The singing stops at the border, forcing you to wrap your feet in
torn sweaters: all this after fording the Rio Negro, the Rio Mayo, the
Santa Cruz and Gallegos and Coig. Clouds are prayer during the day, even
in an access of vomiting. Hot air from the straining engine farts and
gusts the length of the seats, length of the Argentine, the silver
country. Not mountains, but rocks. Not spouting, but marooned: the very
last map before the index.
The camera by your side takes pictures accidentally: the past, a
clear green snapshot, bristles with air traffic control towers like the
Sagrada Familia (on another trip, with its own curses). Your seatmate
tells you how he woke up twenty years ago and couldnít move the pinky of
his left hand; flamenco possibilities clicked and flounced away from
him, reduced him to gutted chords in one-stool bars. You canít see out
the window. Exhaustion collapses the unavoidable eyelid, a sty on the
corner from systemic toxins, expiration dates.
A drop of infected sweat; a day; a sulfur bubble popping in the
brain. Thereís no way out of these wrappings and the smell of a
municipal kitchen. A mark itches like an inoculation on your ankle, but
you havenít been in the jungle, nothing is eating your heart out. Not
the difference between knowing and not knowing; not the difference
between someone you know instantly and someone youíve known for years.
Your blood is warm if thin. Your fellow passengers have such reasons;
you dare not say you were sent. Youíve put on a little weight around the
Sound of a rifle cocked in your skeleton: another border? You thought
it was over. You will melt and rearrange, youíll do anything. Sweat
collects in the fingers of your gloves, the wool, the leather. A shudder
and reshuffle of papers, of government photographs, of power. The
driverís hands dig grimly in his pockets, a lesser uniform. Everyone
changes, oldest to youngest at metamorphic attention; itís the only way
to survive the malicious blast of their regard. It doesnít matter that
youíre from the North. If you wet yourselfÖ They hand your papers back.
You will bark from your throat, from your chest. You will flip through
At Cerro Sombrero, San Sebastian, and Ushuaia you stopped to take on
gas and water. Thereís been more backseat pissing in cans than you like
to think about. In each village, two tides: the urgent, running for
cantina toilets or latrines behind rusty fences and sideways roof steel,
squatting in the shallowest alleys. Ad the curious; the adults know
better, but children surge, and dogs. People on buses have coins
sometimes and morsels, wedges of toilet paper, loose pockets. In this
way you experience the sea before you reach it.
Youíre on the bus because you are in exile. Or because youíve heard
tales of the Underwater Mother and the cracked conch shell, of fingers
into flippers. Or because your heart is broken. Or because you are in
exile. Or because you wanted to see the island chains, so much less land
than water, like uninhabited canoes. Or because you needed a change. Or
because you didnít believe in the rifles, the pistol barrels. Or because
you wanted to take pictures, but the pictures wouldnít come. Or because
youíre special; chosen. Or because you are in exile.
Fire: you expected plate tectonics, volcanic action, even adventure.
Across from you an old man scratches himself through his pocket. And are
those boys in love? People on the bus are the same, not explosive, no
one has died or been born; only their smells are concentrated. The
driversí eyes are red as if from smoke, but thereís nothing to burn
here, not a stick, alive or dead. The occasional shell, cracked under
the pressure of legend. The occasional diaper, balled up and taped like
a time bomb. You expected land.
The Estrecho de Le Maire is anticipated. The Estrecho de Magallanes
was a hundred years ago. You still donít understand the way things,
specifically places, are named here. Someone has a secret hoard of
chocolate and peanuts at the last minute; thereís almost a revolution.
No rocks, at least from the window, are taller than an eleven-year-old
left behind. You look for the Sea People, or whatís left of them, but
nothing moves except the bus itself, not even shadows. The cold sinks
fangs. Once, nothing could have induced you to huddle with these people.
The drivers take it in shifts. You would welcome incineration. Flies
alight in their dirty way until you notice them, but there are no more
borders, no woven shawls and spices, no wide hats. Whenever you ask Who
owns this land, you must also ask Who covets it; and the same with
water, although the idea of owning an ocean, or part of an ocean, is
new. You are out of film and buying power, fresh out of record-keeping.
Itís an impossibility; the green and yellow of the bus in all this
gray, which is also purple. There are no lights, no sleep. This is the
end of the trip, the horn you winded, the choice you made: beyond is
only Antarctica and the undersea kingdoms of the credulous, the patient,
and the hopeful. If you knew how cold-blooded they were, you would fall
off the edge of the earth; itís not always the guilty who hit the
©2003 Kate Shapira