Many years ago, my wife, our three small children and I had left our home in Southeast Brazil for a vacation. Our destination was the world's largest waterfall, at Iguazu, on the border between Brazil and Argentina. After being duly impressed by the sight of so much water cascading down, we began the long trip home. En route we were to pass our first night with a Dutch missionary family we had come to know.
Our conveyance was a minibus, a vehicle with more than one derogatory nickname inspired by its shortcomings and the hazards it presented. The vehicle was made of light steel, it was taller than most sedans. Front, rear, and sides were all punctuated by glass windows; a person seated in the vehicle could see out in all directions. One could step aboard through either of the two front doors, or, if to be seated in the middle or rear, through the double doors on the curb side. The driver and any passenger in the front seat were separated from anything in the way of the vehicle by the instrument panel, the windshield, and a not very imposing front bumper. One of the nicknames characterizing the vehicle was "your forehead is the bumper.'' One virtue of the vehicle was its carrying capacity, its spaciousness-up to eight persons with ample headroom. Inside, above the vehicle's rear-mounted power supply, was a shelf for carrying whatever you could get onto it. The vehicle might be characterized as a large, oblong tin can with glass on all sides near its ceiling. The fragility of the vehicle's construction was matched by the fact that it was severely underpowered, its power source being a small, two-cylinder gasoline motor in the rear-under the luggage shelf inside.
Our trip home took us through a forest of the imposing, distinctive Parana Pine, and over a route that was quite hilly. The blacktop road was narrow and virtually shoulder-less. The traffic both ways was little short of bumper-to-bumper. Not the most patient person in the world, my supply of the virtue was running low. Finally, I judged it safe to move to the front of at least the car just ahead of me-only to be horrified by what I saw coming at me with all deliberate speed: a truckload of pine logs! I had no time to think of any maneuver that might spare the five of us. (Looking back after many years, I cannot imagine anything I might have done to ward off oblivion.) When the trucker and I got close enough to read one another's faces, what I saw on his face was horror, or was it rage? He was shouting-surely something obscene. Then, in what may be the most memorable moment in my life, he, at the last minute, made a right turn, taking himself and his load off the road and into the forest. I, with my precious cargo, eased back into the traffic on my right. Thoroughly shaken, I continued to proceed to our destination. There was not much else I might do. There was no shoulder, the pines came right down to the road. There was no way but forward.
In the many years since my family's ever-so-close-to-death encounter, what I experienced that afternoon in Southern Brazil has played itself out in my mind many times. Some of the panic is vividly relived. Another matter just as often presents itself: whatever happened to the heroic truck driver? If only I might meet him face-to-face and ask forgiveness--and make restitution for what his life-saving gallantry surely cost him.
William Smith is a Northsider.