HAVANA TIMES, April 16 – Yesterday I got up early as always, but I guess I was moving more quickly than usual, since by 6:50 I was already at the bus stop to see if I could get the 7 a.m. bus and save myself the trouble of hitchhiking, or the 2 pesos for a collective horse-drawn taxi.
While I was waiting, I ran into Raul, a neighbor that I admire and respect for his intelligence, professionalism and his nice way of relating with his family, neighbors and friends. He was one of my professors at my University, but although we live very close to each other I’ve always maintained a certain distance. Since his retirement, though, I find his company very enjoyable.
A thought flashed into my head: without being an internationalist, workplace hero or combatant, Raul is an exemplary man. He has always been a hard worker willing to make sacrifices. There were never any holidays for him; no tired days and no sick days that kept him from fulfilling his professional duties, union work and party responsibilities, not to mention his activism on the block.
Fortunately the bus was approaching, putting an end to the flow of my thoughts. I had to get on that crowded bus any way I could; I needed to arrive early, since my students were expecting me for the first class period.
As I jumped into the fray to board the large bus, my neighbor began to grumble and to move away, saying: “Unbelievable! An express at this hour.”
I separated myself from the tumult. I didn’t know how to do it, but I had to ask him quickly or the bus would leave me behind as well. “Teacher, what’s the matter? Don’t you have the peso to pay the express?” (These buses cost a peso, not 20 cents like the regular routes.) “I have change, come on!”
I thought that he might feel embarrassed. He took a look at the bus that was leaving if we delayed any longer. I imagine that he was thinking about the many kilometers that lay between him and his daughter’s house, and then he very calmly accepted.
I took ten pesos out of my bag and handed them to him so that he could pay for the two of us. When he went to give me the change I told him to please keep it, but he looked at me sternly. I wanted to insist, suggesting that he leave it for his return, and he repeated severely, “I said no.”
When he saw my crestfallen face, he said more softly: “Rosita, thank you my child, but I have money at home, only at the moment I don’t have a small bill.”
I didn’t insist any more – maybe it was the truth, maybe not. It must be very difficult for him, as it is for many Cuban workers, to admit that they don’t have a cent.
Although it’s a recurring situation among those of us who work for the State —unless we have family outside the country or we have carried out an international mission— all the same it’s humiliating to be broke, or arrancado (“rooted up”) as we say around here, for 25 days of every month.
Yes, because our salaries only last for five days, and that’s if you don’t buy anything but food; because if you buy some clothes, or a pair of shoes, you’d need at least three salaries for that and – who knows if you’d be able to eat.