Lúcia Bettencourt – Summertime

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Since November the temperature had been rising steadily. It had reached more than thirty degrees and nothing, not even the downpours that fell every so often, could reduce the sweltering daytime humidity.  Those headed to work, dressed in their polyester uniforms, cotton shirts if they were lucky, sighed with envy, looking at the playboys in their skimpy swimsuits or baggy trunks, who mingled with a crowd of women in bikinis, or in bikini tops and shorts rolled down beneath their waists to hold iPods, or even those lycra shorts that cut into bum cracks and coloured the world of buttocks with hot, vibrant colours, stamping jiggling cheeks with flowers and stripes that became almost obscene with movement.  Inside the van, the passengers were sweating and suffocating from the lack of air conditioning. [private]A heavy woman complained:

“Could we turn on the AC?  It’s an oven back here!”

“The AC isn’t working,” reported the thin man seated beside her.

The two sat in silent resignation, sweating their disappointment.  The heavy woman grumbled further that they ought to demand a discounted fare.  “We pay more to travel by van because of the perks. . . . They’ve got to give a discount! . . . Or at least put up a notice saying the AC is broken!”

The driver, who had been listening all along but pretending not to hear the complaints, scoffed between clenched teeth:  “What for?  Bunch of illiterates.”

No one argued.  It was too hot to fight; debate would only heat up the day, which at 7:30 in the morning had already hit twenty-nine degrees.  The passengers looked outside the van and watched the slow traffic along the avenue.  Trucks delivering coconuts, vans picking up passengers, city construction work on the right, state construction work on the left.

The driver stopped, even though the van was full. The woman was young, her hair curly with stuff to make it look wet, her plump lips glistening as if she’d just eaten greasy sausage.

“Can you take me to Santa Teresa?”

She’d bent over to talk to the driver, sticking her face almost inside the vehicle, raising her haunches, so that every passerby felt aroused.

“You, I’d even take you to Cidade de Deus!”

The passengers held their breath, thinking he was going to change the designated route to satisfy the intruder.  They only went back to breathing when he informed her that he was going to Castelo.

“Well, drop me in Botafogo then.…”

The passengers looked around.  Where was she going to sit? On someone’s lap?  Just then, the young guy seated up front, in the middle seat, seemed to wake up. The driver opened the door, to the distress of the cars in the middle lane, the only one moving just then, and the fellow hopped out, allowing the tart to enter. She let out a laugh, aware that she was quite a sight with her fleshy thighs and short skirt. Hugging her shoulder bag to her, she twisted herself into the row, settling in the seat vacated by the young man.  Only then did the two men walk to the rear of the vehicle; the driver opened the hatchback, where the younger man fit in his scrawny body and long legs.  The woman’s cheap perfume infiltrated everyone’s nostrils, but the scent was pleasant, better than the reek of sweat and musk the bodies were giving off. Suddenly, the men righted themselves, puffing out their chests, clearing their throats or trying to stretch out in the tight space.  The driver, back in his seat, gloated over the thighs that brushed against his own hairy legs. He had the good fortune to be able to work in Bermuda shorts and an open shirt.

Piqued, the heavy woman blew out her powerless heat and avoided the intruder’s look.  The men sized up the newcomer and envied the passenger up front, the only one who could also enjoy the brunette’s nearness.  This lasted a short while. Within moments, beneath the relentless sun, the bodies shrank back to their withered positions. The woman’s perfume was losing the battle against body odours and surrendered when a belch blared the heavy garlic on someone’s breath. The darkness of the tunnel was too brief for anyone to be impolite, and they soon arrived in Botafogo, with its boats and the promise of cooler air beneath the trees.  The brunette was the first off. Next, an extremely quiet man, with a thick red nose protruding from a gaunt and poorly shaven face. The young fellow remained in the hatch until the end of the trip. When there was only one passenger left, he moved back up front and, removing a microphone from the glove compartment, began to announce the route for the way back. At that hour it was difficult to fill the van for the return trip, but there was always someone heading south. They dropped off the last passenger and, in a low move, driving up over the sidewalk, managed to shave ten minutes off the commute.

At that point the temperature had already reached thirty-two.  And it was only 8:00 in the morning.[/private]

Written by Lúcia Bettencourt and translated by Kim Hastings.
Lúcia Bettencourt is one of Brazil’s rising writers. Her first short story collection, A secretária de Borges (Borges’s Secretary), won the national SESC Prize for Literature and became a bestseller. Her third collection, O amor acontece (Love Happens), is forthcoming. Lúcia is currently writing a novel based on the life of Rimbaud.
Kim M. Hastings was raised overseas and spent several years in São Paulo. For the past fifteen years, she’s been a freelance editor and translator. Her translations include fiction by Caio Fernando Abreu, Rubem Fonseca, Rachel Jardim, Adriana Lisboa, Alberto Mussa, Thalita Rebouças and Ronaldo Wrobel.

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