My eyes were glazing over from staring at the screen of my laptop too long. I lifted my gaze for a moment, just in time to see the horse that filled the windscreen; the wretched creature’s eyes widening with fear at the car hurtling towards him.
There was a sickening scrape of tires on the gravel and time played in slow motion as the petrified animal scrambled out of our path, the thick blanket of banana trees loomed ever closer and the vehicle zigzagged from side to side, like a rally car.
Amidst the chaos I could hear someone screaming and then realized a split-second later that it was me. Time was temporarily distorted; decelerated as if watching one still frame of a camera after another.
At last the driver jolted awake in time to slam his foot on the break and we skidded to a stop, my head lightly banging the seat in front, the dust clouds rising around us and the smell of burnt rubber and dirt filling the car.
The dense green foliage swayed in the breeze and there was a sudden anti-climatic silence, but for a few birds cawing in the distance and the humming of the radiator. Two campesinos bearing machetes, cutting down crops a few feet away, were staring agape with a mixture of concern and bemusement written on their faces, as they beheld the dented rental car enveloped in a cloud of dust, with a horse flinching in its wake.
This wasn’t the first time I had the feeling that I might die in this part of the world or that my vehicle had swerved off the road; at least this time there was a line of banana trees to break the fall.
In Guatemala, when our bus nearly lurched over the edge of a cliff with a blown tire, we tilted sharply to the right, the whole bus balancing on two wheels as the sheer drop below beckoned.
I saw my life flash before me to the sound of merengue music and a rosary dangling from the rear view mirror; along with several chickens, bags of tamales, rice, and brightly colored pinks, reds, oranges and yellows of the Mayan women’s clothing. It seems there will always be an animal present each time I brush with death to share a terrified glance with before we pass into the next life.
After assessing the miraculously limited damage and saying our prayers and a few hostias we continued back to Tegucigalpa. I don’t think I even blinked for the rest of the journey, eyes rigidly fixed on the road ahead, lost in thought about how I’d come to be here, working in a country like this where a simple journey could turn into several hours, on a constant look-out for bandidos, or gaping crevices in the road and stray animals that wondered into the path.
Working mostly 12 hour days, running around in three inch heels giving interviews, breakfast meetings at 7 am, night-time appointments in coffee foundations on the outskirts of San Pedro Sula, imagination running wild as the gun shots in the distance felt uncomfortably close.
The daylight began to fade as we finally approached Comayaguela, the gateway to the city that also happened to be the most desperate part of town and not where you wanted to be after dark, lost in this rats nest of dead-end alleyways, closed streets, road blocks, one ways, crack addicts, thieves, ghosts of people with vacant stares, shoeless children with gammy eyes, houses without roofs, shops without doors and far too few police to maintain order.
Nerves on the edge of a knife, I’d been awake for almost three days and tomorrow we had an early meeting with the Minister of Communications, an ironic misnomer due to the fact that he was the hardest man in Honduras to get hold of.
How would I go in to that appointment as if nothing had happened today; as if I wasn’t exhausted and my clothes weren’t damp and dirty shoved into a rucksack, my suit jacket left hanging on its perch from Friday night, that felt like an eternity ago now.
Still… how else would I be spending Sunday if I were anywhere else but here? What’s the point in being alive if you aren’t reminded of your own mortality from time to time? Even if it is by a horse.