In 1986 we began living on the fifth floor of this volunteer-constructed “micro-brigade” building in the backwater town of Santa Cruz del Norte. My parents were young and my brother was just an infant.
Back then, we became used to the cries of Pedrito. He was an old man with a hoarse voice, gray hair and a black beret that covered his head. For me, he symbolized Cuban underdevelopment (we had just arrived from the USSR).
He traipsed with difficulty throughout the town of Santa Cruz del Norte pushing a two-wheel cart and shouting the names of the newspapers he was selling: El Habanero (the provincial organ of Communist Party of Havana) and Bastion (the paper of the Revolutionary Armed Forces).
People didn’t read those newspapers much, preferring instead the papers of the “masses”: Granma and Juventud Rebelde. I never did understood why Pedrito didn’t carry those.
When the “Special Period” crisis hit, the Bastion disappeared and El Habanero was reduced in its number of pages. Pedrito continued appearing sporadically in the streets of Santa Cruz, but by this time selling sunflowers. “Flowers for sale! Flowers!” he would shout.
No one knows for how many different items Pedrito’s cry has hawked.
In Santa Cruz live engineers, microbiologists, doctors, laborers, merchants, cooks, photographers, writers… and Pedrito. He continues selling, with his gray hair, walking with effort, pushing his two-wheeled cart.
And he continues announcing with his hoarse voice, “Pineapples! Pineapples for sale!” “Flowers! Flowers for sale!” or “Peanuts! Peanuts for sale! The peanut seller is leaving!”
I’ve never had a conversation with him, though once I bought a cone of peanuts from him.
The other day, while I was near the Episcopal Church, from a distance I saw Pedrito stumble and fall to the ground. People ran over to help him. I also heard how he thanked them, with bowed and disconcerted humility. His voice —affectionate, without the gravel quality of his street cries— pierced my heart like the point of a dagger.
When it got dark, a gang of bored kids assembled on the first floor of our building. These youth, from all cities of the planet (Santa Cruz del Norte, North, Moscow, Trieste…), seem similar. They engaged in conversation and making up jokes.
Among these young town residents are several who are expert at imitating the cries of the area hawkers. With their adolescent voices, they are improvised actors who mimic the cries of Santa Cruz: “Mattresses repaired!”, “Ice cream sandwiches!”, “Grape wine!” But the impersonations are minus the cries of Pedrito. Is it that they respect him too much…or do they find him too boring?
They probably don’t see him. Nor do they hear him. They don’t realize that he exists. It’s as if he stood before them as a transparent spirit.
Spirits usually don’t let you see them, but they are eternal.
Pedrito is eternal…like pity.