Monday, 19 May 2008


On Saturday mornings I catch the bus to Jordão Baixo and teach. Today it was a good class. We have had some problems, the children and I, over the last few weeks - mobile phones answered in class, people not paying attention, the general kind of rambunctious oral chaos that marks any gathering of Brazilians. But today everyone paid attention and it seemed as though they wanted to be there. Afterwards I walked down the small dusty street and then at the end of the street I crossed a stream on a bridge of busted wooden planks. A chicken or a rooster cried out and in the midday heat the smell of untreated sewage and trash and rotten food rose and hung in the air. An old man sat on the other side of the bridge. His feet were bare and his face was cracked and ruined. A small naked child chased a scrawny kitten in the dirt.

When I got to the bus stop a fight was in progress. There was a bus stalled and waiting and a white taxi pulled across its path. The driver of the taxi stood at the bus driver’s window. He was shirtless and perspiring heavily and had a large patch of discoloured skin the shape of Brazil on his back. He was pointing his finger and shouting and was obviously very unhappy about something. No-one seemed to know what the fight was about but it seemed as though the bus driver and the taxi driver had each infringed the other´s inalienable right to drive like a lunatic. The bus driver, who was smaller than the taxi driver, stood up and gesticulated aggressively behind his glass. The taxi driver ran around to the other side of the bus and tried to open the doors. He beat hard on the glass with his fists. The driver of the bus stared at him for a moment then shrugged and reversed his bus. Car horns behind the bus blared. When the taxi driver got back in his car and began to turn the bus advanced and blocked his path again. The bus, roaring black smoke, squeezed through the gap. The bus driver made an obscene gesture. The taxi driver drove off a little bit then pulled a handbrake turn. His wheels span in the dirt and his tyres screamed and his engine bellowed. He sped off after the bus. I looked at the woman next to me in the queue. She chewed gum and regarded the scene philosophically. “Brazilian men,” she said, “are like children.” She spat her gum on the ground. I thought about telling her perhaps that was why I felt at home here, but she probably wouldn´t have got the joke.

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