Caridad

Today like yesterday, from the HT 2011 photo contest by Orlando Luis Pardo.

The taxi stops for a woman who flagged it down.  She’s old, though it’s hard to say how old – but she’s got to be over 75. She’s carrying a cane with some colored ribbons wrapped around it. But what catches one’s attention even more is her overly bowed leg, probably from birth.

The taxi driver is a few years younger than the woman, but he seems in better health. He’s in a hurry, causing him to park the car badly, something that could earn him a fine if the police sneak up on him. But still, he couldn’t just leave the old woman standing there.

A tall strong man, standing alongside the woman, tries to open the door so he can help her get in. But it won’t open, bringing the taxi driver’s irritation to a head. “What do you mean the door won’t open?! Just use a little force.” The woman has to lean on her cane to go around the car, slowly, and open the other door herself.

The tall strong man — who’s not her companion — asks her to scoot over so that he can squeeze in too. It’s difficult for the lady to move inside the cramped car. The driver’s nerves can’t take any more. Here he’s stopped in the middle of the street trying to help this “grandma” and it’s taking way longer than he thought.

In the end everybody’s inside. The driver wants to smooth over his words, which had come out sounding so rude just then. He then tells the tall strong man that this lady shouldn’t go out alone on the street at her his age.

“Granma,” he says to her, “Listen, where are you going in Havana?” (the taxi’s route is from Cojimar to the center of Havana). The woman in the back seat tries to accommodate her long skirt, which is pinned under the strong man. She doesn’t say anything. In fact she pretends not to have heard.

“Sorry to pry, but you should have someone on the street with you. What are you going so far for?”

The lady, seemingly with reluctance, answers that she’s going to the hospital.

“To the hospital?” the cabbie responds in an incredulous tone. He directs himself to the other man commenting, “That’s what she says, but I’m sure she’s going to wander all over Havana, her family safe and sound at home and here she is wandering around in the streets.”

The tall, strong man replies only with a smile, apparently he’s more concerned with figuring out why he couldn’t open the door.

For rest of the journey the taxi driver doesn’t stop giving the lady advice, scolding her and trying to find out where she’s really going and trying to figure out whether a trip as dangerous as this is worth it in her condition.

Finally the lady gives him the name of a hospital and the driver assures her that although his route doesn’t go that far, he’s going to go there just to drop her at the front entrance of that hospital. And that’s what he did. When I got out, I saw them heading off in that direction.

There’s no doubt that the lady appreciated the kind gesture. I think that on that day she was probably more preoccupied than on others, or maybe a little tired, or it’s possible she had gotten a little money and wanted to treat herself to a pleasant taxi ride.

I don’t know, but almost every day I see her with her cane on the bus or walking slowly down some street in Havana or Cojimar, without anyone helping her.


Caridad

Caridad: If I had the chance to choose what my next life would be like, I’d like to be water. If I had the chance to eliminate a worst aspect of the world I would erase fear. Of all the human feelings I most like I prefer friendship. I was born in the year of the first Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, the day that Gay Pride is celebrated around the world. I no longer live on the east side of Havana; I’m trying to make a go of it in Caracas, and I continue to defend my right to do what I want and not what society expects of me.

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