Jorge Milanes Despaigne
A friend of mine from back in senior high school (what we in Cuba call “pre-university”) had become very ill.
Back in those early days we used to share tastes in the music of Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, to name just a few.
At that time he dreamed of walking the streets of Saginaw, Michigan. He said he wanted to see the places where Stevie walked as a blind child. He also wanted to see a live performance by Michael, who was already emerging as an international star. His yearnings were such that these wouldn’t stop until he left the country.
Although I was a pretty rebellious kid, I believed in the ideals of the Cuban Revolution; back then at its height, my Afro had more to do with mere youthful exhilaration.
My friend struggled hard for the authorities to let him return to the island a year ago, after he was diagnosed with pulmonary emphysema. Since then he has experienced a worsening of his lung problem, which he blames on his unconcern about going to the doctor when his constant coughing was giving him the first warnings.
I went to the hospital where he was admitted. After stopping a moment at the entrance to meditate over our imminent encounter, I steeled myself and went up the stairs that led me to the room.
As I approached him I immediately recognized his almond-shaped eyes and that same honey-colored gleam in his face.
He didn’t delay in recognizing me, but he could hardly speak. I recalled the times of our studies, in military-like formations while dressed in our uniforms, but above all the parties and pranks.
Like that afternoon when he — with two pairs of socks stuffed in his underwear — walked up to our social studies teacher who blushed at that suggestive bulge. A wave of laughter was heard after someone read the paraphrased Lezama’s line about “the courageous swelling mule,” which accompanied the joke, because we were indeed cultured youth.
A few days ago I learned of the sad death of my friend. What came to mind was the picture he gave me as a gift during his last visit. I prefer to remember him like he was in that picture, full of joy next to Michael Jackson.