The Drive to Minas Gerais
Batista woke me up at midnight. He wanted to drive to Minas Gerais to visit his friend Tómas, who was about to leave for the United States. He told me to pack my things, get in the truck, because we would leave soon.
We had been driving for about an hour when I tried falling asleep, but I found it very hard to close my eyes and drift off to sleep. "You can put your seat back if you want to sleep," he said. I could see the road signs as they loomed out of the darkness, lit by our truck's headlights. Devagar -- Curva Perigosa, which means "slow, dangerous curve." We were driving about 125 kilometers per hour; Batista loved taking risks.
Batista craved situations where he had to react to danger. He liked coming out alive on the other end because of his skillful moves. He moved very close to the edge of life and death. He was not concerned about me dying in the truck with him, he had a lot of confidence in his ability to avoid a crash, or control one as it happened.
Many people had died along these mountain roads. I heard women in the Praça de Osorio talk about the buses that had tumbled over the highway's edge, all of the people plunging to their deaths. It was morning before they were found, bruised & bloodied amidst warm mud and wet leaves.
Dr. Batista didn't slow down for the dangerous curves. In fact, it seemed as though he accelerated into them. Sometimes I could tell that he realized we might lose control and at those moments I could feel the truck hesitate as he tapped the breaks a few times to keep us from lunging over the asphalt's edge..
Whatever sleep I grabbed was broken and uneasy. I kept waking up, so what I was left with was not sleep, but fragments of sleep.
Through my sleepy eyes I looked over at Batista in the driver's seat. His face was solid, eyes penetrating the darkness on the other side of the windshield. He was looking at some point beyond the darkness, maybe thinking about a heart surgery, or his horses or children. Perhaps his thoughts were of his friend Tómas, who we would meet at the other end of this 18 hour drive.
On occasion the road evened out for a long stretch and I opened my eyes. Little fireflies peered out from along one side of the road. I looked more closely...they were the lights of tiny candles set to burn atop the perimeter of a series of wooden stands along the highway. During the day merchants sold papayas, bananas, baskets, transistor radios and watches from these stands. At night they went to sleep beyond the edge of the road, leaving the tiny candles to burn in order to prevent cars and trucks from crashing into their carts.
We drove through a few towns, and although there were signs that warned us to slow down, Batista did not heed the warnings. In the first town we passed through, we hit a speed bump going quite fast, and the shock jarred me from sleep. Because he hadn't noticed the bump early enough to slow down angered Batista, so he accelerated into the second and third speed bumps out of anger, as though he were seeking revenge upon the first bump for causing our heads to hit the roof. This happened again and again, all night long. We must have passed through eight towns, each with speed bumps in place to wake me from my shallow, bruising sleep. I felt like a boxer heading into the 12th round by the time the bright morning sun blared in through the windshield, waking me from a shallow, bruising sleep.
At 7am we stopped to eat breakfast. The roadside luncheonette was just opening for the day, they did not serve anything except deep-fried balls of meat, chicken on a stick and fried cheese. These foods were too heavy and greasy for my shaken stomach. Batista ordered some grilled beef for breakfast and ate it while standing, then went to the truck where he slept for 30 minutes before we resumed the drive. We stopped at a roadside pineapple stand, and after tasting one pineapple that was perfectly ripe and sumptuous, Batista bought 18 more.
This photo was taken at the same fruit stand, one day later, on our drive back. We drank coconut milk and ate watermelon. Batista was part way through his melon when his cell phone rang.