The 1980 white pickup that cost a few thousand pesos was busted. On a stretch of land miles beyond well-lit areas, the vehicle was completely immune to its driver's cries. The people with me persisted. One pushed on the gas, while the others shoved the vehicle from behind.
"It's going to work," he said.
"We're going to die!" I pleaded.
We had gone into the tiny city of Moca, about a 45-minute drive from Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic. We were on our way back into the rural town of Monte de la Jagua. Unfortunately, the car wouldn't budge. Stories of car thieves with semi-automatics preying on people found in such scenarios preyed on my mind. The churning, moping, whining, crickets chirping suffocated me. Every sound was heightened by the instability of our surroundings. Everyone else was fine; everyone else was a native.
I had been visiting for the summer. I specifically requested an alternative mode of transportation. I fought with my cousins for having bought into the convenience of borrowing their father's broken down truck. Non-functioning vehicles in this nation are an anomaly. Twenty-five-year old caros publicos still push thousands of miles a year, with neither a clutch nor seat belts. Children as young as nine ride motorcycles and double as neighborhood mechanics. Pickups replace the populace, with usually one relative on board.
"It works, don't worry," someone hissed. I found myself sneering at him for driving recklessly, forming a bondage with the conditions of the roads, uninhabited by law or logic. If the masked men hiding behind those tall marshes don't slit our throats, his driving would go for the kill.
The driver laid on the rough gravel and exhaled. I asked him if he was tired. He bellowed a deep, "Yes." I often felt this 16 year-old spoke of something escapable, taking my question to greater depths in order to satisfy his needs. Disclosure in this place is often a strong want. The past is folkloric, with people on rocking chairs telling fictional stories. We decided to remain silent, due to edgy emotions and bitter feelings that precluded the emission of native pleasantries. "We're a happy people culture," my uncle once declared.
A marsh on both edges of the pathway reminded one of the women that she needed to urinate, another inconvenience. Our only light was the echoes of a Caribbean moon, and minor flinches of artificial lampposts placed miles away. No one was around. The stretch ahead and behind was too dangerous to flag down passing cars. I started pushing. "This is not going to work," I said repeatedly, verbally badgering the vehicle.
Moca seemed distant. We were between a humble town with beautiful Caribbean structures, gardens, tiny streets, colored storefronts, gated homes, businesses no larger than a few feet wide, reminders of a place not on the international circuit, and a metropolis filled with concrete and American chain restaurants. Yet, there's a quality about both that is superbly Dominican.
We were there hours when my cousin decided to walk home, 10 miles. His lanky body started off, a vision to be remembered, down the middle of the road, heavy with tiredness, yet calm. Tranquility is a cultural virtue. Then we saw what seemed to be two angels. The only other travelers we could trust to help us were motorcyclists. They stopped immediately and asked the savory question, "Do you need any help?"
We were saved. I mounted on one motorcycle; my cousin on the other. We were on our way; smashed in the face with a strong breeze. We twirled, whipped, and we engaged in conversation, as much as we could. Gratitude is often expressed through the relinquishing of speech, usually as a conspicuous interest in the other person. Wish-wash words followed, with the wind's force masking my ears.
Once we arrived, I saw his face in the porch light of an uncharacteristic concrete three-story house. He looked 19. The second cycle arrived. We thanked them, said goodbye, uttered our see-you-around, hope-the-family-is-well. They disappeared into the night. The others soon joined us.
The next afternoon Moca reigned in its sunny disposition. I wanted a ride. I went up to my cousin and asked, "What happened to the truck?"
"We picked it up this morning. It's in Cesar's garage." Cesar was another kid with a know-how we sentimental creative types cannot follow.
The sun showering the palm trees, I decided to disengage myself from the falsehoods. Subsequently, I started viewing pick ups differently. People with machetes in this part of the world? Perhaps for coconuts.
Maria Altagracia is a native of New York City passionate about the global community. She has
lived in three countries, speaks four languages, and when she is not writing fiction, she is drafting round the world trips on Microsoft Excel.