A Re-Encounter with Old Neighbors

by Ariel Glaria

Galiano St. Photo: Irina Echarry
Galiano St. Photo: Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES — Back when the complete works of Lenin adorned the living rooms of Cubans, there were no color TV sets, everyone went to the movies and US dollars were the Phantom of the Opera, Albert told his best friend that he was a homosexual. At the time, no one used the word “gay” and “homosexual” was a sophisticated and rather strange term. The common word people used was “faggot.”

He was 33, married and the father of two children. It was a hard decision he had thought over for long, as well as an act of fidelity. The reply did not surprise him, and all of the emotional pressure he had endured for years came to an end. There was no going back. Everyone had to know that he was a faggot.

The couple did not split up immediately. Cristina, his wife, armed with all of the courage she could muster, understood him. It was during a cold, Saturday night in February. They ended up embracing in front of the bed of the children, who slept together at the time.

Rafael also made a decision. As Alberto’s best friend, he had recommended him to the Party and nothing seemed to stand in the way of his admission…until he told the Party about Alberto’s confession. He reproached himself for not having realized this earlier and concluded with the words he had told Alberto weeks before: “Had I known, I would have smashed your face.”

The first job Alberto found after leaving the textile factory was at a coffee shop on Galiano St., near our building. Cecilia and Albertico, his children, were my best friends at the time, which is how I was able to see the harmonious relationship the couple maintained while they were still my neighbors.

My mother, who called herself a communist at the time and knew, like everyone in the building, what had happened, showed her support by letting me go with my neighbors and their children anywhere they invited me and spend all the time I wanted with them. What no one knew at the time, and I only found out years later, from Cecilia herself, is that I was the only man she ever felt she had fallen in love with.

When he left the coffee shop on Galiano, Albert discovered the skills he is still remembered for. In 1980, he began selling crafts at Havana’s Cathedral Square. He specialized in leather pieces and many of his first works graced my home for a long time. Sometime later, he would begin making the leather sandals that would make him famous, when shoes were few and far between in Cuba and everyone dressed the same.

The police crackdown that put a sudden stop to the crafts that were being made at the time, did not affect him, thanks to the popularity of his wallets and sandals (which, according to Cecilia, had also become popular “among higher-ups.”)

In 1984, Alberto and Cecilia moved out of my building. Alfredo, the engineer, his wife and daughter, are still my neighbors today.

In 2008, on Oficios Street, Old Havana, Cecilia and I ran into one another. She had changed a lot, but her smile was still the same. This story is based on some of the things she told me.

2 thoughts on “A Re-Encounter with Old Neighbors

  • The Cuban translation is ‘maricon’.

  • Surely you did not use the English slang word ‘faggot’ in Cuba?

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