By Pedro Pablo Morejon
HAVANA TIMES – I was on the side of the Havana-Pinar Highway trying to “hitch a ride”, when suddenly an American car stopped, one of those classic ones that we have plenty of here in Cuba, which we call almendrones.
“Pedro Pablo Morejon!”
The driver shout out, who I barely recognized for a few seconds. I could only see an olive-skinned, bald, big-bellied man, but there was something in his smile or the tone of his voice that reminded me of that slim young man, a couple of years older, the son of a former political prisoner, who I used to go with to move cows quite a bit in my childhood, because I was in love with his 9-year-old daughter.
Juan Miguel, the son of farmers and a land worker ever since his teenage years, always had sunburnt skin. You couldn’t find a single trace of sophistication in his appearance, but he looked better now. He’s well-dressed, like a famous person.
Over ten years ago, he emigrated to the US with his family, and he’s back visiting for the first time, after so long. But he hasn’t been able to leave again because of this COVID-19 situation.
Juan Miguel was, or is, a person with a high IQ. He studied engineering which wasn’t of much use to him. He now works as a truck driver, he told me.
We talked about lots of things. His eyes teared up when he nostalgically spoke about his years in Cuba. We remembered our childhood with nostalgia and I discovered that his mother had passed away, and his father was now senile, given his old age, and is in his and his sister’s care.
I also told him about my mother. He offered me some kind of condolences.
“Years pass by and families come to end,” he said sadly.
Comparing life between Cuba and United States
He carried on talking about Cuba. He compared life here with life there. He tells me that you have to work hard, but that you can get everything you need to live a comfortable life. That everything isn’t a bunch of roses, but that you live a lot better than you do here in Cuba.
“I came just before all this Coronavirus business began, and I’m still here stranded, and I can see that the country is a lot worse off than when I left.”
But, he couldn’t hide his pain of having to leave his land. He admitted that after 10 years, a “sparrow” will still sometimes surprise him and he gets emotional.
“If this country wasn’t the disaster it is, I would have never left. All of my memories are here, my 20-year-old son is here, my grandparents’ grave is here, some aunts and uncles, cousins and friends who I have shared things with that don’t compare to anywhere else in the world. If only this changes one day, because I feel like an outcast over there.
When we reached the Puerte de Golpe bridge, we said goodbye with a handshake. I felt the presence of the same childhood friend in that moment. The one who used to play baseball with the younger ones and defended us from bullies, as if he had inherited his father’s character, a respected, decent man who was loved by the entire neighborhood.
I was very happy to see him again.
On my way home, I got to thinking about what lies in the soul of a person in exile, and I remembered a phrase I read from the Apostle where he says that it’s like having your feet hang over the sea.