The Fakir

By Eduardo N. Cordovi Hernandez

HAVANA TIMES – I was twenty years old when I was finishing the second of three years of Cuba’s Required Military Service, specializing in the navy at the Cabañas naval base.

It was my monthly free weekend. Traveling towards Guanajay, I was struck by an experience which has remained in my mind for decades, without being able to explain why such an insignificant event marked me forever.

It was winter.


While traveling in the rural zones, it was customary for the buses to stop in each town. Since it was nighttime, they’d turn on the lights inside the bus, so that passengers could get in or off. Once the bus left town, they’d turn them off. During the journey to the next town, some would sleep, some would take advantage of the shadows, and a lesser group would converse, producing a murmur that blended with the humming of the motor. Sometimes the driver would turn on the light to see the hour, or to pick up or let off some farmer who lived between the towns.

I was traveling alone and I was running late. My companions would already be arriving in Havana. I was sitting beside a window, bored and wide awake.

The vehicle halted, and once again, the lights came on.  I looked around, searching for some young girl’s face, but instead a man caught my attention.  He was sitting towards the back, beside the aisle, in the row of seats opposite mine. Comfortably seated, he leaned both hands on the tube of the seat in front of him. His eyes were closed. But he wasn’t sleeping. The lights went off, and the bus sped up.

I saw him among the shadows, composed. As if absent. I cracked the window open. I looked outside. The cold air strung my face. I closed it a little and forgot about the guy.

In a while, another small town.

I glanced around. Again! That man. As if frozen. Perhaps, the only real thing there.

He wasn’t sleeping. He leaned against the seat back, his head up, his joined hands holding the tube of the seat in front. What was happening that cut him off from experience of the trip, something that formed part of everyone else’s reality.

The lights went off and on several times. But that individual didn’t move. Once I arrived at Guanajay, I’d be taking another bus for Havana. From there, I lost sight of him forever.

Nearly fifty-three years have passed… trying to respond to that question.

It’s almost incredible that an individual, without talking, can communicate something with just his presence. All these years, I’ve felt certain that he was someone who was a master of himself. That his emotional dominance was proof of the presence of a powerful and magnetic spirit.

Yes, you surely think that I’m impressionable, imaginative, and that I saw more than what was there.  That I invented a story for myself. Anyone might say that I created a mythic story about a subject who was dozing in a bus, a story that only existed in my mind. I’d answer: “It’s possible.”

However, it’s just as possible that I’m not the only imaginative fool on the planet. Surely there’s another one. Not the same, but similar! For that person who resembles me – and who I may never have gotten to meet during these fifty-three years – I continue riding on the bus, trying to transmit the impression I received from that man one December night in 1970.

Attaining this costs me a brutal confrontation with the person I am. As it happens, when I assume a comfortable position, I sink into it. After some minutes have passed, I think people are looking at me, that I seem crazy, that it’s all foolishness, that I’m getting tired. Someone coughs, laughs. And my mind wants to enter into what’s happening outside. Here, the struggle begins between the person unknown to me I want to be but still am not, and the everyday person I believe I am.

In this way, I go along discovering that the one that wants to be, is nothing but my own will imposed over what I believe I am. Both, in the struggle to govern this mountain of matter that sustains us. We go from here to there, between the unreality of the self I believe I am, and the reality of not knowing who I am.

The unknown person doesn’t always win every struggle. But, when he wins, I’m filled with triumph. On the other hand, when the person I see when I comb my hair or brush my teeth in the mirror is the victor, I feel defeated.

Many see their life objectives in terms of immediate transcendence, in large and impressive attainments. One’s importance to others doesn’t lie in the tribute of applause in an auditorium, in people asking for autographs, or in interviews granted. Those who applaud, extend their pages to sign, or record the words of the triumphant – Oh, those who triumph! – are neither better nor worse than they were minutes before these events.

Our true existential reason can be fulfilled without being aware of attaining it. I understand that this is arguable.

Personally, I want to believe that, over these five decades, it might be possible that at least one person as foolish as I remembers me, the way I recall that man who I caught only small snatches of, in a nighttime bus trip in December, along the Cabañas – Guanajay route, heading to Havana.

Read more from the diary of Eduardo N. Cordovi here.

Eduardo N. Cordovi

I was born and live in Lawton, Havana, on October 29, 1950. A potter, painter and woodcarver. I have published in newspapers and magazines in the country and in the Peruvian magazine with continental circulation Menú Journal. Editorial Oriente published my book, Bebidas notables in 1989, also published by along with my novel Conspiracy in Havana.