“I’ll Die When I Feel Like It.”

Tomas Aquino (2022)

By Ammi

HAVANA TIMES – Tomas Aquino spent almost his entire life at sea, he was a sailor on a cargo ship, which meant that he would have a decent retirement once he reached old age. However, he became a vulnerable old man unfortunately, without anything but a pile of junk (bottles, plastic bottles, broken decorations people threw away), which he used to say was his treasure.

He always smelled bad, as he’d dive into garbage dumpsters to try and find something that he could recycle or sell for a very low price and thereby buy food. Tomas lived in a building built in 1914, on the second floor, in the rundown San Isidro neighborhood in Old Havana. After three collapses, despite the many complaints that have been made to draw attention to the critical living conditions this old man was living in, the Havana Government didn’t move a finger to prevent disaster, which still hasn’t led to a total collapse because of some “static miracle”.

Every morning, he’d walk down the stairs, at his own pace, with an old walking stick, and he’d wander the streets with a story always under his arm – sometimes they were real, others were spun with an extraordinary fantasy, as if he wanted to make up for his deteriorating memory, with extravagant embellishments, putting a sparkle back in his dim, sightless eyes… 

His favorite story was about General Antonio. He would tell stories of battle, as if he himself had been there, describing every detail of the cavalry, how they’d raise the machete and would always praise the Mambises’ bravery.

Tomas Aquino passed away today, at 82 years old. He was alone, surrounded by garbage, rotten food and bottles he never managed to sell, and I’m sure he was probably thinking about the poverty of an entire nation, or looking up at the sky and asking HOW MUCH LONGER?

Like he’d do when his pension wasn’t enough to pay his living expenses, when he’d have to spend over 5 hours without electricity, when there wasn’t any food at the elderly shelter or when he just longed for the stale and moldy bodega store bread roll, which just disappeared overnight for no apparent reason.

This man full of legends left this mortal world forever, and maybe you can hear his characteristic mocking laugh somewhere, with the words he’d always say: “I’ll die when I feel like it.”

Note: it took over six hours for forensic medics to take away the corpse, police were deployed in San Isidro, some men are feared, even after death.  

Read more from Ammi’s diary here.