HAVANA TIMES — He wipes the sweat off his face with an age-worn handkerchief. He steps away from the unbearable din, the dizzying crowd. “Jesus, it’s hot as hell!”
Some kids are playing around him, yelling and running frantically. Every time he tells them to behave, they mock him and say hurtful things like “grumpy old fart!”
It had become a familiar epithet. Years ago, when he still worked, when he was a decorated employee, a union leader and a brown-nose who was always ready to answer the call of duty and criticize what people did wrong, many of his workmates called him that too.
He had never quite managed to understand why those words came to define someone who wanted to do things right, or pointed out what was wrong. “So many things had changed, even the language people use,” he would think.
People in the crowd are yelling. He chooses to ignore them. The yelling becomes louder, bringing back memories. He’d spent his life yelling.
At the young age of 15, he had gone to countryside to teach peasants to read and write. “Pencil, notebook, manual, teach, teach, teach!”
A spirited young man, he had volunteered to cut sugar cane and collect coffee beans. “Oh, malebe, Cubans won’t give up or sell themselves, malembe!”
Then came the reprisals from organized mobs: “Throw out the scum, throw out the traitors!”
During May 1st rallies, he would yell: “Fidel, pitch away, the Yanks strike out every time!”
When he frenetically fired his machine gun from a trench dug out in an African jungle, he would exclaim: “Fuck you!”
At the Anti-Imperialist Tribune, he’d cry “Free Elian Gonzalez”, and, at the many mass rallies he attended, “Reagan, Carter, Clinton, Bush…fuckers, remember the Bay of Pigs!”
More recently, one could hear him yelling: “Obama, return the Cuban Five!”
Now, he only harbors a strange feeling, a sense of confusion about what happened. He is just a tired old man with a drawer full of medals and diplomas, a veteran on a pension traumatized by so much noise.
He recalls many of his friends left the country during the Mariel exodus, and others who died in Angola, that he has only two or three friends left, people he sees when he gets a prostate exam or plays dominos at the club for the elderly.
His children rub it in his face: he sacrificed so much for the country and his house is falling to bits. His grandchildren play loud music and only talk about leaving the country.
Nowadays, he has a very important mission. Every month, he goes to quarrel with a good-size group of old people and other neighbors in line to get their 17-ounces of chicken.
Today, he hates yelling, so he steps away from the unbearable din, the dizzying crowd.