A Virus Called Farewell

Por Fabiana del Valle

By Fabiana del Valle

HAVANA TIMES – The girls had been playing in the inflatable pool since early morning, and now they seemed bored.

“Uncle, come in with us,” they cajoled him each time he went by.

The heat, the drinks, or their insistence finally tempted him. Standing in the ankle-deep water, they nodded their heads to the rhythm of the Kom song “Right Now.” I took a cellphone video of those moments of childhood jubilation. I had so much need to absorb that innocence and fill with laughter the vacuum caused by the recent passing of my father.

Despite the candid humor that the young ones tried to offer the adults, a different symphony was playing for us.  This was a farewell party. A father, husband, friend was adventuring out in search of an escape route. The conversations were short, the smiles forced. Rock music could be heard in the background, like the soundtrack to our drama.

The afternoon came.

The girls were now playing in the patio with a dying chick found among the dry leaves. They called it beautiful, although the animal was featherless, skinny, without strength.

Suddenly, the bird fell to second place in the girls’ attention. As the water from the pool was being poured out, tiny riverlets grew in the patio. The girls began to jump over these, while calling to each other:

“Hurry up, friend, or the guards will trap us.”

“Go for it, friend! Look! There’s the Rio Grande.”

Help me! I’m drowning. Give me your hand.”

“Keep going, you can do it!”

“We made it!” And they hugged each other amid the puddles, celebrating their triumph.

None of this went unnoticed. We looked at each other and peals of laughter quickly broke out, sparking yet more euphoria among the girls. We Cubans haven’t lost the custom of laughing at the disasters, inventing memes about things that went wrong. Maybe it’s a flaw in our genes, or maybe it’s simply a survival mechanism.

That day, I wished I could read his thoughts. I looked at him, followed every gesture in search of some symptom of regret, something that would activate once again the panic I’d felt in the first months of our relationship.

When we found each other eight months ago, he had already made up his mind to leave the country. It was one of the first things he told me. He had nearly everything ready: the money, the route, the will, and an objective: to recover his daughter, who he hadn’t seen for ten years, ever since the mother took her away. He’d scarcely had news of her.

But then everything began to fall apart: the route turned out to be a scam; the money wasn’t enough to seek out other solutions; or maybe it was my presence in his life that put a damper on the determination he’d possessed before, although his objective continued there like a dagger in his chest. I know he still wants to leave – there’s nothing left for him here.

We’ve built a relation based on absolute trust, on respect, and on a friendship that ties us together beyond love or sex. Because of that, I know him well. I understand what he’s thinking before he says it out loud.

“I’m only going, if it’s with you,” he repeats when one of his friends drops from sight, or when he’s stabbed by the memory of that young girl who’s grown up away from her father who’s mired on this shore.

The certain thing is that the urge to turn your back on this island spreads like a virus, passing from person to person with no cure. The children feel it; they too dream of a better future.

“Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter if they all leave. I’ll be with you until the end,” he whispered in my ear when he noticed I’d been watching him for a while.

In that moment, I believed him. I continue believing him now, while I write these lines. But that doesn’t alleviate my fears.

Read more from the diary of Fabiana del Valle here.