week went by without Meteorology reporting any encouraging change in weather conditions.
---This is tough ---complained a passenger---. Had we succeeded with the other trip, we'd have been in Puerto Rico these last three weeks.
And it should have been so. Instead, we spent three long weeks
confronting severe conditions. Without work of any kind, without money, we found
ourselves obligated to spend the little money we had for our arrival at Puerto Rico, in food to support ourselves. In my case, not only had my economical situation gotten worst, but also, my health was beginning to deteriorate
due, perhaps, to the lack of nourishment and to the tension of the long wait. I
started to feel pain in my stomach from a duodenal ulcer that I thought had healed.
What hurried me the most was the possibility that it might bleed just like it did in 1984. During that year, I was under intensive medical treatment. If
it began to bleed again, I would have to cancel my trip.
Preoccupied with my health, I visited a public hospital in
La Romana. I waited almost a whole day, and all I got was a check up there
and prescription from a doctor. I had to spend twenty dollars to buy the pills
that were prescribed, but that would leave me only five dollars which was not enough to buy food. I preferred to take the risk of bleeding. I continued to have
the pains which came mainly at night and any time I was hungry.
The days continued to pass.
I distributed my time between being with the group, at Herman's house and at Papín's.
Papín was a new passenger with whom I built a strong relationship very quickly.
He joined the group in the place of a good friend of his, a doctor who gave up on the trip after what happened at El
Macao Beach. This friend was unable to get back the money he had paid for the
trip. Therefore, he consented to give his place to Papín. Papín promised to pay him back his five hundred dollars as soon as he got to Puerto Rico.
Papín was a short man, around forty years old; his big eyes
were an intense black color. He had a round face and a dark brown color to his
skin. He wore glasses. His face
and his serenity conveyed the presence of a simple and sincere man. Five houses
away from Papín's was Herman's. When we returned from María and Pedro's, I was
heading towards Herman's house and Papín to his own, we took the same route, chatting about the trip and about the difficult
situation of our country.
The first time I went to Papín's was in the afternoon. In the morning he had been at Herman's place.
He spent quite a long time conversing with the ex-mayor, with me and with José.
This José was not the organizer of the trip, but a friend of Herman's, a slim,
young black man. Although he was an accountant, a professional, he also planned
to make the trip. When Papín was about to leave, after a half hour of dialogue,
he said to me:
---Raul, you're doing almost nothing here. Come with me. We'll go by some places where I have been applying
for a job; they might have something for me now.
I accepted his invitation, and, once on the way, I asked:
---Applying for a job, you said? And what about the trip?
---While walking, Papín began to explain:
---Look, Raul, I'm into this because I haven't found anything
to do. I'm a mechanic, I worked as a merchant marine for several years, now it's
hard to get a job. But if I find one, I'm not going anywhere.
---And where are you planing to live in Puerto Rico?
---There is an old friend of mine that has been insisting that
I go. He's here, but he has a son in Puerto Rico who has a repair shop. He'll hire me, give me the money I owed from the trip, and give me a place where I
can stay once there. But ---Papín insisted--- I don't want to leave my family
It was hot. After a while, Papín and I had walked along most
of the streets of La Romana. Without any luck, we visited mechanic shops and
gasoline stations. After about two o'clock in the afternoon, when we were to return, Papín asked me:
---Come with me to my house, stay there for a while so you
can meet my wife and daughter.
I accepted his invitation pleased. When we arrived at his house, a little three year old girl rushed to welcome Papín; she ran up and hugged
his legs. She overflowed with excitement and joy at seeing her father.
---This is Yajaira -said Papín and in a sweet voice told her:
---Say hello to Raul, Yajaira!
The little girl who was now in her father's arms looked at
me, smiled and as she did so, showed all her small white teeth. Then Papín introduced
me to his wife who came out of the kitchen to the living room. He said to her:
---This young man is going to make the trip too. He went with me to see if I could find work, but nothing...-
Very discouraged, the man added:
---I see nothing else but to continue in the misfortune of
making this trip.
The woman commented nothing about what Papín had said. And, with a serene voice and sad tone, said:
---I'm going to warm your food.
At least we still have credit at the grocery store.
The man smiled, somewhat resigned; then answered:
---Ok. warm it up and give half of it to Raul.
The woman returned to the kitchen, while we stayed in the small
living room. We could see her at work with the pots. In the meantime, Papín, wet from perspiration, was playing with his daughter. She would squeeze between his knees to have him rock her.
----Leave Papín alone!
He's tired! ---shouted the woman from the kitchen.
Yajaira turned her head and her small vivid eyes lit up; she got down quickly and ran towards her mother past the poor wooden furniture. She
got to her mother and looked at her with great attention. The woman interrupted
her chores to look at the small girl with great tenderness. And with a lovely
voice said to her:
---You don't get tired of playing; do you!?
The girl smiled, and ran again to her father. He picked her up; pressed her cheek against his.
---My little thing! my little thing! -Papín repeated. And, after a moment, he looked at me, heavy with grieve, and told me:
---Raul, this is why I'm leaving.
His eyes began to fill up.
He had intentions of continuing to speak about the matter but was interrupted by his wife who brought the food. After eating, I felt more comfortable, and Papín felt more eager to speak. He said to me:
---Raul, I'm leaving because I can't find even the basic necessities
to feed my wife and daughter. We have to pay two hundred pesos in rent for this
place which, as you can see, is just a portion of a house. We're two months behind. I don't know what to do. I want to believe
that things are going to change after this coming election, but if the people that are in power remain in power or if those
who were in power before come back, we'll go from bad to worse. These politicians
only care about stealing. But what I want to talk to you about, Raul, is you. If I were in your place, I wouldn't leave; I'd come back to the rent-a-car and try
to get my job back. You're very young and intelligent. You could get what you want here, in your own country. I don't
see why you have to risk yourself in something that's not sure. Don't go, Raul. Who are you risking your life for?; you already
told me that you don't have the responsibility of a wife and children.
---I know I'm going to do well in the United States. Things are better there than they are here. Those who leave
always come back better than when they left and better than those who they left behind.
I feel more determined to see this to the end, precisely because I don't have any responsibilities or attachments.
Even after hearing my reasons, Papín didn't agree. Absorbed in this discussion, the night caught up with us. Papín said:
---Let's find out what those -"salteadores- have to say.
---Which salteadores are you talking about, Papín?
---I'm talking about our friend, so called -"Augusto"- and Pedro and their team. Don't you think
they are thieves who come and go cheating people?
---I don't know about Pedro, but everybody says, and I have
reasons to believe them, that Augusto is trustworthy.
---Don't be foolish, Raul! No matter what some people say,
they're all crooks and Augusto is not an exception. Had he been as honest as
you think, he would have given his money back to the doctor and to a lot of people who, because of the delays and other reason, don't want to leave anymore. Don't you
know that there are a lot of people who took part in the first attempted trip that are looking for Augusto while he hides
himself? How do you think those miserable people feel after they sold their dilapidated
houses, their refrigerators, their motorcycles, their small parcels of land... in order to get the one thousand five hundred
pesos that they have to pay for the trip, then these crook artists spend it, without earning it, on rum, women, and the rental
of nice cars? Because that's what they spend the money on.
I noticed that Papín was speaking excitedly. With the intention of calming him down, I said:
---Papín, it's true that some people that paid for the trip
don't even know that Augusto is in this barrio. But he has always said that he
will come clean with all those people and that he's going to make another trip. In
the meantime, my friend, let's not worry about that; we have enough problems of our own.
Then he smiled and said:
---How can you say something so naive? You show that you're still very much a kid.
---Frankly, Papín, for now, the only thing I have in my head
is to leave this country: I want this trip to finally become a reality.