Working Lives (1)
Antonio Oliveira Ruvenal: Rio de Janeiro
You figure you don’t want to repeat history, that it will be different with your children, not like your parents, but I think I’m doing just the same thing. A little better, maybe, than my mother who was a maid and worked two weeks straight at her job without a day off. I felt isolated; I missed her. And a little angry, I think. It was a lot of time to go without seeing my mother - she only came home twice a month. Now, I see that dona Edilamar supported the family almost single-handedly, my father didn’t earn much and he drank at night what he made during the day, she had to save on bus fare and do what her employer said to do, right? I don’t have a boss but I have to make money, and the best job I’ve had up to now is this one. I go out early and come back late at night. My kids? Only Saturdays.
I have to drive around the city fifteen, sixteen hours to be able to make R$200, half of what I set up for myself as the least I should take home every day, minus fuel and other expenses with the car and everything. I write it all down here in this little notebook. See, I manage to make this money in twenty trips. Sometimes it takes a while. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. Driving around hours and hours, no one in the car, that’s my biggest nightmare. Worse than getting robbed, which is what everyone here in Rio is afraid of. But driving around without a passenger is pure terror. You see the time going by, the gas gauge going down and the anxiety going up, I get a burning feeling in my chest and feel scared shitless that I’m not going to make any money, that there’ll be no passengers, ever again. But I pray, you know? I pray to God to send me a passenger. Sometimes it works.
Eight years ago, when a taxi I had went bust, a total loss in an accident, I got desperate. Depressed. Days and days at home, unemployed, not knowing what to do to make money. I cried. I didn’t want my wife to see. Really – she’d go out to work and I cried on the sofa. But then I decided I’d do anything, and I decided to work on the sand. Yeah, on the sand, selling water and soft drinks at the beach. I washed windows in fancy ladies’ houses, even though I’m afraid of heights. Bit by bit I saved up and I managed to get another car to work. Is working good? Well, I’d prefer to be sleeping, but work is a duty, isn’t it? If you have a family and have to take care of them it is… and at least, in my case, I like to drive.
My dream was to be in the military, travel far and wear a uniform, but when I was fourteen I had to drop out of school. I worked behind the counter at a bakery, at a bar, I was a security man in a building, doorman, until a chance came up and here I am, almost ten years driving a taxi. There’s a good side to it. For example, people get into the car who are stressed, nervous, and they ask for an opinion, they let off steam. I like to listen. A lot of stories about cheating. Most of the time it’s women who start talking the moment they get in the taxi. They say their husbands, their boyfriends are cheating on them, or they think they are, and they ask: ‘What should I do?’
Women talk more, they tell me intimate things about their lives; in a ten-minute ride I’ve heard a lot, like a priest, a psychologist at the wheel. But it’s the men who try pickups, you know? It’s true, it happens a lot when I drive in Copacabana, Lapa. Late at night, lots of passengers hint around, and some of them come right out. They think being alone in a taxi with the driver could be a good chance for sex. I’m used to it and I say right away, I’m not interested, please understand I’m working, that’s not my thing. If they insist, I ask them to get out of the car.
I’ve had women passengers try to pick me up of course, but I’m loyal to my wife. I love her and I have the family pictures on the dashboard of the taxi, so there’s no doubt. Now: there are the whores. Late at night, a taxi driver can very easily get offers from prostitutes who ask you to stop and they offer you a blowjob in exchange for the ride. It’s their job, right? I’ve never accepted but I have a friend who sometimes goes for it. Look, I always say that here in Rio, taxi drivers face three temptations: prostitutes, bingo, and the little bags of powder. It’s easy to get hooked on one of these things, or all three. And late at night, when you start to feel tired, but really tired, and your back feels all ground up, your eyes are red, if you meet up with a hustler who offers you cheap powder, well, it’s dangerous. I don’t snort, but I have a friend who accepts drugs to stay alert, driving at night.
The only time I was robbed wasn’t at night but at ten in the morning on a Monday, when two women got in and asked me to take them to Vidigal favela. There, midway up the hill, they got out and three guys got in, with rifles, asking me to take them up to the top, up there where their headquarters are. I thought the car would roll over that time. The car climbing the road, it was really hard going up, and the guys pressuring me, threatening me with the guns, yelling. One of them with a revolver at my neck the whole time, he only took it away when we got up there. That was a lost day; I went home a wreck, nervous. I only went back to work at six p.m.
Saturday is my only day off. ‘And on Saturday keep the Sabbath’ – isn’t that what the Bible says? I go to church with my wife and children, have lunch, and sleep. Then, there’s no way out, I go out again. I start up on Saturday night, which is when I manage to make more money in less time. There was one night I came home, went to the boys’ room and I was just speechless, they were so tall, the youngest one with his legs off the end of the bed, which was too small for him. I went to sleep thinking I have to spend more time with them, play soccer, do things, but if you ask me and tell me to say the truth, I confess—I didn’t.
Interview by Isa Pessoa
Translated by Julia Michaels
Read the rest of the Working Lives series here:
- Barcelona’s forensic investigator
- Accountant for the French Communist Party
- The last fashion manufacturer of the Faubourg