The stand in line man

Every day Pedro gets up as soon as daylight starts seeping in around the rickety door frame. He sleeps in the front room of his sisters apartment in Centro Havana. He goes to the patio, has a good wash and combs his grey curls. Gracias a dios , he still has his hair, he reflects. Pedro is still a handsome man with a twinkle in his eye and he likes keeping himself nice and tidy.

He moves into the little kitchen to light the ancient gas stove. A cafecito is necessary to kick-start his day. Strong and sweet, it will keep him going for hours. Pedro is still in his vest while stuffing some bread into his shoulder bag and putting on his sturdy sneakers. A present from his son when he was home for holiday from Italy. Every day he puts them on with pleasure thinking how these bouncy sneakers have made his days in the streets so much easier. Last of all he puts on a blue shirt, careful not to crease it. He finds that looking respectable pays off in his line of work. No t-shirts with big slogans and wild colours for Pedro. No thanks!

Pedro also walks with a crutch. It is not strictly necessary, but it is handy to lean on during the long waits and he finds that it makes people more sympatetic. This morning Pedro heads straight for the Etecsa office. With the new internet for mobiles launched 3 days ago it will probably be the longest queue in the city today. And where you find long queues you will find Pedro. Yesterday the Etecsa queue was beaten by the queue to buy toilet paper, so that’s where he had been. Yesterday had been a good day. Outside the Etecsa office there is still only a handful of people. La ultima persona ? Pedro asks politely. A young mother with a baby in her arms nods, and Pedro settles in against the wall to wait. Unlike most Cubans in a queue Pedro does not like to chat much. He does not like to draw too much attention to himself before it is time to make his move. So he keeps to himself and waits.

By the time the doors opens the queue is winding down the pavement almost to the corner. The two first people are let in, then two more. Pedros attention is now towards the back of the queue. When he sees two young men with sun glasses and mobile phones arriving he politely asks the woman behind him to keep his place and makes his move. He approaches the two men cautiously, a quick conversation in low voices ensues and then he brings them back to his place in the queue. Here he explains to the woman who has been holding his space that one of these two young men is his nephew. The woman looks at him stoically, probably not believing a word of it, but not caring as long as she keeps her own place in the queue. The process now finished Pedro goes to the back of the queue and starts waiting all over again. Nobody saw the coins discretely changing hands when he shook hands with one of the men.

Because of the lack of almost everything in Cuba, the fact that a normal salary in any kind of state employment is around 25 CUC a month and the inefficient bureaucratic systems , Cubans have become incredibly creative in terms of inventing jobs. Apart from the standing in line guy, we also have the plastic bottle collector, the plastic bag seller, the empty perfume bottle guy, the organiser of taxi lines, the cigarette lighter gas filler, the wifi and telephone cards seller. And many more.