You sigh. The seats are tight, the bus is tiny. No bathroom either, you notice for the first time, looking back to check if anyone else is also bothered by the heat. “Bothered” actually will not even express the growing sensation of the heat infiltrating your body. Am I in a clandestine bus?

You lay your head against the window, breathing poorly. You look up, open the small circle above you hoping for cold air but a hot stream mixed with dust falls on your face. You close it quickly. Is this how you feel when you are born? It’s a silly comparison. But when it’s time, you think, babies might not stand being in that same space, you wonder what they feel, hot, desperate, the defying sense of life? You hope they find relief coming to a new world, a deep relief, just like you will feel when you get out of this bus and get to your destination. Wait, where were you traveling to again? Before you can remember you close your eyes, trying to avoid the scent of snacks and sweat invading your space. 

You wake up feeling like you are still somewhat unconscious. You see some people getting up and heading to the door. You notice a woman with black hair, Asian traces and tired eyes looking back to take her son’s hand. You can see the water dripping from her red forehead. Oh, it’s the first stop, you realize. You notice your neighbor also getting up and wonder, how does this person still have a hoodie on? It must be about thirty degrees or higher now. You don’t see the face, but the person might have been about the same height as you, leaving the bus in a slow, heavy pace. You look back to your own legs now, moving more freely, you think about also getting out, while examining the cheesy old pattern on the brown seat—if you look fast enough, they remind you of skulls. You decide not to get out, carrying the strange feeling that if you do, you will never come back. So, you try to open your curtains, by this time, some people are also experimenting with that too. It’s still daylight and you spot a small, two-floor house on the corner of the street. The light pink paint is falling, and it feels like no one has been living there. It makes you remember your childhood house despite the empty old atmosphere. Your mom liked that pink color, but not in a million years would she let the front garden go so dead. Actually, the whole scenario is just like an empty city. Small houses, some buildings, but not much fresh green to look at. Oddly, you don’t spot any cars, buses or people, still, you are able to identify what might be the neighborhood bodega down the street. There is a rusty white bike with the back tire wrapped in blue tape. The familiar image makes you shiver, and you put your finger on your knee, and you are brought back to the day you fell from your bike on the way down the slope. The scar follows you until today, and also the perfume of night blooming jasmine of the bush you dove into. You are lost in a second, melting in blurred memories when a stray dog comes out of the store. You know it’s a dog, but you see no eyes, it seems like the face is scrawled with a pen. You look away, shivering to the animal’s image, as it was looking at you. 

Your heart is racing when the bus gets set to go. The passenger next to you is already back, but you don’t notice them. You just choke again, feeling as the dog’s eyes are still glued to you (even though you saw no eyes) and suddenly remember the water. You take a sip, and the refreshing feeling comes and evaporates right after, but you realize you are moving and feel glad the bus left that strange place. You saw once on a random documentary that humans can live more without food than without water. You take another sip and touch your nape trying to release some of the stress, when you notice your hair on your shoulder. Oh well this is not helping. You tie your hair on the top of your head with an odd sensation that it wasn’t supposed to be that long. We are always changing our bodies, said your professor once. From cutting our nails, cutting our hair to drinking vitamins or using hormones. Some changes are stigmatized, some are not. But life is change, didn’t Olamina say that once? We change into humans to be born, for God’s sake! We change into dirt when we die. You sigh, this professor had a point, which professor was it? To be honest, you wish you changed into water right now, or maybe ice. 

The bus starts shaking more when it gets to a new road. The constant bumping makes you agitated again, and you try to glance at your neighbor for once. He or she is looking or sleeping the other way, but you see one of the hands laying on the leg. Dark ink. You look away, confused. It was not like a tattoo, or anything like the color of human skin. The hand felt like a drawing embodied in real life. You couldn’t touch, but you could glimpse the texture of ink on paper. It must be just a glove, you tell yourself and try to discreetly look again and the hand is already in the pocket of the hoodie. 

You try not to look so obviously tense in the process of discerning what you’ve seen and what you did not. You didn’t see a face. Your muscles contract and you wrongly feel cold. Or the fear. You don’t know yet. The person is as quiet as ever, like they don’t even need to breathe. You look through the window again looking for some comfort, wishing there was another stop right now. And at first you don’t understand when you do not see night or daylight now. What you see is a landscape made of dark ink. 

There are mountains and vegetation, all black and white. You are almost incredulous at first, looking for missing shapes and colors, but you get used to the feeling very quickly, as this has always been what was beneath your life, like shadows of a place you’ve known. Sketches almost, but carefully drawn. The fog painted in watercolor, the mountains fading on the horizon among pointy and round trees. You. You look at your hands, they are now also covered in black ink. You see the prominent veins choosing their path like newborn rivers, the wrinkles supporting them like fertile soil, and when you put them together like in a prayer, you feel their heavy paper like texture. This is the bruise of time, I tell you. You look at me rather calmly but fail to recognize me. I have no face at this time. It is just a black blank in a hoodie, an undone drawing or one still yet to be made. I get up and you follow me as we both recognize this is the last stop. Your body is heavy, your bones tell you stories, and your hair is longer than when you first noticed it inside the bus. Your eyes are opened now, you are old. You look around the bus, there is no suffocating temperature, and the passengers are all gone. Did they go before you? You were so drowned into yourself that you didn’t seem to notice. And yet, the bus driver is still there, with a semi-illustrated face, waiting, with the door open, for you to get out. Outside, there is a dark muddy river instead of a sidewalk, and you know you have to submerge in it, but the last spike of fear makes you take longer to enter. The easy way to explain is that when you get inside, you will feel nothing. But as the smart kids always say, nothing is still something. What happens is that your body is getting empty from itself, it doesn’t hurt, but you slowly feel the cracks on your bones as the paint changes your shape, as your blood melts into the river’s dark ink and every part of you is inhaling the change of death and life. You are in the exact moment of creation, where no line exists. Like you could be anyone and also yourself. So, you open your unseen eyes in a black blank face and put on a simple hoodie to get on a bus to take yourself to the next station. 

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