My Rickshaw

Listen to Anna Buryachenko read her story:

A twenty-thousand-ton metal ship docks at the Terminal Sierra Maestra. I’m already there with my rickshaw, awaiting the flood of passengers eager to take in the sunshine of Havana. A couple hops in, and I speedily drive them to a nearby beach. My rickshaw squeaks at every turn, but my passengers don’t hear it. I drop them off, and they join the other tourists, flocking like seagulls to the water. I do my rounds, as I’ve done for the past seven years, then head home with my rickshaw. Home is where I practice my craft.

In front of my complex, there is a Russian-made Lada with a leaking oil pan that needs fixing. Most of my tools are in the garage, but the rest I have to nab from my neighbor, who sneak-borrows them. As I run up the stairs past the peeling walls of our apartment complex, I hear my mom calling to me with needles in her mouth, “Ram, is that you? Why are you back so late?”

I shout back, “I leave that terminal at the same time every day. I’m never late!”

I hear her tsk as I dash outside with my tools. Here, my real work begins. Since Cuba hasn’t produced anything in the past fifty years, everyone drives cars that haven’t been new since the original Cinderella first played in theaters. With no proper auto shops on the island, I’ve taken it upon myself to meet the demand of the market by mastering the mechanics. Through my ingenuity, I’ve repaired cars older than my father; I’ve mended Chevy Impalas and Bel Airs, Mercedes Pontons, and Ford Fairlines, all models from the 1950s. I’ve always wanted to create a car from scratch, to produce something new for my decaying country. But for now, it’s my rickshaw in the morning and old cars in the afternoon.

This Lada belongs to an ancient couple, collectors, who occasionally come to Havana to look at the vintage cars and to get their own cars repaired. I’ve known them since I started working at the terminal. They like how I devote myself to my craft, and maybe that’s why this evening the lady asks, “Have you ever considered going to a vocational school?” She pauses, then adds cautiously, “I mean, not to say that your work isn’t top-notch, but wouldn’t you like to do more?”

“I would, but I doubt I’ll have time to study,” I say. My parents are often sick; they rely on my income and need my brother and me nearby to help them. And anyway, there aren’t any vocational schools in Havana, at least none that I can afford.

As I reinstall her mended oil pan, the lady keeps on talking. “How about a school in Florida? My husband and I own an apartment you could live in—”

I nearly slam my head against the belly of the car as I slide out to face her. She continues with more confidence. “I just had to ask. You see, this collection of ours . . . We need someone nearby for repairs so we don’t have to take a ship for every scratch or bump. Oh, you’d have your own space, Ram, and be paid. Please consider it.”

Later, as I stare at the slip with her number, I hear my tired brother walk up behind me. “Yo, can you get the door?” he asks. We file up to our apartment and leave our day’s earnings on the table while my mother rants about my brother’s latency.

I think about the lady’s offer day after day while I’m at the terminal and at the garage. Peace of mind doesn’t reach me until I pick up the phone and call her—until I end up on a ferry heading toward Florida. A fourth of my savings I’ve left behind me, along with a note and my rickshaw. The ship is steadfast for Key West, Florida. It’s not about to turn back.

Read the other prize-winning works from the Fifth Annual “Tell Me a Story” High School Contest:

A Numbers Game” by Samina Kaushek
The Black Hole” by Patience Wallace