By Emmanuel Padilla
It was my last night of studying abroad in Cuba. I was with some of my classmates, sitting on the Malecoln. Waves crashed behind us. Musicians were all over the long boardwalk. The night was dark, but bright with stars.
“I’m going to play you a song,” A musician said.
He had a trumpet in his left hand and had his right hand behind my back.
“No thanks, brother, we’re fine,” I replied. I had spent the past three months studying abroad in La Habana, and I did my best to adapt to the culture.
“No, you’re not (fine),” he replied.
I was confused. I never felt threatened in Cuba, so I wasn’t weary, but I was caught off guard.
“You don’t remember me. I am Amaru…you are Emmanuel. I played you a song the first night you and your classmates arrived.”
If I wasn’t confused before…. Actually, I really wasn’t confused anymore. I was elated.
“I am going to play the last song you will hear in Cuba,” Amaru said.
And, almost on cue, Amaru began to play “Un Monton de Estrellas.”
I think about the beauty that is Cuba. I reminisce about how people treated people, how people cared about one another.
For those three months I was in Cuba, I never felt more alive, more like myself, more like a person, more complete.
Strangers became friends; Friends became family; Family was everywhere.
Time felt timeless. It was never on my mind and my mind, usually crammed with all kinds of thoughts, was clear because I was always in a conversation with someone.
There was a mutual interest between individuals, kind of like a curiosity. A feeling more prevalent however was the shared connection amongst people.
That curiosity, I miss. Those conversations, I yearn. That connection, I try to replicate everyday.
Replication. Something I have failed to do.
I was riding my bike home after Misa last Sunday. It was past 8 and the temperature felt below zero. I caught a green light and kept straight.
Riding in the cold feels like getting continuously slapped with thousands of palms, and I was thinking about turning on the heater and making a sandwich at home.
Trumpet. I heard a trumpet.
I stopped my bike and rode in the opposite direction of my spot. I heard the trumpet harmoniously rise and crack the icy sky.
I saw a man in a parking garage, playing his trumpet and filling the air with open arms.
I stopped and watched him play his trumpet. When he finished his song, I approached him, and thanked him for playing the trumpet.
See, in late September, I heard that same trumpet, from that same garage, but I didn’t stop; I didn’t want to steal his moment. This night was different.
“Thanks man,” Trumpet player said. “I come here and play from time to time. I figure I wouldn’t be doing nothin’ at home, so I come here to play.”
He was holding his trumpet, but he was no longer playing music. The harmony was coming from his words.
“Life is all about reflection,” he said. “Don’t let no one tell you different. You have to always reflect. I’m 63 years old. I blinked and 20 years went by. Too fast.”
I didn’t say anything; just the occasionally “yea’s” or “maaan’s” to show my interest and attentiveness.
The man with the trumpet continued to talk. His eyes hardly blinked. They were soft but had a pained look in them. A pain that was under control, though. It was a pain that was a part of a necessary struggle.
“I saw my own brother die man. In these arms. I held him while he died,” Trumpet man said. “I told him that I loved him. You know what he told me? ‘I never knew you did.’”
I was apprehensive about his story, but I trusted him. He would say things also that demonstrated he was sharp, very sharp.
He collected his things and we started to walk down I St. My toes were numb. My right hand was rolling my bike, but I didn’t have any feeling.
Trumpet man is Ron Cox. He plays the trumpet in a garage on I St. every Sunday. He plays for the sole purpose to play.
We walk. Through 13 blocks on I St. We walk, 4 blocks past my place. We walk, and I just listen.
I didn’t want to stop Mr. Cox from his stories. I wanted time to be nonexistent. I wanted to converse, I wanted to connect. Most of all, I wanted to replicate what I experienced in Cuba.
But I was cold, and I was hungry.
“Mr. Cox, it was nice, man, very nice talking to you, but I think I’ma go home now,” I told him.
“Hey man, you know how many people I could have done this here walk with? Not many man,” he replied.
“I’ll keep in touch, Mr. Cox. Take care and thank you.”
During that walk, and being with Mr. Cox, I came closest to what I experienced in Cuba. What I came furthest to though, was replication.
I learned that life isn’t about replication…It’s about reflection.