By Ariel Glaria Enriquez
HAVANA TIMES – I owe the almost sensual pleasure I have for butterflies to my childhood stamp-collecting hobby.
Back then, space travel was just another game in the Cold War, and lots of Soviet stamps were sold in Cuba about the trips they made. Imprinted in my memory are the stamps of Russian astronauts smiling in their hermetic space helmets. These were my first collections.
However, my interest leaned towards anything that floated in the universe; comets, stars and constellations began to fill my collection. The imagination of those in the past tracing one star to another and seeing animal or human shapes, left my expectations incomplete when I’d look up at the night sky from the humble street I lived on.
I was never able to see anything that resembled a fish, goat, or a lion from my sidewalk, and yet I was fascinated for a long time.
Collectors my age had more worldly passions. Stamp series of sports, cars or animals were very popular, followed by series of war and historic content. The closest to my passion were the kids that leaned towards aviation. Progress was key to them, and that’s where the word “fuselage” came from that stuck with me.
And then I met Raisa
Immersed in this world, I met Raisa one afternoon, and her love for butterflies made me leave my dark passion for stars and constellations behind, quite unexpectedly. It happened one Saturday at a place on Neptuno street, where people would go to sell and swap stamps.
I showed up there for the first time with my album and dark collection of planets, stars and constellations. If all adventures begin with the smile I discovered as soon as I set foot in that place, my entire life has been an adventure and if I insist that the name behind that smile is Raisa, it’s because of all the times I have tried to salvage all of the possible fragments of this story from the broken mirror of memory.
The place looked like an old abandoned store, it was quite big, not very well-lit and smelled of damp. The people there were split up into groups under the dim lights. Raisa was near the entrance, standing behind an old mahogany desk and holding an album as if it were burning her. As soon as I saw her, I turned back around, held the album between my legs and buttoned up my shirt.
When I went back inside, she was talking to someone. I went up to her and stood quietly by her side. Suddenly, Raisa turned towards me and with the same smile that swept me off my feet when I arrived, she asked me if I liked butterflies.
My memory of her inside that place begins with her smile and ends when she stretched out her hand and told me her name. Then, we walked to the Malecon, sat on the wall in front of the sea and I began to talk to her about comets, stars and constellations. She offered me her album at some point, and I gave her mine. It was an unspoken gesture. Before leaving, she said the only thing that I definitely remember hearing, “I’ve never met anyone who collects stars.”
When I gave her my album, my intention was to see her again. Her album is one of those mysteries that life blesses us with. I kept going back to that place until the place shut down because it was in danger of collapsing. I never saw her again.
Her stamp album stayed with me for a long time. I learned everything I know about butterflies today with that book. On a trip to the city of Santa Clara, I forgot it at the house of an old family friend.
I returned years later for it. They showed me with great enthusiasm where the butterflies had ended up. They had all been cut out and pinned all over the house. I went up to one, it was glued inside a picture frame. It was a kind of Egyptian butterfly with spots on its wings like eyes.
If I said anything or let any emotion slip, the only thing I can remember of that family is that I left without saying goodbye and I’ve never gone back.