The road to the school where I did most of my elementary school was full of wise people. I speak in the past because my steps no longer take me so far towards Correa Street and I do not know how many good people will have died or how many others have relieved them in those verdicts of the neighborhood of Santos Suarez that I know the dedillo. The truth is that to go to school I tried as many routes as possible, and in each I discovered people who planted something in me.
In San Bernardino lived Santiago, a septuagenary who emigrated from Spain and liked to tell me any number of anecdotes about his endearing peninsula. With him and my great-grandmother – Abue for Eternity – who lived on his own block, I learned a closer story about those who in history classes had no name but “Spanish” and we had to look with some suspicion. Hearing them both speak was a party, and when they got drunk to sing coplas, they had to stop dry.
Gustavo, a man with an incredible memory to chat, worked in the cellar on the corner, while filling the cartridges or grinding the coffee. He loved his profession, he did everything with a colossal art, his cellar boasted impeccable cleanliness. His smile was sincere, his laughter I remember them every time I hear a similar one. So much was his memory, that about a decade ago, the last time I met him around, he remembered that day of my innocent ten years in which, by doing the house errands with my brother, I begged him to give me half the monthly quota of yellow rice.
On the other corner, Flores and Santa Irene, was the barbershop where my parents tortured me the malanguite in the sixties. I still liked waiting on the portal, as the two barbers were an encyclopedia of folk tales, illustrious characters and jokes. Even bad words were said with fucking elegance. And not to mention the skill with which they made the cuts or sharpened the knives. So much liked to go to the barbershop that sometimes, on the return of school, I would stop there to hear the discussion of rigor on current affairs or the list pass of the most beautiful women in the environment.
Beyond, in San Indalecio and San Bernardino, lived my beloved teacher Lolita. I still keep the agenda she gave me, adorned by her, at the end of fifth grade, where she taught all the subjects and made her students dream of history, geography or literature. I quote that old two-story house because, even though many of my classmates were leaving school wanting to kill, I would stop by to pick up or return a book that my teacher recommended to me or listen to the ever-luminous answers I offered to my questions. From my few years I saw her old, very old, but a long time later I discovered that Lolita did not reach forty-five when she spoke to us from the board with a voice that I have recorded here.
At Oscar Rodríguez Delgado – that building that is now a school and that one day housed a convent of nuns or something like that – we were always accompanied by an older, tall and gray gentleman, named Morín. He was not the grandfather of any of the students, nor of the teachers or service personnel of that seminternado: he was simply someone who went out of his way to help, the same replacing some teacher to maintain the discipline of the classroom as inventing games that amused his boys in the very large courtyard of the institution. With Morín I made a special friendship, which continued when I went to do high school in Lenin and, on weekends, I would fall into the House of the Trova de Correa and Ten of October, in which he collaborated, so that I would continue to be instilled in the infinite love for traditional Cuban music that he taught me since my third grade.
Somehow or another, each of those characters from my childhood left their mark on me. They expanded the scope of a tour that began through the five blocks that separated my house from the school and that still opens with every endearing human being that is made known to me.
Maybe those stories aren’t interesting enough for the one who didn’t live them. It is that I write about the need that we all have – even the loneliest of the Earthlings – to feel accompanied and accompany at the same time the family member, the friend, the neighbor door to the door or the acquaintance of the corner. This led me to remember Abue, Santiago, a couple of barbers, Lolita and Morín. To them I owe part of the good, regular or bad result of my existence. Everyone will have their legend, their neighborhood, their school and one or more friends who marked this or that tour, who escorted him in the good and the bad.
An Indian sage, Rabindranath Tagore, wrote: “Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow you. / Don’t walk behind me, I may not guide you. / Walk next to me and just be my friend.”
That’s what it’s all about: we have to go with each other. There’s no other. Ω