My Friend the Teacher

Erasmo Calzadilla
Erasmo Calzadilla

I have a friend who is a teacher, but not a Zen teacher. He is 23 and gives art classes at a primary school in Vieja Linda, a marginal neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital. I don’t know how he manages it, but I think he likes what he does, despite the fact that the furniture in his house looks like the attire of a fakir, with springs pointed directly at one’s derriere. To visitors, he offers those the seat with the least amount of quills, where one runs less of a risk of leaving with a new hole in their clothing.

Drawings by Onel’s Students

Everyday he comes home overflowing with enthusiasm with his students’ drawings, feeling as if he were molding live clay; I guess he wants to emulate god. His mother still treats him like a child, we think because the monetary support he brings home is, next to nothing.

With luck, he found a pretty girlfriend from the neighborhood, a girl that isn’t bothered by his small salary -very hard to come by these days. He snuggles up to her, real close, while sleeping on the floor. Not because the orthopedic recommended he do so because of his back, but because it will take many years of saving what he can from his salary to finally buy a bed.

How long will his happiness last? His girlfriend is tempted to go to Russia where a stranger has offered her a strange job, but we all suspect the worse. Any time things get hard, she thinks about St. Petersburg and takes another step towards the proposal: she now possesses a passport.

I asked Onel, that’s my friend’s name, what he’s going to do with his life, making just 300 Cuban pesos (20 Cuban pesos = 1 USD) a month. Knowing that his answer is going to appear on this page, he says: “When I can’t handle this anymore I’m going to go to Manzanillo, a city in the eastern part of the country where the cost of living is much cheaper.”

But I think that’s just a vague dream, he could have just as easily said: “I’m heading to Jupiter.” Who knows, maybe someday he actually will go and I’ll follow, to live close by the mountains.

I think that Onel weighs less than 110 pounds, his clothes are in tatters and his t-shirts have all lost their shape, but his students admire him and share their school snacks with him, and he takes infinite pleasure in this.

He doesn’t have a future, and he will never be able to fix up his broken down house, or dream of having a kid or helping his mother when she retires, unless he immediately stops dreaming and gets involved in some shady business to help boost his income. But I think it’s more likely that at any moment he will give up on it all and leave the island, as so many others have already done.

2 thoughts on “<em>My Friend the Teacher</em>

  • Hi! My grandmother is Onel’s neighbor or used to be. I practically grew up with him because I lived next to him till I was 14 that I moved to Tampa. I don’t know if you still talk to him but I would greatly appreciate if you answer my post , and by the way my grandmothers name is Rosa. 🙂

  • OMG, I don’t know if you are going to read this but Onel is my grandmothers neighbor or used to be. I lived next to him till I was 14 that I moved to Tampa. My grandmothers name is Rosa and I’m sure if you tell him about this comment he is going to know who I am. I would greatly appreciate if you answer me. By the way, my name is Jennifer 🙂

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