“Relatives who have to move,” he asks at the front door of the Faustino Pérez hospital. Two or three people approach with faces contorted in pain and eyes tired from crying or not sleeping or both, because nowadays many of us in Matanzas have droopy eyelids and a broken soul.
The family waits a little, they don’t know whether to wait for the doctor’s report or to go to the Hotel Velazco, a place reserved for the relatives of the disappeared and burnt victims. He watches them sympathetically until they finally decide to ride. The green Lada walks away with its handwritten sign that reads FREE health workers and families of the injured.
I think I missed the opportunity to speak to Ariel. I already knew him from social networks, I knew that since Saturday he was moving to people linked to the incident in the Matanzas industrial area, at least for his passengers, free of charge. I’m a little frustrated, it would be a great life story I might think selfishly, but I can’t bother him. What is a simple interview next to what he does!
I’ll wait a while while they call us to go to the burn room. In a few minutes, the green car will reappear to repeat the routine. Ask, but there is no one there. He sits down to rest and I take the opportunity to ask him what the reason for this gesture of solidarity is.
He looks at me for a long time, his face reflecting tiredness and uncertainty. “I have an 18-year-old son who does his military service very close to these tanks. I have a full view of this area from my house across the bay in Reparto Iglesias. When lightning strikes, my wife calls me to say there’s smoke. I am informed quickly.
“I already had an idea of what was going to happen because at some point in my life I was involved in the construction of these deposits, I know part of their operation and how complicated it is to control. I immediately called my son, asked him how he was doing and gave him and his friends hope that it could work out,” he swallows dryly, as if the flames are burning his throat.
“From then on, there was a phase where he would call me every five minutes and tell me:
-Dad, it’s ringing, what’s going on?
“I tried to tell him that it’s normal for metal to explode. So he, his mother and I stayed in touch all night.
“We saw the moment the tank split, the oil spilled and the flame ignited. Concerned, he insisted that the heat was searing him. I told him to stay by the sea for a bit and they did.
“Around 5 o’clock in the morning the explosion occurs. At that moment I worry because I saw that I was in danger. I quickly got up, washed, got in the car and left. I know this area and I know it also has an entrance through Bacunayagua and I went there.
“I walked down that road and got there around 7 a.m. and they were already evacuated. He sent me a message to tell me and I replied: see you in the evacuation area, I stayed here.
“I was an Interior Ministry official for many years. I retired five years ago and am now a craftsman, but I have very good colleagues there. I stayed with some officers who guarded the training center. That was hell. The flames were very close. I asked if there was a need to do anything else and they told me no, the only thing left was to complete the evacuation of the dogs.
“Then I said to myself: I’ll look for another place where I can be useful. I went to the fire brigade, asked, but there is actually a high level of security there, I left my number if it was necessary to transfer a colleague.
“I came home,” a tear runs down her cheek to stifle a sob that escapes her. He rubs his hand over his face and bows his head, crying.
“My wife was upset because they already knew about the disappeared and among them are many of my son’s friends who come together from elementary school, vocational school and are close to their families.
“This tense environment, plus the incredible amount of messages that were pouring in that were not good and the hate being distilled from Facebook and other social networks, overwhelmed my patience. I said what am I doing here and asked my wife if she could help me. answered me:
-Please stay away from danger.
“I went back to the command post, but they didn’t need anything. I was driving through Ayllón and at the stop there was a doctor who told me she had been there for an hour to get on the Faustino. I brought her with me, I realized that she was a neuralgic point and could help.
“I arrived at the hospital and asked: relatives to go to the Pre, Ayllón, and they answered me immediately, and I mounted them. Then I put up a poster with a marker from a neighbor and started going on trips. People started seeing me and asking if it was free and I said yes. So I stayed until about 8pm on Saturday night when I saw that nobody was there and everything was pretty quiet.
“The other day I got up at 6 a.m. and went outside. That’s when I realized that Cubans have incredible souls. I went to Servi Bellamar to serve petrol, I refilled and when I paid the clerk said to me:
-You’re not the one who moves people. No, no, you don’t pay here…
“And they shut the window and the door and wouldn’t let me give them the money. That really moved me. They already knew me because by chance one of the passengers and then a journalist published a publication about me, a lot of people saw it and it had a tremendous impact.
“My friends called me from the United States, they asked me for my card number and gave me 10,000 pesos for everything I needed. The last thing that happened to me was that a lady was waiting for me and asked me:
-You walk for the km because I’ve been waiting for you for a while because they told me you’re coming.
“I told him yes. I mounted it and when it dismounted it threw me an envelope of money which I still haven’t opened and said:
-That’s for gas, that’s the only thing I can contribute.
“There is a group of mommies from Havana who also messaged me asking for my card number to deposit money. They are people who want to help, Cubans really want to help and to keep this going I will continue to contribute until it’s all over.
“I’m not the only one, several people have joined me, a boy in the red polo shirt, Elmer, the one with the black car, the people have been well behaved. I don’t think it’s such a big deal. Great what the boys did there, putting out the fire, taking turns pouring water into the tank, knowing full well that it could cost them their lives. There were friends of mine, colleagues from the Minint, friends of my son who began to live… and will stay there forever”…
Two tears fall, he wipes his away and I duck my head furtively and wipe away the drop that runs down my cheek. I keep the recorder as a mark of respect. They call me, we can hardly say goodbye and I forgot to ask his last name, big mistake of a journalist, they will crack me for that I think. I can look it up on social media but I don’t think it will be necessary.
He’s just Ariel, the one who put his chest and heart into it when it was needed. The one who, like so many others, is batting for Matanzas and for Cuba at this time.