The Combatant – #6

That is why he hates to leave home late. It is five o’clock in the morning and he has not even reached the Red Line yet. The flow of cars converging to his path means heavy traffic ahead. The red lanterns of the cars glow like the eyes of bats at night, a million of them in procession to reach their dark master. He could check the map app on his cell phone, but certain things are better not to know. He usually feels good about having unusual work hours. It helps him to pretend not to be a mere worker coming and going in his daily toil, like Sisyphus carrying his rock up and down the mountain. His schedule usually avoids traffic. But today — today — he will have time to stop feeling special and join the pack.

 

(Read The Combatant – #5)

“Red Line” is a very coherent name for a highway passing through eighteen crime-dominated favelas to reach the mother-of-all called Rio de Janeiro. “Marvelous City” is the most blatant lie he has ever heard. And the worst of it is that he is forced to hear it on every corner, as if the city-dwellers celebrated the natural beauty of the city and forgot the human rot that plagues it. In fact, “natural” is exactly the part that is not the city; the city itself is the heap of concrete, plastic and rubbish that man implant in nature to satisfy his “social instinct.” According to the sage narrating at his ear the tragedy of a city, people crowded into Rome to protect themselves from the hordes of criminals who roamed the countryside and the enemies of the empire that would one day come. Today, the danger lies precisely inside the cities. Why, then, do people keep piling up in them? He wished he did not know the answer. In ancient Rome, just as in Rio today, there was a much more pressing reason: it is in the city that vices, just like vermin, are free to spread, both feasting on a putrefacted corpse.

He perceives the content of his thoughts sinking as if in sordid mud as he approaches his destination. He can not help it, and decides to turn off his audiobook at once lest he wastes so important words. And that is when the world stops.

He notices the immobility of the lights ahead just in time to brake abruptly and almost touch the bumper in front. He prays for the car in the back not to be a worse driver than him. It works. Nothing happens. The sudden silence in his ear matches the stagnation around him.

Everything is inert.

He looks in vain for some solidarity on the blank faces inside the other cars. He wants to see people angry like him for being trapped in that surreal traffic, that endless line of lemmings about to commit suicide. But he does not find what he is looking for. He finds only the purest resignation, a calm that would be enviable if it were real. That is not calm; it is morbid apathy, it is shameful withdrawal, it is capitulation before the fight, it is death in life. This is not an instance of Stoic apathy, that quiet acceptance of what lies beyond our control. If it were, he would feel bad for his weakness. No. This is not something punctual, momentary, a (non) reaction given the prevailing circumstances. It has the same texture as the souls of those slaves in the Roman latifundia about which he read, beings barely living, awaiting a death they knew would take a long time to come. But unlike the Roman slaves, the men and women he sees are not a weak people who let themselves be enslaved by a stronger one. Like the Africans who hunted their own countrymen and sold them as slaves to the Portuguese of Brazil, these people whom he saw impassively in their cars enslaved themselves in their daily evasion. And, like the African slave hunters, they sealed the fate of their own people.

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