HAVANA TIMES — With one hand I hit a small conga drum, with the other I drank coffee. My head flew far away, I don’t know where. Then I remembered, the knocks on the hotel door, which even in the fog of sleep I opened. She was standing in front of me. Her smile was the one I teased her about one day.
It was that Japanese smile behind the camera. Photos, photos, and I thought back to my experience so very immobile in brightly colored paper. But I’m not paper, and I’m not at all bright.
She did everything possible for us to reunite. That was the repayment for all the waiting, all the money, more than I’d ever seen in my life, and all the paperwork. Finally I was on a journey worthy of the first great explorers, worthy of the first great cartographers.
The route was Havana-Amsterdam then Amsterdam-Tokyo. Nonetheless, I couldn’t make a map of my trip, just as one can’t map of a dream. That’s how the truth usually is, without any explanations, blunt. I’m here and I’m not paper, if I were I would have gotten torn quite a while ago.
The lights were bright. Tokyo at dusk. Posters, lots of people, the Tower of Babel multiplied. Could it be that they had also confused the languages because they couldn’t be seen talking. Just walking, walking to places undoubtedly certain of themselves.
What seemed strange to me was that certainty of everything, the overwhelming certainty. No one could doubt something so concrete. Entering, going up, coming down, getting in, getting out. Had there been no errors? Would I not see anyone with shoe strings untied? Somewhere perhaps.
Inside their homes people must lead simple lives, like I wanted to. Outside they had to go places with their catalogs of actions already listed. That was my naive and exaggerated impression.
Next to me was my Japanese girlfriend. She knew that the lights didn’t make much of an impression on me, or rather I didn’t know what to do with them. That was how my dream went. A few years earlier I had seen Blade Runner.
I was shaken by the city of the future, with its large buildings and dark, murky businesses. Now I was in that city. “Shinyoku” was the name of the neighborhood where I was walking. I wanted to sit down at all the small businesses, drowned among hundreds of other people, in the shadows of skyscrapers, full of smoke from strange foods, cigarettes with sweet fragrances.
Ask anything while beside those old taciturn souls, who had undoubtedly spent centuries sitting there, letting time go by who knows where in those streets around me. Though I wasn’t Harrison Ford, I felt like I was an actor in that place. Real things were there, no doubt, but they were just props. Once I finished my performance I would go home.
But where was my home?
I stopped playing the little conga a while ago. The empty coffee cup resembled a snail without a slug. The residue was there, sticking to the surface, darkening, becoming a part of it.
My girlfriend didn’t make many comments. She let me enter that reality like a store without doors. She was pleasant and patient with my ignorance.
This was my first city outside of Cuba. Everything was advertized in Japanese, and almost everything was advertized. A site for massages was publicized at the entrance where one could also enjoy other pleasures: a large business center, a golf equipment shop, a store with all kinds of hardware, several floors where they sold toy cars for collectors, then too there were Korean, Chinese and Turkish restaurants.
Each place had its place in the hierarchy of ads, which ended up turning all of the sites into one huge display in neon lights. This was how I lost my sense of length and height; I lost the sense of difference. It’s easy to become dissolved in all that.
I don’t remember much from that day…only my girlfriend next to me, taking my arm and not seeing anyone. There was one impression I recall clearly: I didn’t feel like a tourist.
Now I can make several guesses to explain this. I didn’t run into many foreign faces. The vast majority of tourists in Japan are Japanese. They visit temples and shrines, mountains and the typical businesses. They continue to prefer their food over others.
Sure, young people love McDonalds, Starbucks and Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s the age of rebellion, but there’s no interest in changing the foundation of their land.
Another thing is that they don’t distinguish between people when it comes to entering a business. Every person is welcomed and bid farewell with the same words of courtesy, they’re like a succession of identical objects that pass in front of the machines that churn them out.
The idea of the customer is a variant of what’s known as the proletariat. Maybe I was also unable to behave like a tourist. I was short of amazement or I had too many reasons. Likewise, no one cared if I was a freak.
Of all these, I don’t think I felt uncomfortable at that time. I was like a stumbling drunk who doesn’t weigh into conflicts.
The world deflowered me that day. I was a sheep without wool in a country of androids. It wasn’t clear yet what I would later become, although undoubtedly some manias would contaminate me.
I haven’t returned to Shinyoku, and I don’t feel like I’m part of the script for Blade Runner. Instead I continue to be accompanied by the same woman from that day.
Someone, in another corner of the world will be having a coffee right now. When they finish they won’t look at the empty cup. They’ll lick their gums and with the rest of the coffee on their lips they’ll kiss their son leaving a trace of coffee on his forehead. I toast this person.