As I type this, there’s a Cuban man, probably about 60 years old, digging trenches in my yard, a pico y pala. Pick and shovel. He and his partner are relocating my pool filter and pump, which has been broken for a couple weeks now, as evidenced by the shimmering green water in my swimming pool.
The trench digger is a short guy, rather thin but his partnership with the pick and shovel has kept him strong. Muscular, even at his age. His years made apparent by his wrinkled countenance. He works shirtless and with a Camel between his pursed lips. He’s agile, and you could tell he doesnt need fancy powered tools to do his job. If a spoon is all he had to dig that trench, then he’d probably get down on his knees and spoon the thing as if he were attacking a 50 foot long bowl of rock potaje.
I took him some cafe cubano this morning, before leaving the house for work. He thanked me, lit a cigarette before sipping the brew. “Eres cubano?” he asked me.
“Si,” I say. “De Bayamo. Y usted?”
“Pinar del Rio,” he responds. “Llevas mucho tiempo aqui, no?”
“Yes,” I say. “I came when I was four.”
He tells me he came with his wife 4 years ago. Said he thought that between the both of them, working hard, they’d be able to help their family back on the island.
“I’ve got four kids and six grandkids in Cuba,” he says. He’s wistful and sad at the same time when he says this. “The problem is,” he says. “That no sooner had I and the Mrs gotten to la Yuma, she gets the cancer.”
His wife had a cancerous tumor removed from her breast. Then they found more cancer had eaten her femur and hip. Another CT scan found a couple more tumors in her spine.
“She’s been doing Chemo for three years.” His pick still cracking open the soil in front of him, steady, straight. “They took a four inch chunk from her leg, put in a new hip bone.” He stops, let’s out a puff of smoke and wipes the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand, “Still, though, the chemo has really affected her.”
“Coño,” I say. “Lo siento. Im so sorry.”
“She used to be so strong. Una mujer del campo.” He puts the pick aside, grabs the spade, leans on it, and looks down at the trenched earth. “Hell, she could have dug this trench in half the time,” he gestures to the fruit of his labor at his feet.
“Must be very difficult for her,” I say. “Being ill and not having her children around.”
“For her that’s worse than the cancer. For me too.”
“I can imagine,” I say, but, really, I cant.
There’s a pause in our conversation. We’re both taking in what we’ve just said to each other. Digesting it. Trying to see things from each other’s perspective.
“I take her back home every chance I get. Por que si se me muere – if she dies – at least she’ll have seen her grandchildren.”
Me cago en la madre de fidel, raul y sus mierda de revolucion. Hijos de la gran puta.