Road Train

On the first day of the rains the Australians walked to the ocean, surfboards in hand, and threatened to go in. The drifter walked down too, with the Brazilian guys because they wanted to get a look at the girls soaking wet in their bikinis. They were already pretty messed up then, so he knew that he was imagining it, but he could hear the sea howling. The waves were chaotic. They weren’t washing towards the shore or back out to sea, but diving at one another, a swarm, swallowing each other, cannibalistic. There was no horizon. The beaches were closed and blue jellyfish were being spat out onto the shore looking like trash after a party. The rain was getting heavy, flogging the ground, flogging them. They could barely see. They all headed back to the hostel and haven’t been out since.

The Ninth Wave, 1850
(Oil on canvas, 221 × 332 cm)
BY Ivan Aivazovsky
The Russian Museum

It is a vicious storm; merciless rain, days of rain, weeks, until it is only a rumor that the sky was ever anything less than a torrent of water. Everything is heavy. Of all the things that the drifter will partially remember and partially forget, he will best forget and remember that storm; not so much what happens that one afternoon, but the black rains like an army and feeling that his skin is saturated; the water filling up around his organs and sloshing through his insides.

For months he’s been holed-up in the international hostel with three Brazilian guys, a German girl and a tribe of surfers from Australia drinking, smoking African pot and eating these strange yellow pills like candy. They are sitting on the beaten couch on the fifth or tenth or eighteenth day of the storm. The rain is infectious, vaporous, ghostlike; it breathes into their crusted lungs and sweats out of their pores. No one is talking, or maybe everyone is talking. The drifter can’t hear anything anymore except the beating of the rain on the cheap, tile roof. “This is the last of it,” one of the Australian guys says, tipping a bottle of vodka upside down over his open mouth.

It is a vicious storm; merciless rain, days of rain, weeks, until it is only a rumor that the sky was ever anything less than a torrent of water.

Everyone is silent. Even the rain quiets for a moment. The German girl is devastated. The storm is never going to end. They’re going to be stuck in the hostel saturated with the stink of the rain, and sober.

One of the Brazilian guys has a car that he bought for two hundred American dollars. Everyone looks at him, but he is non-responsive. It is obvious that he is unaware of the problem.

The German girl looks intensely worried, desperate as though it all may end right here and never be the same again; and the drifter feels like he’s not really there but just a superimposed drawing, two-dimensional and without substance, and that at any moment someone might turn him off with a remote control and everything will disappear and be forgotten, and he will forget himself. He isn’t even real enough to care. “I’ll go,” he hears himself say.

There is a universal sigh.

The rain is punishing again. Everyone digs into their pockets, pulls up bills and coins and shoves them into the drifter’s palm. Someone digs the keys out of the pocket of the nearly comatose Brazilian and hands them to the drifter.

Outside the drifter can’t see anything. It’s overwhelming. The water is ravaging; the very earth is being wiped out beneath his feet; washed away; decimated to a thick, sulfur-smelling slurry. He swims to the car. Later, on the news, he is going to see that the whole city is being destroyed. Hills are caving in, mudslides filling buildings and burying people alive, ships lost at sea, and a little girl watches her family drown on the first floor of their house while she clings to the second story porch. The natives, whoever they are, chant in the hills. To stop the rains or to keep them coming — no one knows. They are dying too. Everyone is dying. He climbs into the car.

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