Conversation While Riding Down the Highway
By Pedro Pablo Morejón
HAVANA TIMES – The twilight hour last Sunday found me under a bridge by the highway, awaiting some way to reach Pinar del Rio. As often happens, the highway was nearly deserted.
No private transport trucks – the securest option for the trip – could be glimpsed on the horizon. A few meters away, a man was waving a bill in an attempt to detain the few vehicles that were circulating.
A little over an hour had already passed, and it was beginning to get dark. Finally, some 10 yards up the road, a white Lada seemed to hesitate and then stop. As I got in, I quickly checked the license plate and driver.
“I’m sorry brother, but I can only take him,” the driver told my highway companion, then resumed his route.
“I feel bad for him, but with money in his hand I can’t pick up anyone.”
It’s because people get desperate,” I observed.
“I know that. But if I pick up someone with money in his hand, even if I don’t charge them, they’re going to think I did. In that case I’ll be leaving by the roof,” he explained.
He continued explaining that things like that have happened, and since there are corrupt people everywhere, who do and undo as they wish, they’ve had to sanction them and blah blah blah. From there, the conversation turned to the difficult situation in the country, which is asphyxiating more people every day. That adjective – “asphyxiating” – was his choice.
We spoke about trivial topics, like his being from the town of Artemisa, until our talk returned to the “situation.” I was feeling more relaxed and in confidence, so I hit the conversational accelerator a bit, asking him if he knew about the boat that had sunk north of Bahia Honda.
He had heard about this unfortunate accident on television. “People are crazy to emigrate without knowing the dangers,” he commented.
“Well, almost everyone is crazy, then. Over 200,000 have left in less than a year,” I replied. “And the one still here is staying because they don’t have the means to leave.”
He agreed I was right, and that every day things become harder.
I resumed talking about the accident and asked him how such a collision could be possible unless it were intentional. The motorboat driver couldn’t be crazy enough to crash into a much larger and heavier military ship – he was just trying to escape out to sea. I told him I thought the border patrol had rammed him, in their zeal to stop people any way they could. Now four people are dead, without counting the people injured.
He looked at me for an instant, and I believe I spied a sign of consent on his face. “Forgive me if what I’m going to tell you offends you,” I continued, “but what bugs me most in this is that there are hundreds of Cubans at the airport every day, waiting for their flight to Nicaragua. The authorities know it’s not for tourism, but they don’t detain them. They know the journey overland is as dangerous as by sea, between the coyotes and other soulless traffickers. But apparently, the Nicaraguan route is more economically favorable to the government, and that’s why they tolerate it, in cahoots with the government of that country, where – to begin with – the airfare costs as much as a trip to the moon.
I stated this frankly and cordially, like we were two Cubans talking openly, without censorship, in a safe space, as this brief moment in time allowed us to.
“It’s true,” was the reply he gave me, a reflective expression on his face.
Silence took over. Fear and distrust were reinstalled.
When we reached Pinar, I told him where to let me off. I get out, thanked him, and wished him the best of nights. He returned the gesture and headed off.
I really liked that guy, even if he was a Captain in the Cuban Interior Ministry.