- Borderline, and: Seven Stories
By the time Leon realized it, nearly an hour had gone by since he passed the turnoff for Salto. But the sign still hadn't appeared. At that point, the highway had become a trackless, straight line, and if memory served, it would continue like that for hundreds of kilometers, a monotonous landscape rising and falling until the final thoroughfare to the coast. The temperature there, unlike what most people are used to, gets colder the farther north you go. The strip of ash suspended above the horizon was already broadcasting the misty cold that for a good part of the year covers the highlands. To the right, if you exited any offramp, the ocean wouldn't be far. Innumerable times when crossing that stretch of land as a child, he would imagine a simple and purifying flight: pedal to the metal and the car would have liftoff; a few seconds more, free of any hindrances, the ocean would materialize, beckoning you eastward.
Now he was the one who should be careful when passing the semitrucks. Curveless, the highway was deceptive: a vehicle, seemingly alone, could hide an entire convoy aligned in back. That was one of the warnings his father, so familiar with that territory, liked to repeat to Leon and his little brother, Henrique, when he would take them to their grandparents' place every July. During the trip, as the landscape reeled along the highway, their dad would invent his own nuanced geography for the route. Some stone wall had been constructed by slaves; an abandoned house dated back to the sixteenth century. The unexplored stretch between Lajedo and Alecrim was probably rich in radioactive minerals; at Lapinha there were once jaguars, alligators, and a forest full of jacaranda trees. As for the kids on the side of the road, they possessed a rare vocabulary and were more intelligent than city kids. From his brown Chevy Veraneio, three-on-the-tree, their father would point to things outside, shift a gear, and in such a way mark the rhythm of his exposé. After they spent a whole day on the road, the approaching sign was always greeted with an unexpected silence; on the other side of the border, the need to narrate went away. Twenty years had come and gone, yet the scenery reeling through the window was almost indifferent to Leon, unyielding in his memory.
He went on for several more kilometers. Without knowing exactly where he [End Page 41] was, he decided to pull onto the shoulder. He had been driving for over four hours. His leg had begun to fall asleep. Killing the engine, he rested his arms on the steering wheel and sat there. In the lane beside him, one truck after another passed by—the same coal-hauling trucks that had taken him hours to pass. He wanted to understand why—after all that time outside Brazil (five years in Barcelona), and to the surprise of everyone who wanted to reconnect with him—he had simply decided to rent a car and once again immerse himself in that oblique and distant hinterland. He got out of the car and went up the hillside. Perhaps stretching his legs, getting circulation back, he could figure out which way to go. The thin breeze of the scrubland bent the scrappy grasses over the asphalt along the highway. Down in the lowlands, dominating the landscape, some monolith rose in contrast to the dull tones of vegetation that the evening light would eventually accentuate.
Yellow, ash, brown, cream, orange, green-butter. A world in a perfect state for observation. His experience with photography, of course, helped him see those colors better. Here and there, herds in dispersed blemishes, ranches, a country house or two. Beyond the plain, an orchard or perhaps a great paneira tree, which no map would register. On the road, at the end of the slope, you could make out a small bridge. For an instant, such equilibrium seemed absurd and exasperating to him, a simulation of nature. Did the sign no longer exist? Had the state line moved?