Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

25 de Febrero del 2000

EDGED OUT! DID ROSENDO MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION? By Rafael Contreras Bueno, Cuba Free Press.

Pinar del Rio.- I was surprised to see Rosendo on that corner of the city's main street. At first I hadn't recognized him. But then I realized it was him with his characteristic expression as he told someone goodbye. From the Rosendo I knew to the man I saw on that corner was like the difference between a skyscraper and a doghouse. The years had knocked him down unexpectedly.

I noticed that Rosendo was selling cigarrets at retail to the people who pass by on the sidewalk. The long absence of soap and water may be seen in his deteriorated clothing. Rosendo the builder had now become a beggar wandering about the central park of the town, facing hunger with his fingernails and teeth.

I moved toward him slowly. He didn't recognize me. Then I also realized he was almost blind.

"Rosendo the builder! What's happened to you, grandpa?"

He searched for his voice with a glazed look. I identified myself. And the tears appeared on his face.

Rosendo had seen me just after my birth. Those were the good times. He was then a master builder. Rosendo's hands and style were in the foremost buildings in the province since long before the 1st of January, 1959. Until a few years ago he was in the "contingent" (the construction work force), staying out of danger. But bad luck had tripped him up.

"My old woman got sick," he said. "They didn't give me leave to take care of her. They said sick leave in Cuba is only given to women. What did the bastards want? That I wouldn't be with my old lady when she left me forever, boy? I told them that I was staying with my old lady come what may."

After his wife died, Rosendo went to the contingent boss to ask to be reinstated in his position. But they had already given him his "lay off." No one took into account that Rosendo had spent a lot more than half of his 74 years in construction, or that removing him from his work would kill him little by little. No one considered that Rosendo was ready to receive his well-deserved retirement.

They threw him out on the street. Period.

Rosendo survives now with the cigarretes he sells at retail. He lives alone; they didn't have children. I look at Rosendo and it appears to me that he is imploring his deceased wife at the top of his voice to come get him.

He responds as if he had read my thoughts: "Wherever she may be, she must be better off than I am down here. My old woman can't fail me; she will come get me soon, you'll see."

I bought his remaining cigarrettes. Then I said goodbye to him.

He left the corner with a doubting question, "Since when do you smoke, son? You never used to smoke."

I smiled, "I've been smoking only for a short time, Grandpa."

He said goodbye to me as one who knows he won't return, aware we might not see each other again. I had lied and I felt somewhat pained. I deceived him, but buying the cigars without telling the lie would have offended his pride. Rosendo never stood for others feeling sorry for him. He always earned his livelihood with hard work and not with pity. I don't smoke and I don't think I ever will.

I watched him moving along until he was far off. I tried to smile along with a tear and let the cigars fall at the edge of a sewer drain.

"Rosendo, they've given you a low blow," I thought. "Probably more than one of those who threw you out on the street now live under roofs raised up by your hard-working builder's hands!"

Rafael Contreras Bueno, Cuba Free Press.

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