What happens to men like Rudi?

Leon, Nicaragua

Leon, Nicaragua

Rudi worked as a truck driver for decades, meaning he was on the highways throughout the Sandinista-Contra years. In his mid-fifties he was laid off, and now no one will hire him because he is only four years from retirement, which a new employer would have to pay for.

“At first I stayed home” he told me. “But that was…no good.” He looked down at his feet when he said this, and his voice was quiet. “No good.”


He paused, looked around with tired eyes. His mouth moved a little, but no words came out. His cheeks were sun-lined and rough with a light growth of stubble, turning grey. He doesn’t shave every day anymore. His eyes were dark, watery, but looked at the world with the steadiness of one who knows what his life is, and does not run from it.


“So now I come here. Sometimes somebody will pay me a few cordobas to go pick something up, or take it somewhere…” He trailed off.


Another man, another park, same slow Leon afternoons

Another man, another park, same slow Leon afternoons

We sat in silence for a moment, me trying to think of something to say, he lost in memories. Then a sound like violence annihilated the somnolent stillness.


Twice daily, 7:00 AM and 12:00 noon, the city of Leon pays tribute to the cotton factories of the past by blaring the air raid siren that used to summon and dismiss workers. The trees shivered and the pigeons scattered like shrapnel. I imagined the plaster must be flaking off the colonial facade of the cathedral behind me. Rudi and I looked at each other helplessly, eyes squinting shut against the aural assault. Just another thing to be endured. After all, there’s nothing like a mind-erasing factory wail to remind you that you no longer have a job.


Once the echoes in my head subsided, I asked my new friend where the best place was to buy a batido, the fruit smoothies that the gods gave to Latin America out of remorse for the heat, and invited him for one.


Leon's parque central, where Rudi spends his days

Leon’s parque central, where Rudi spends his days

We walked, Rudi’s steps slow and steady, no need to rush, to a collonaded room where a bored high schooler stood behind a chipped white counter. We ordered two pineapple batidos and sat directly under the ceiling fan. We drank the chunky sweetness and conversed as well as we were able given that my Spanish was still dusting itself off, and he had the thick accent of an elderly local who has lived his whole life in the same place.


When we were done I shook his hand and said goodbye. As I walked away I turned to watch him for a moment and he shuffled back to his bench in the park. What happens to men like Rudi?