(part eleven of Thirty Days in Brazil: Fiber in a Faraway Place)
The last week was a blur of fever and fiber. The pollution and the native viruses had me in their grip after the Rio de Janeiro jaunt. Consequentially, I dreamed about the river through Sao Paulo and the constant stench of rotting corpses, of concertina wire gleaming in the perfect smog-tinged sunlight. I dreamed of fiber run under the floor and rats scurrying through cable trays, noses quivering. I dreamed of being locked into datacenters and tugging uselessly at the doors, scanning my badge fruitlessly over the beeping readers.
When I went to work, I was quickly exhausted, the laptop screen blurring in front of my eyes. In the Sprinter van, the landscape washed by as watercolor, on fire with streaks of vivid orange oil paint and nebulous clouds of woodsmoke.
The river smells like ten garbage dumps. The wire is gleaming on the walls. The jungle closes in, clashing sword-like leaves against the walls of civilization. Under the floor, someone pulls back their leg, kicks. 'Security' gives way to thick black rubber, falling away into another room.
Close your eyes. Open them.
How long have I been asleep?
A barbecue, the night before I leave.
A mile out down a winding road flanked by dozens of crosses, relics to the dead of crashes, to the victims of the cliff on the outer side of the road. Three year old cachaca flavored with apples and cinnamon, passed around in tiny tin mugs. An old man, the father of the house, fries sausages on a century-old brick and cast iron stove the length of the room. He cuts down slices for me, spears them with a fork. I receive them in eager hands.
Dancing in the rain as the night comes down. Bright shouts of Portuguese in the mosquito netting. Beer poured out in plastic glasses. Karaoke in the porch. More sausages, steaks grilled under jewel-like crystals of salt, wood-fed flames dancing under them. Eating them, still sizzling, with the point of a knife.
Cachaca. Too much. Stumbling out into the car, Brazilian tech eager to get home. All of us eager to get home.
Panic. There is a car ahead. Slowing down. Looking around a lot. The car between us turns.
Ahead, the car suddenly stops, turns around, pauses, blocking the road.
"There is a cop, we will stop!"
"There's no one in that car! Keep driving!"
"There was a cop!"
We are followed through the winding streets of the village by this car, until we can lose it, and then we are speeding away on the only road out, scared shitless, passing dozens of crosses. I have never wanted firearms quite so badly before. I have never been so furious.
Lulled into complacency.
This place is not safe.
Embu market, drinking down columns of beer, last minute tourist trinkets, rain comes down for the first time in my stay and the last, washing the cobblestones slick and clean, washing the river, drizzling into my hair. Drunk off cheap beer, my coworkers shake my hand, hug me, pound my back. They are off to the taxi.
I continue on, into the night, to the airport.
The code is GRU, the flight is TAM, and I am through security, flashing passport and papers and bags onto the conveyer.
Butt hits seat. Buds hit ears.
Finally, inevitably, the engines roar under me, and fuel is taken up as we accelerate down the runway, and away.
The rain and the jungle fall away in a wash of black and grey and blue. We are airborne.
I am coming home.