At four in the afternoon, we finally received the long awaited
news. Leo, himself had arrived.
---Well, guys, we've got transportation! ---he notified the
passengers, who approached him filled with joy.
---Come on this way!
---he directed us.
We followed him and after ten minutes' walk we found a pick-up
truck with a cabin in the back and a minibus. The vehicles were waiting at the
beginning of the road where hours before I had arrived looking for water.
Before our boarding, they collected the money. Some passengers promised to pay part or the total amount upon arrival to our destination. I paid fifteen dollars, that was all the money I had. Leo guaranteed that I would pay the rest upon my
arrival to Santurce.
As we were paying, we were getting in the vehicles. I got in the pick-up truck packed together with many others. A
few minutes later, we entered onto a main road. At the beginning, I made a great
effort to see the landscape through the tinted crystal. I saw few houses, low
trees with thick vegetation and a few industrial installations. The fact that
we were in a foreign land, in Puerto Rico, had us excited and happy. A woman said:
---Señores, my body is broken.
And now traveling with this discomfort...
---The only thing that matters now is that we got here alive
and that at last we've left that damn jungle ---interrupted one of the men.
---If they stop us on the way, they'll know immediately where
we've come from -said another man, referring to the dried up salt in our skin
and to the deterioration that we reflected. We all agreed with him. La Fiera spoke. He pointed at me and said:
---This one will have to be given an I.V. and make him eat
like a horse set free in the meadow. Maybe that way death could be starved off.
Many laughed. I
did not find what he said very funny. But La Fiera must have been right; I felt
more dead than alive. I even imagined how good it would be to be like a hungry
horse set free in a green meadow.
---Señores, let's work hard now ---recommended one woman-,
so that all the suffering we endured to get here will be worth it. Let's help
our families so that they don't have to make a such horrible trip like this.
One companion then said:
---We cannot deceived ourselves. The fact is that we're going to continued to get screwed: washing toilets, floors and doing lots of stuff
that we did not do in our country. The
only good thing about it is that we're going to have a job to make our living; so we'll still be better off than in our own
Upon hearing this, La Fiera, bragging, said:
---Well, señores, to continue to be screwed is not what's gonna
happen to me. I'm going to New York to struggle hard. I'm gonna make dollars no matter how. I'm gonna make good
money even if I have to break a few necks.
---They might bring you in a coffin, well combed and powdered
---predicted a woman.
La Fiera laughed:
---I doubt it!
We arrived at Ponce.
We left two companions in that city and immediately continued on our way. After
more than three hours on the road, at about eight in the evening, we came into San Juan.
I was impressed by the many lights on the streets and the traffic of lots of vehicles.
The driver began to drop off the passengers in the different neighborhoods of Santurce.
Leo was also dropping off the people he had brought. I was not to see
Almost all the passengers were getting off in Barrio Obrero. That was also the neighborhood of my destination.
But after many turns, we did not get to my uncle's house. Desperate, I
demanded from the driver to take me there. The driver pulled over at one corner;
he asked directions; but no one could tell him where the street was. Upon returning,
he told me:
---You said you're going to Avenida J. You must be confused. I live in this neighborhood and I can't
find that street; I haven't even heard of it. Anyway I'll take the passengers
that are going to Rio Piedras first. When we return we'll look with more calm.
---No! just telephone,
so you know where the place is ---I said dying of exhaustion, hunger and thirst. I
gave him the telephone number which I knew from memory. When he called, he told
---We passed by that street quite long time ago. So anyway we're going first to Rio Piedras then I'll drive you to Avenida J.
We went to Rio Piedras where the driver let off the passengers. Now Papín and I were the only passengers. Papín
was still in the vehicle because he had had problems. That afternoon after looking
in his pockets, he could find only the remnants of the paper in which he had written down the address to where he was going. At first, the problem did not bother him too much; but later, he told me:
---It seemes to me that we are going to arrive in Santurce
in the evening and, if so, I'll need a great favor. I'll need your uncle to let
me spend the night in his house. I must find the address of the mechanic shop
and if we get there at night the shop will be closed.
Finally, the driver arrived at the place where I was to stay. It was a short and deserted street. And,
on the porch of a wooden house, I could see the athletic figure of my uncle. I got off and I could hardly stay on my feet.
I was about to faint and heard murmurs like those of buzzing bees. I was groggy like a drunk. My uncle opened
a wire door facing the street. He came out.
I rushed into his arms, staggering like a baby just learning to walk.
---Oh my God! My
nephew is almost dead!
---I don't even want you to know what we've been through! ---I
said trying to catch my breath and still holding on to him. The driver, impatient,
was waiting for Papín to get out and to receive his money. I rushed to talk to
---I'm sorry uncle, but I brought two problems that need to
be solved: I still owe the driver thirty five dollars for the trip from Cabo
---And how much did he charge you for it?
---Fifty dollars in all.
---What a thief! Had
I known you were arriving there, I would have gone for you myself.
After saying this, he approached the driver. After a few words of bargaining, he asked him to wait. Then
Papín, came over and whispered:
---Raul, please, talk to your uncle! It's just for tonight.
Papín, leaning on the pick up truck , looked like a hungry
orphan. His discolored shirt, his uncombed hair, his growing beard and the sad
and frighten look on his face communicated this impression. I, although exhausted,
followed my uncle when he went into the house looking for the money. I waited
for him in the living room and, in just a few words, I explained to him the other problem.
Then, my uncle went out again, and I went to the porch to see what was going to happen.
My uncle gave the money to the driver and brought Papín with him. Then,
the three of us entered the living room. I dropped myself onto a sofa and Papín,
at once, sat down in another one. My uncle went into the kitchen and from there
---If I had known that trip was going to be like this, for
nothing in the world would I have let you get involved in it, nephew.
---"Cristiano"-, you know nothing...- ---said Papín, looking like a ragdoll spraruled across the sofa.
No too long after that, my uncle came to the living room with
a big fruit plate. It had fresh grapes, apples and oranges. He put the plate
on the table and said:
---I'm going to cook right now; in the mean time, start eating.
Without loosing a second, desperate, I started biting an apple. Papín did the same. I said:
---Uncle, bring us water too!
Then my uncle returned with a pitcher of iced water and two
glasses. And he returned to the kitchen.
---Where is Nereida? ---I inquired while still eating.
From the kitchen my uncle answered:
---She locked herself in her bedroom when she saw you coming. She said she's sorry. All of this has
made her nervous.
-Is she alright -I insisted
---Yes, just very nervous since we got the call about your
My uncle left the kettle on the stove and went into one of
the two bedrooms. He returned with some of the clothes I had sent from Santo
Domingo. He also brought some articles of clothing for my companion, and said
---The bathroom is this way -he pointed to the door.
I left Papín and my uncle speaking and I locked myself in the
bathroom. I started looking my face on the mirror. The skin on my face was peeling off, the skin of the rest of the body was super dried out and marked by
the weeds and the insects. I remembered the jokes they made about me on our way
from the beach. My eyes were sunken deep in my head and my emaciated jaws looked
as if I did not have one tooth. My hair looked like a mountain of hay. My growing
beard and the smell coming from my armpits indicate neglect, sickness.
-"I look like I'm half dead! -I thought-, a walking skeleton
covered with skin. Besides my stomach is still bothering me and my foot... I've got to take care of myself."-
I took a shower and got dressed. The pants, of course, were big on me; to tighten them, I used a strip of cloth and with a tatter, brought
together the two beltloops in front. Later I had to make an additional hole in
my leather belt. I came out and Papín went in to shower. I showed the wounded foot to my uncle. He disinfected the
affected area. Then, with the help of a tweezers, a razor blade and a needle, he extracted the many spines of the scaurchin
that I had stuck inside my foot. After supper, my uncle showed us the bedroom
where my companion and I were to sleep.
---Go to sleep ---recommended my uncle--- It looks like you're dying. Tomorrow you can tell me the details
of the trip.
There was just one bed in the room, not too big at that. There was also a big wooden dresser on top of which I saw the knapsack that I had
sent with my clothing and books from Santo Domingo. There was an old fan that had dust and spider webs tangled across it. I stared at Jahaira's cradle. Jahaira is my uncle's and Nereida's daughter. Her name reminded
me of Papín's daughter: Yajaira. Before leaving us, my uncle told us:
---This is Jahaira's bedroom.
When she comes to be with us, some times, sleeps here. Just some times! She
does not like to stay by herself in this room, so, usually we have to bring her in to sleep with us.
---And where is the baby now -I asked
---Nereida's mother takes care of her from monday to saturday. You know, working and studying we...-
It was ten in the evening when Papín and I went to bed. I slept that night. It was the
first time that I was able to sleep in several days; although I had nightmares. In
them, I found myself again in great danger in the Caribbean Sea. At six in the
morning of the following day my uncle awoke us.
---How are those heroes feeling today? ---he cried.
---Better than yesterday ---I answered. He said:
---How is your foot, Raul?
---It still hurts a lot.
But it's less swollen.
My friend and I got up, in spite of my uncle's insistence that
just one of us had to get up to put the ---chain on the front door. We came out. Then I saw Nereida ready to leave. She greeted me with a warm embrace and a kiss on the cheek. She
smiled timidly and in the same way she said:
Tears came to her eyes maybe because of nervousness or due
to the pity she must have felt to see how beaten up and emaciated I had become. I
spoke with her for a few minutes. In the meantime, my uncle was showing all the
pantry items and supplies to Papín. He had said that he knew how to cook. Shortly thereafter, the couple walked to the garage.
My friend and I accompanied them to say good by. Then Nereida told me:
-We are returning early today: we don't have classes on Saturdays.
---Papín, when I return we'll take care of your problem ---my
uncle promised while the car was leaving the garage.
My friend and I returned to the house and went back to bed. I slept until he awoke me:
---Raul, wake up! I already cooked. Come and eat!
---What time is it, Papín?
-It's eleven. You
I got up. I found
rice, beans and pork chops on the table. We ate.
Papín went back to bed while I went out to the porch to check out the street.
A calm and fresh air moved the trees. I experienced a great peace and
the sensation of having obtained a great victory.
When I returned to the bedroom I took out my knapsack. I inspected my books and my notebooks. In one of them I wrote down the following:
-"Saturday February eighth, 1986... This is Puerto Rico. Ninety miles away from the Dominican Republic, the ones that we traveled seemed to
me like nine hundred. I wonder: What will become of me from now on? When will
I be able to continue my trip to the United States"-.