Pistols and Highways

Irina Echarry
Irina Echarry

I have a friend who lives a few kilometers from my apartment building. Her house is still considered part of Alamar although it’s located in a place known as the Berroa Valley. A pretty name for such a strange place, unreal and far from the city center, bordering on the absurd at times.

Her house was built by the side of a long, dark highway. There is no illumination of any kind. Cars pass by at top speed; the buses refuse to stop there. Now, recently, her family received a telephone line, but when she was a child there was no way to communicate with the world without walking at least 3 or 4 kilometers. To a child, three or four kilometers seems like about twenty. And if you’re sick…

My friend used to suffer from sudden high fevers, that would come on in the middle of the night or in the early morning hours, just when the buses (3 or 4 kilometers away) were practically nonexistent. That’s where the revolver of her grandfather came into play.

Her grandfather had been a captain in the Rebel Army and, as a useful souvenir, held on to an enormous revolver reminiscent of the days of Pancho Villa.

Each time that the girl was overwhelmed by fever, the grandfather would pack up Pancho Villa (the revolver) and head out to the dark highway. Drivers become blind in the wee hours and don’t see a shadowy figure waving them down to ask that they take someone to the nearest hospital.

So, Pancho Villa would sing once or twice, depending on the velocity of the vehicle, and, inexplicably a rescuing vehicle would always stop. The mother and child then went to the doctor while the grandfather and Pancho went home to wait for his granddaughter’s return (by taxi).

My friend was accustomed to view Pancho as a savior and amusing friend, since on every New Year’s Eve the bullets fired in salute would paint colors in the sky, like real fireworks. There were also those stories of guerrillas and militia members, Camilo, Ché, Abel Santamaría, which she liked to imitate.

So it happened that in a moment of carelessness on the part of the grandfather, the girl took Pancho in her hands and went out to the yard, ready to play the game of guerrillas with her grandmother: “Bang! Bang!”

The grandmother almost had a heart attack. This time, though, the noise of the shots were only sounds from my friend’s mouth: Pancho had refused to fire. Luckily for my friend and her family, this day the savior revolver didn’t want to do its job.

Also luckily, very few people in Cuba own firearms. Although sometimes they shorten the road to the hospital and save lives, generally it’s just the opposite. Today it’s my friend’s grandfather who is in the hospital, old and tired, trying to recover from pneumonia.

I haven’t heard anything more about the revolver, only the old stories, although I can assure you that the girl became a woman of peace who detests war or any kind and that the highway is still there, long and dark.