Maria Matienzo Puerto
HAVANA TIMES — Yesterday I had the botella (hitchhiking experience) of my life. I left my boss’s house (she lives near the heavily trafficked corner of 23rd and 26th streets in the Vedado district), and proceeded to ask a Cubataxi driver for a free lift.
As soon as I got in, the conversation began. His first few questions were the usual ones: How far was I going? Was I just getting off work? …and so on.
My initially terse responses were transformed into fluent conversation thanks to his talkativeness.
He began commenting about how we women were swamped with work (at the office and then at home), and then went on talking about his work and the number of people he was able to help daily from behind the wheel.
He continued on like this until he asked me what I did for a living.
So as not to give him too many details, I confined my answer to saying that I wrote things for the Internet.
That’s where the comedy began.
Frightened, he was almost jumped out the window.
At first he started telling me that “you guys” (those of us who write for the Internet) don’t care about anything, that we’re a bunch of crazies and that we’re the ones who are “heating things up.”
Between laughter, joking and half seriousness, he called me a “gusana” (a counterrevolutionary, literally a “worm”).
I responded to all of that with a question: “So let’s see who the real worms are?” Unflinching in my position, I turned my head and started looking out the window, waiting anxiously to reach my destination.
After a few minutes of silence, to my surprise he responded to me with: “It’s true. We should see who the worms are!”
He then started telling me stories of corruption, ones which he must have been a part of, even if just as a witness. I figured that he must have done that because otherwise he would have found himself out of a job, and his kids needed to be fed.
Among those stories was that of Armando, the only person on his job who ended up becoming what’s officially termed “available for work” (meaning he was fired). After almost fifteen years of impeccable service he was kicked to the curb for being only person who didn’t kickback money to the boss.
What happened was that after becoming “available,” Armando was then re-contracted but without the right to vacations or sick days.
The story ended up pretty ugly because Armando couldn’t take the pressure. He died after two heart attacks, which — according to what was told to me by my new traveling companion — were the fault of those same managers who were putting the squeeze on to see what they could get out of him.
Our encounter ended with a handshake, an exchange of phone numbers and the promise — if I wanted — that he would give me all the details.
His “it’s nice to meet people like you” is still ringing in my mind.
That’s what happens sometimes when people find out that you write for the Internet.