79. A RAILROAD MAN: Coming out onto the porch one morning I found the street full of young people repairing hurricane damages, including on Ana Maria's porch. Ana Maria came out and told me they were "good boys," juventud. So was everyone on the street. I could have finished my survey with 21 militants between the porch and the corner. And she blew my cover by boasting about what I was doing. She always tells everyone I know more about Cuba than the Cubans.
So I retired the survey for the day and strolled down to the park on the point. But in a big yard, I found an old black man sweating in the sun without a hat, hoeing around a flower bush. I thought he lived there, but he told me he was doing the people there a favor, because he just liked working.
I told him he needed a hat, but he said he liked the sun on his head. I asked if he was a gardener and he proclaimed himself an "ayudante de todos" now, everyone's helper, but, by profession, he was a railroad man, retired.
He was sweating so profusely, I suggested he should go fishing instead. We could see people fishing along the point. He said he'd lived in Cienfuegos all his life, including his 43 years on the railroad, but doesn't like seafood and has never fished.
But he liked to talk, and we talked in the hot sun. When he started on the railroad, at 16, in '58, he worked in the baggage cars, like a slave, he said. Only blacks did such work. But after the revolution, he became a package clerk, traveling between Santiago and Havana more times than he could count.
He loved it, but he likes working as he is now, too. What did he think of the revolution? Listen. He started his life as an oppressed person. Now all his needs are taken care of and his children's needs. They're all healthy, all educated, all with good jobs, plenty to eat, and freedom.
Maybe, to be "even handed," I should have asked what that meant, but I just let him talk. We were both running sweat. He leaned on his hoe. I leaned on the fence.
In Bautista's time, he said, you couldn't talk. Now you can talk to anybody about anything and nobody comes around and puts a cap on your mouth. And you can learn, because, besides the schools, the TV teaches you, if you want to watch and listen. And you can go where you want to whenever you don't have to work.
He signed because the way it is is "lo mejor que hay." Everybody signed. There are 80 people on his block. Most of them were waiting Saturday morning for the petition to arrive.