Elio Delgado Legon
HAVANA TMES — Today, my memories take me back to a certain figure that was a common sight in Cuba’s countryside before the revolution. I am referring to “wanderers.”
Wanderers were people who, tired of looking for a job and going hungry – having lost their homes because they were unable to pay the rent – had no other choice but to become beggars. They would not remain in the city but wander the country from end to end, walking the countryside in search of someone willing to give them a bit of food.
I was 9 or 10 when, one morning, while with my mother and two younger sisters, I saw a wanderer walking down the road in front of my house.
My house was a hut with yagua-leave walls, a guano thatched roof and earth floor. My father had built it on a small expanse of land next to the road that one of my uncles had lent us.
When the wanderer reached our door, he asked us if he could come inside. He was complaining over how tired he was and the pains he felt throughout his body. He came inside and sat down on a stool near the door. He laid the large bundle he carried on the floor.
My mother, who both felt sorry for and was frightened by the man, told him she had nothing to offer him, that what we had was barely enough for the five of us in the house to make lunch out of.
The man would not stop complaining about his aching body and, casting a glance at the bedroom, would repeat: “Oh, I’m so tired! I’m dying to lie down in a bed!” He would repeat this again and again.
My mother was frightened to death that the man would decide to go into the room – dirty as he was – and lie down on the bed. She gave him a slice of bread, from the few she had for us. The man ate it greedily.
A little later, we saw one of our neighbors come up the road, hauling a cart loaded with sugar cane. My mother called him over so he would help us in that difficult situation.
The man came over and convinced the Wanderer to go with him to the sugar refinery on the cart. He went away with him and helped him climb onto the cart. The man sat down on the heap of sugar cane and placed his large bundle next to him.
Less than 50 meters from our home, the road twisted and had an incline to it. The oxen took the higher end of the incline, the cart tilted over and heap of sugar cane and Wanderer fell to the ground. The man picked up his bundle and returned to our house and started complaining again, now more intensely because of the fall he’d just had. “I was doing badly and now I’m doing worse! I’m dying to lay down in bed!”
With the help of some neighbors, the man hauling the cart set the cart upright and picked up the spilt cane. He came back to my house to take the Wanderer away with him again.
The cart headed down the road again with the Wanderer sitting on top of the sugar cane heap. We later learned he spent a few days in the courtyard of the refinery before continuing on his way.