I came back home but I didn't tell my mother nor my brothers
about what happened at the beach. My mother was in her early sixties, the inflection
of her voice and her sharp way of looking at people commanded respect. The hard
years of poverty and raising six children by herself had consolidated in her a bitter attitude that very often would make
her a difficult person. My father had abandoned
her when I was just three. She put the blame of all the poor's misfortune,
and of ours in particular, on the politicians who she saw as public thieves. On
other occasions she maintained that her predicament was due to her own children, having been born just to make her life more
difficult. I always refrained from arguing with her. I limited myself to telling her that the trip had been postponed.
I knew that if I told her about what happened at the beach, in spite of her reflected strength, she would worry very
much if saw me still interested in leaving the country. She insisted on finding
out more about the matter, but I said little about it. This led her to believe
that I had been deceived: that I had been cheated out of my money.
This very afternoon my mother's reproaches started. With her tumultuous voice, she told me:
---I warned you not to get involved in those trips. I told you that you were going to be cheated. You had no need
for that. And now, without a job, you've come back to have me support you...-
you, like your brothers, never pay attention to what I say and later, I'm the one who pays the consequences...
---Come on, mother, don't you start! The trip has just been delayed. And if they don't make it, I'll do whatever possible not to be a bother to you
---I said. But in reality there was little I could do. I had before me a discouraging
The current state of the country was chaotic in all aspects. The media promoted an atmosphere in which the public was bombarded with propaganda
about the candidates aspiring to win the coming general elections in May. Meanwhile,
some people found themselves forced to set up stands on street corners to sell fruit, clothes or whatever they could find. Unemployment officially reached 27.5%, while underemployment reached 15%. Meanwhile the infant mortality rate was rising due to a chronic malnutrition. In a country experiencing these conditions, with an official inflation of 90%, and with salaries frozen,
the poor founded difficult to be able to afford to eat the bare minimum of one meal a day.
Even more difficult still was maintaining their health with the ridiculous high prices of medicine and the rapidly
deteriorating hospitals which did not have even the most essential materials, such as iodine, syringes and sterile gloves. Given these conditions, it appears almost insignificant that the electrical service
were so unreliable that many barrios were lighted only for a few hours a day. Meanwhile,
as in every election year, each group of political candidates anxious to win the election, persisted promising the same things:
"If you give us your votes, and we win the election, we'll
put an end to all our difficulties. We'll supply the barrios with clean drinking
water. We're going to organize the public transportation system. We're going to put an end to the deforestation of the woodlands.
We're going to fight illiteracy. We're going to solve numerous problems
in the rural areas so that the "campesinos" don't have to continue immigrating to the cities.
We're going to make this country prosperous and rich so that no Dominican has to leave the country in a yola..."
On the second day after my return from the beach, there were
signs that not even lunch would be made.
This was the only meal we used to get a day. I was hungry. But since I did not want to bother my mother and give her the opportunity to begin another lecture, I sold
my electric iron that I used to press my working clothes. I got $15.00 (pesos)
I spent the money eating only what was absolutely necessary
while the days were passing by sadly and slowly. The appearance of prosperity
that I had obtained during one and a half years of work was lost in a few days. I
persisted in my intentions to leave the country. I encouraged myself by thinking
that if the yola had not been overloaded, the story of the trip would have been different.
I frequently telephoned the rent-a-car where I had worked. Leo had to come there to renew the car
rental contracts and to check and exchange vehicles. His exchanges of vehicles
were made with the purpose of avoiding being recognized by the authorities. For
these reasons, the rent-a-car was the only place I could get information about Leo and the trip.
Six days after the failure at the beach, Leo came to the rent-a-car.
Informed that he would probably be there that day, I showed up to await for him. Juan
also appeared. We saw Leo enter the office accompanied by Jose and Frank.
---God damn, you're waiting for me! ---said Leo as he entered.
---Yes, sir -answered Juan---. I want my money right now!
---Don't be a coward ---Leo protested---. We're about to leave
again. And this time nothing like what happened the other day will occur.
---I don't care ---Juan insisted---; I want my money! Period. Let those who want to drown leave; and you, be satisfied that I lost my job because
Leo looked at me distressed.
I waited for him to speak.
---How about you? ---he said-. I know you're not afraid. I
saw you jump into the water while we were at sea. You're quiet. But you've got guts.
Will you or will you not continue?
Had he asked me this question the day that we came back from
the beach, I would have acted the same way Juan did. But the days of waiting
made me reflect and become disdained at my surroundings. I found it easier to
confront the sea one more time than the misfortune of starting all over again in my country.
I did not even believe in the possibility of finding a job. The streets were full of doctors, engineers and technicians
of all kinds searching for jobs. Many of them would have wanted to fill the position
I left. Taking all of this into consideration, I preferred to follow the route
that, as I understood it, could change the gloomy panorama that I faced for something
---Leo -I answered him ---I only ask that under no circumstances
you forget about me when you depart.
The man smile satisfied.
---That's what I wanted to hear -he said---. Trust me! Under
no circumstance will I leave you.
---I believed him. I handed him a piece of paper:
---This is my sister Idalia's telephone number. Keep me informed
of any news.
Juan started asking for his money again. Then Leo said:
---Frank, please, give this campesino his money.
I came back to Las Caņitas.
My sister lived in a barrio nearby. I visited her several times every day, expecting to hear news from Leo. One day my mother told me again:
---What about the trip? Haven't you already been convinced
that you got swindled.
---No. I don't
think so, mother ---I answered submissively and she insisted:
---But didn't you give them your money and now you have no
money and no trip.
-And what do you want me to do if they changed the date of
the trip? ---I protested, alarmed, and fed up with listening to her.
She seemed to understand me.
With a compassionate voice she began saying:
---Come on and get money to cook. Your face shows your hunger.
I followed her to the -"fritura room"-. But she did not shut her mouth for a moment, though with a sad and low voice, she continued her sermon:
---You always say that I complain and aggravate you too much. You don't understand that I just want the best for you. And for that, you've got to work hard ---she sighed deeply and then continued---. Life for the poor isn't easy anywhere. But I hope you make that trip and that you'll be successful, because you have been a good son. You have not gotten into trouble on the streets, besides you never make me as angry as your brothers and
sisters do. I've had it with them! The worst of all is that when I scold them
for something, they stop to argue with me like a rooster anxious to fight.
At last, on January 21st., eleven days after the first failed
attempt, I received the message that the following day Leo would pick me up at the rent-a-car.
I had to get ready. This consisted of packing up the necessary things
for the trip and also getting some money in dollars. At our arrival in Puerto
Rico, I was to pay for my transportation from the place where the yola disembarked to my destination on the island. Leo had insisted: "I'll go with you on this trip, but we have to pay the people that are picking us up
on the beach. Every one will have to pay for his or her fare or they'll find
themselves in a big mess".-
I had no money nor many possibilities of getting it. A few days before the failed trip, I had sold the most expensive thing that I had in all my life: An old, small Honda-70 motorcycle. With
it, if I lost my job, I planned to dedicate myself to the "motorconcho". This
is an occupation in which the motorman transports one or two persons as passengers.
They are transported from one barrio to another or to another part of the same barrio, because the public cars only
run on the main streets. I did not have the motorcycle any more, but I still
had my watch. Although it had gotten wet in the sea, it was still in good condition.
And I could also make use of my fan. My books, because they were so old,
would not get anyone's interest. And the other things of value in the house were
an old refrigerator, that was falling apart, and an equally old black and white TV set on which my mother, after a long day's
work, used to watch the night soap operas. I could not sell either article. They were not belongings of mine.
The following day, I received seventy pesos for my watch and
my fan when I left them at the nearest pawn shop. I took the receipts to my mother
and I told her:
---Get these articles back whenever you can. But, you know, I still need more money, because we're leaving today.
My mother took advantage of this opportunity to remind me that
she was making almost no money with the -"fritura".- This was a small business
of selling fried meat and bananas. It had been, for ten years, the only important
mean of income to the family. At this moment it was the only one, since neither
I nor any one of my three brothers that were still living at home was working.
---Get me whatever you can ---I insisted. But my mother made me listen to her:
-This little business doesn't generate enough for one meal. You don't realize how high they raise the prices of food day after day. I never thought things were going to get this bad in this country.
Pretty soon we'll have to eat each other.
After describing with words and with sad eyes some of the many
difficulties that afflicted her, my mother, at last said:
---The only money I still have with me is what I owe to Caesar,
the butcher. I'll give it to you. I'll
pay him later...-
While telling me this, she left to one side the meat she was
seasoning to be sold in the evening. She stood up from her old chair and picked
up the money that was under a cloth that was covering the top of the refrigerator. She
handed it to me. I grabbed the one hundred pesos she gave me and thought this
it might be the last time that I would bother her.
Between the errands I ran and my mother's words, noon quickly
arrived. I wanted to be early to the rent-a-car where I would meet with Leo. I left my mother, still eager to talk more of her afflictions. I headed to my room. (It had not been long that I did not have to share it with anyone else). When Enercida, the second of my three sisters, got married, I occupied this room by myself while my mother
and brothers agreed to share the other two. Once in my room, I put into school
bag the necessary clothes. Before leaving the room, my eyes stopped in front
of a small wooden table where a group of old and worn books rested. They were
worn out due to the many occasions in which I was not at home to defend them against raindrops that fell through holes in
our zinc roof.
-"I have to leave, I told myself, maybe I won't see these books
again. I might not even see this narrow room again, not even my mother, who at
least suspects how dangerous the adventure that I'm jumping into is. I believe
that in these trips, death, more than possible, is probable. But what can I do
staying here? Life is worth very little when even finding something to eat is
very difficult. I'd better leave. I'll leave. If I make it, fine; and if I fail,
After these thoughts I wrote this note addressed to my mother
and my brothers and sisters:
-"If something happens to me,
no body should feel bad
I, myself, have decided this".-
I left my message on top of the books. I locked the door and went on my way. I was leaving behind,
my house and the rest of all those poor houses made of tin cans and cardboard which
were sowed in abundance along both sides of a long canal on its way to the Ozama River.