Ariel Glaria Enriquez
HAVANA TIMES — The girl stepped out of the darkness.
“Hi. Do you want some company?”
The foreigner looked her up and down. She wasn’t very tall. She had a beautiful smile and was very young. She seemed to be well-suited for his intentions.
“Why not?” The foreigner replied in perfect Spanish.
“My name is Maya.” The young girl said getting onto her tip-toes so she could give him a kiss on the cheek.
The man breathed in the fresh humidity of her recently washed hair and the fragrance from her neck. “Havana is a city of contrasting odors,” he thought to himself.
“Where in Spain are you from?” She asked.
“Are you staying closeby?”
“A few blocks away. In the Ambos Mundos Hotel. All that’s left for you to say to me is viva Espana.” The girl laughed. Her eyes sparkled under the streetlight.
“That’s the way we Cubans are. We poke our noses in other people’s business.”
“They are also very easy to get to know. Shall we have a drink?”
“OK. But first, I want to have a smoke.”
Along their way to the bar, she turned her head around several times as if she was being spied on from a dark corner and held onto his arm.
“It’s so that the police don’t stop me.” She said.
They walked into a brightly-lit place. The few Cubans who were there were accompanied by foreigners too. A group of musicians were singing boleros.
“How old are you?” He asked when they sat down.
“Twenty-one. I’ll be twenty-two soon.”
HIM: How long have you been doing this?
HER: Long enough to know how to do things well.
HIM: Do you always go out alone and at night?
HER: I used to go with two girlfriends and a friend. But the girls got tired of the fact that he used to beat them and so they left this lifestyle. They live together now, as a couple, and he is in jail.
HIM: Did he also used to hit you?
HER: That doesn’t matter anymore. Why do you want to know so much? Are you a policeman, by any chance?
HIM: Not at all. Where are you from?
HER: I’m from a town in the Holguin province. In the East of Cuba. There are only old people there now. You had better order something.
The waitor came and told them that all the drinks were warm. The only thing they had cold were fruit juices.
HIM: Why did you leave?
HER: You don’t get tired of asking questions, do you?
HIM: What else can we talk about?
HER: To tell you the truth, you don’t seem like a policeman but you are strange. Are you a journalist?
HIM: Don’t worry. Tell me everything you want to about yourself. I will also pay you for this.
HER: The only thing we had in my town was the sugar factory. One fine day, the State decided that sugar was no longer profitable and ordered the majority of the country’s sugar factories to close down. Then my town got covered in dust. All of the young people began to leave and come to Havana. To “fight” like we say here. I came two years ago. With a cousin who already lived here. He taught me everything I know. Here, once you find somewhere to stay, the next thing is to find an opportunity in everything. Sometime before I came, many young people were sent back to their provinces. It was funny. In a short time, everyone from my town came back to the capital with more people. So while people in Havana were leaving Cuba, Cubans from the eastern provinces were coming to Havana.
HIM: And once they get here, what do they do?
HER: Anything. But the most important thing is to stay and to try and bring our families to live here too.
HIM: It seems easy enough but, from what I understand, Havana isn’t that big and if everyone from the provinces comes here, there will soon be a big problem.
HER: The problem already exists. There isn’t a lot to do here either. But, it’s the capital.
HIM: Have you thought about leaving the country?
HER: I wanted to travel, but not to stay.
The band stopped playing. The singer passed the hat by the tables.
HIM: I understand – he said looking at his watch – I think it’s very late and they won’t let you into the hotel.
HER: You really are a strange guy, but I like you.
I took 20 CUC out of my wallet. “Is Maya your real name?” I asked her. She leaned over the table. “Almost,” she whispered into my ear. I suddenly thought about naming her after a flower and that I must be mad…
NOTE: CUC is the US dollar equivalent notes that circulate in the Cuban economy as convertible currency. 1 CUC is worth 24 regular pesos or CUP.