It was Friday in the middle of April. The evening was hot and boredom overwhelmed
me. Like on other occasions I went for a walk along some nearby streets. I was strolling worry-free further away along Ponce de Leon Avenue. I was walking on the sidewalk contemplating the houses, the signs and everything that moved. A young man that was coming the opposite direction was looking down as he walked. I don't know why, but he seemed to be some one I knew. As
we passed each other, I stopped. He lifted his eyes and looked at me with great
amazement. He exclaimed:
---Raul!, Is it you?
My surprise was as great as his. It was Nelson, a companion of mine at the rent-a-car. He had
left Santo Domingo a few months before me, the same way I had. After greeting
each other, excited because of our unexpected meeting, we walked to my uncle's house while exchanging impressions about our
crossings through the Caribbean Sea. His, according to what he told me, was not
too different from mine. At my uncle's, we went on talking with more freedom.
---I heard that you have a job ---I commented.
---No. I don't have a job.
I was working in a gas station but I left.
---What do you mean you left?
---Well, I should say the job left me. What happened was -he started explaining--- they wanted to fire me because I did not bring them proof that
I was legal in this country. They knew that I was a Dominican... but I got a birth certificate and a social security card from a buddy of mine, a Puerto Rican. With those papers I got an identification card and I quit the job to leave for New York.
---Oh, then you're going to New York ---I interrupted.
---Wait, let me tell you what happened! ---he rushed to say
and continue explaining:
---I have everything ready to leave. I had bought the ticket last Saturday to fly Sunday, early in the morning.
To celebrate my departure, Saturday evening, I went out dancing with my buddies. And you know what, brother! Some one stole my wallet in the disco. I lost my ticket, my
identification and three hundred dollars that I had put aside.
---God damn! ---I lamented and asked:
---So, what are you going to do now?
---Well, brother, this a tough situation. I'm screwed. It's so hard to get a job here, and even harder
when you don't have your papers...
Nelson went on talking while I looked at him attentively. At the same time I thought that he looked more like a Puerto Rican than like a Dominican.
I told him:
---Nelson, I don't think you'd have any problem getting through
the airport. You're white like most of the people of this country. Besides, you speak just like them.
---That's what my buddies said ---he approved smiling.
---In my case ---I said---, I do raise suspicion, because,
although there are dark-skinned Puerto Ricans, most of them aren't. However,
most of the Dominicans are dark skinned.
---They pay the most attention ---he said--- to the way you
speak. In Santo Domingo everyone believes that all Puerto Ricans are white; but
there are places here, like Loisa Aldea and Carolina where you can find a lot of black people.
---How do you know?
---I, go all over the place and I see things. Anyway, this sucks. I'm tired of being here.
Nelson remained speechless for a few seconds. He looked deep in thought and absent-minded. Before speaking again, he clenched his teeth and moved his head as if he were saying
no. Then in a bitter tone he said:
---I know our people there think that we're here loaded with
dollars. They would not believe that one here is struggling to get by...-
The joy we felt when we first came across each other had faded. Nelson went on painting a sad pictured.
But after expressing many misgivings, he asked me:
---How about you? What
are you planning to do?
---I have also tried to get a job. But so far, nothing. I called the renta--car in Santo Domingo. They gave me the telephone numbers of some of the customers that live here. I have spoken with all of them, but I have not been able to get anything from them. I have gone out with my uncle trying to find a job; but the few places that need help asks for papers and
identification that I don't have -I paused for an instant, then I added-: I'm
planning to leave for Chicago. Do you remember that in Santo Domingo I told you
about a good friend that I have there.
---Of course, I remember, the one that brought you the pair
of Nike tennis shoes.
---Exactly! We grew up in the same place and went to school
together. To me, he is one of those friends that you get along with better than
with your own brothers. I have been in communication with him. He insists that I come to Chicago; that he is going to help me all he can.
Nelson approved and smiling excited expressed:
---You're ok, because Dominicans always fly to New York. The ones that go to Chicago might not even be bothered at the airport.
I, less excited than him, said:
---Let's see what happens. You see, I've been in the airport,
just looking around at how things work there. Each airline terminal has just
one exit for all its passengers. There is no way that the inspectors can know
ahead of time where you are flying. The exit is the same if you're going to New
York to Chicago or to any other city where the airline you choose flies.
---Well ---said Nelson---, at any rate, forward march! You and I know better that -"he who does not risk won't get across the sea".-
-The afternoon was still young, but Nelson got up and said
---Brother, I have to leave now. I have to visit my friends in Rio Piedras to see what's going on.
---Is Rio Piedras far from here? ---I asked
---No. It's right near here!
one kilometer. Come with me so you'll know.
---Ok -I said. I
closed the house and we went on our way.
After crossing several streets and going uphill in another
one, I thought I would have problems returning by myself. Behind us, a police
car was coming uphill. It caught up with us and got close to the sidewalk where
my friend and I were walking. We stopped when one of the cop spoke.
---Where are you from? -he called from inside the car.
---I'm from Rio Piedras ---Nelson answered with a Puerto Rican
-How about you? ---asked
the cop without loosing a second.
---I'm from Santurce -I answered trying to imitate a Puerto
Rican accent. And I saw when the other police office laugh and then, say vigorously:
---This is Santurce!
You have told us nothing by saying Santurce! Santurce is huge.
I felt disturbed and confused.
I had answered quickly, without thinking. however, I did not wait for
him to ask again. At once, in an overflow of information, I told him the name
of the neighborhood I lived, the street number, the address and I pointed with my finger toward the location of the place. I had to get a hold of myself, for, I was already going to ask them if they wanted
me to direct them to my place.
---Where are you going?
---the first officer spoke, not having given up.
---I'm going home to Rio Piedras ---Nelson answered.
---And I'm visiting him
---I added before being asked.
---Ok ---he said. And off they went. They got lost from our site at the end of the hill. Nelson
and I completed the ascend of the street. I stopped right there. I was frighten to death. I told him:
---Nelson, I'm sorry.
But I'm not going on. I don't want to be arrested and sent to Santo Domingo
after all I went through to get here.
---You're right, brother ---he said. And pointing with his index finger, he added:
---You see that down there?
That's Rio Piedras.
It looked to me to be about two kilometers away. I just commented:
---And it was close by! wasn't it?
He smiled and continued on his way. I went back home. I recovered from my scare. Later, the night arrived, and so did my uncle and his wife.