Issue #73

Winter 2020

Manuscript Found by a Stoplight After a Grave Accident

by Osvaldo González Real
Translated from Spanish by Nohan Meza

(To be read by nervous passengers)

Nobody will find it strange that, after deciding to end my own life—for reasons that would be irrelevant here—I became a habitual suburban passenger, an addict of the fastest ramshackle buses.

I studied the itineraries of the daredevils (by looking at the roads with the most accidents); the personality of each one of their guards and drivers; the state of the brakes and the carburetors of their vehicles; their personal problems and criminal records, without skipping past their favorite soccer teams and political leanings. Long story short, I’ve become, from one day to the next, an accident specialist (I’ve worked for some time at an insurance company). I’m a regular visitor of the countless repair shops that permeate the neighborhoods (with that nerve-wracking hammering), turning the city—for some time now—into an immense cemetery of cars and junk-metal.

At first it was more like a game of Russian roulette, choosing the buses at random through a kind of “Bus-Bingo” of my own invention. I would climb onto the vehicle with the winning number and wait for the end with intrinsic resignation. How many times was I a hair’s breadth away from achieving my dark purposes? Most of the time, however, I ended up in hospitals and clinics with wounds and concussions that forced me to postpone—for a period of time—the pressures of my death drive.

Propelled by these repeated failures (finding myself completely covered in scars and bruises), I decided—as soon as I recovered from the last accident—to turn to science and modern technology, utilizing the capabilities of a computer. I trusted that Japanese electronics would prove superior to my horoscopes and experiments with the I-Ching (I preferred traveling on ill-fated days).

Patiently, I gathered all the possible data regarding fatal traffic accidents of the past five years. I investigated—with the help of an astronomer—the periodical variations of solar flares, eclipses, and the strontium levels found in fluvial precipitations. I consulted experts on ecology and numismatics. Finally, using a bell-curve graph—the result of my erudite and tedious investigations—I honed in on the N260 and N300 bus lines. From that moment onwards I felt more assured of accomplishing my goal: math was on my side.

I shall tell, then, the tale of my last voyage, the sole vehicle for this narration.

The bus chosen for the one-way ride turned out to be one of those that have some kind of motto or maxim written in dramatic gothic letters (of course, the “N” was painted upside down), which read: NO RUSHING; NO RESTING. At the time, I didn’t know if I should laugh at the irony that charged such affirmation, or be amazed at the extreme naivety of its author. In any case, the aphorism seemed appropriate for the absurdity of the situation and the inescapable destiny that awaited me.

Once aware of the cynical yet classy philosophy that guided my assigned machine, I jumped into the vehicle—as is custom—so as to not lose my balance and fall onto the asphalt (my desires pointed towards a final, not partial, catastrophe).

The bus started up with a jolt. The violent shake sent me stumbling onto the lap of a chipera seated in one of the back seats. I smiled timidly, apologizing (I’m naturally introverted). The lady gave me a death glare then straightened her skirt. With this singular launch, the vehicle began its mad race against time, towards the unknown.

The chronographs began—in some dark corner—to count the seconds until death. I felt comforted by the proof that my choice hadn’t been a mistake.

I hadn’t even acclimated to the launch-shock and the anonymous cruelty of the potholes, when—instead of the iconic hairy-chested ticketmaster (that frowning and ill-mannered character)—a shapely young lady with light eyes approached me as in a dream, asking for the bus fare.

Still amazed (despite being aware of that new bus-stewardess trend), I began to satisfy her request while fighting—with more or less success—against the waves of people that threatened to drown me (my goal was not in any way to die by asphyxiation, as in the terrible German buses of death). I dug deep into my shallow pockets (I’m a humble but proud artist), and graciously paid the cost of the trip to the beauty with the celestial blue eyes.

She rang a bell (since that piercing whistle assaulting the ears of unfortunate passengers—whenever someone steps into or out of the vehicle—is often administered by masculine lips) and a heavy woman laboriously stood, preparing herself to get off at the next stop. Without sparing stomps (fortunately I’m a size 11), I darted forward to occupy the now vacant seat (I yearned for, as one could guess, a comfortable death). In order to reach the seat, I had to dodge a flagon of nitric acid and a rotor engine—leaking grease—held with great impunity by an impassive mechanic. A lady with flushed cheeks, meanwhile, murmured something vaguely about my lack of chivalry. I shrugged (I’ve practiced in front of a mirror) and, not fearing the perplexed looks of my fellow passengers, and with a subtle bump of the hips, I settled onto the seat I now shared with a thick-set man.

Once I had achieved the minimum of comforts necessary for an ungainly body like mine, I could no longer contain my growing curiosity regarding the beautiful ticket-lady.

In opposition to the almost biblical admonition: DO NOT SPEAK TO THE CONDUCTOR (given that nobody respected the sign that said “Do not spit on the floor”), I thought I would take advantage of my proximity to interrogate the driver.

I was about to achieve this goal when I caught a glimpse of the vacant expressions of my fellow travelers. Except for the woman that had just gotten off, none of them seemed particularly pressed to arrive at their destination. A quiet resignation showed on their faces.

And I realized then that I wasn’t the only one willing to end this miserable existence.

Those who accompanied me at that moment had also made their calculations. They were authentic suicidal professionals: drug-addicts, abandoned housewives, terminally-ill patients. We had all boarded with the intention of going to the same final destination.

Despite the considerable distance we had travelled, the number of passengers remained constant. The silence that seemed to engulf the condemned grew louder with every passing minute. We were rapidly approaching a stoplight.

I fixed my gaze on the conductor, for I had just noticed something sinister within those piercing eyes. He knew as well. His face, contorted due to stress, was like that of Cerberus (his hand hairy, nails like hooks). My hair stood on end. I was scared. I had not expected the complicity of this sad and hurting piece of humanity.

I decided, finally, to abandon—like a terrified rat that flees the shipwreck—the cursed bus. I quickly ran for the door, raising my arm—indicating a desire to stop—toward the damsel with the shining smile (which stood out among the gray expressions of the passengers). Her smile, upon seeing my hand, became an amazed grimace. Her expression had turned marble-like, akin to a statue. Her adolescent body seemed to have matured throughout the journey. Her posture, her eyes—her cold gaze—were evidence of the nature of her inescapable mission.

Only then did I understand, almost totally resigned (the driver had sped up instead of stopping), that I had almost fallen in love with the Angel of Death. Her gaze was a mute reproach of my late regret.

The stoplight glowed red like the blind eyes of a premonition.

I covered my head with my hands and jumped.

A few seconds later, from the fatalist crossroad, came the commotion of the crash, the explosion of glass and, finally, the silence . . .

Author Bio

tropical plant

Art critic, writer and translator, Osvaldo González Real (Asunción, 1938) studied Psychology at Hamline University in the United States. He has been professor of English, Literature, and Art History in different Paraguayan universities.

Among his works, Anticipation and reflection (1980), Memory of exile (1984), Poemasutra (1994) and Writings on Paraguayan literature and other essays (2013) stand out.

Nohan Meza has previously been published in Outposts of Beyond, Enchanted Conversation, Disturbed Digest, and is a regular contributor for La Voz magazine, both as journalist and translator.