How I Spent My Christmas

By Lorenzo Martin Martinez

HAVANA TIMES – I spent Thursday night and early Friday morning just like I’d spent the night/morning before… waiting in line. We drank rum, quite a lot of coffee, played dominoes and some of us slept while sitting on the sidewalk or all huddled up on a staircase.

Dawn broke and we all got back into line, but based on my experience from the day before, I just went home to have a quick wash, have breakfast and then I went straight back. My math was good and the truck appeared again, but this time it was only carrying 120 pieces of meat and they said that it was very likely that a new load would come in at about 2 PM.

Exhausted, but still hopeful I’d buy meat on Friday, I waited the entire day for the second truck to come, as I was pretty sure I’d get some if it really came… and just as the truck driver said, the second truck came with its precious load at around 2:30 PM.

But in Cuba, and there’s always a but, I was lucky to be quite near the front when they began unloading chunks of meat and believe me the stink that came from it didn’t make it appetizing at all.  Those of us waiting in line asked the truck driver what was going on and he said that the meat was “slightly less chilled”, but that it hadn’t gone bad. He explained there’d been problems with the freezers and that’s why they were in such a hurry to distribute it.

I’ve gone hungry a few times in my life, but I still haven’t got to the point that I need to eat food that’s gone bad. Thank God my son had put money on my MLC card in the morning, and I can get by with that.

I went to the agro-market and I sold 50 MLC at 175 pesos each. There was meat at the butcher’s, clean and boneless, for 400 pesos. I bought a couple of clean fillets that were almost 6000 pesos between them both. I took out a piece to give to Finita and I marinated the rest to cook it at my mother’s house on Saturday the 24th.

I left for Playa early on Saturday, and was lucky with transport as I was able to catch a taxi quickly, which leaves me pretty close to the house. In addition to the meat, I took a couple of bottles of wine, which is the only thing my old lady drinks, a bottle of rum to take a few swigs with Chacho who always shows up and I took some salad.

I reached the house and Chacho was already there willing to offer himself as the cook. He contributed with a few boxes of beer and lots of good cheer. We organized the kitchen, Chacho took on the role of chef and we kicked off our 24th with beer and wine.

Ah, but happiness never lasts long. At about 2 PM, my sister Maria Luisa came with her beloved Dennis. They brought a box of beer that they’d been given at work, as well as their bad energy.

As soon as they arrived, mom’s facial expression changed. She gets nervous whenever we’re together because we always end up arguing over politics, but I swore that I wouldn’t let myself take the bait this time. I like to see my old woman happy and honestly, I don’t know how much longer she’ll be here with us, so it’s not hard for me to swallow my tongue.

The afternoon passed by with beer and chicharrones, from a piece of pork skin that my sister had brought. I took refuge in the kitchen with Chacho and the hours passed by quickly. We finished cooking everything by 5 PM.

I sat in the doorway with Chacho and that’s when Dennis came to sit with us. Chacho began to tell stories about his adventures in Africa, like he always does whenever he drinks, and he never lets us interrupt. Only some laughter that Chacho himself joins in with can stop him from talking, until Dennis thought that things were too calm and blurted out to me:

“And what does my brother-in-law, the gusano (worm), have to tell me?”

My answer soon came in the form of a beer can being launched at him, which didn’t hit him square in the face thanks to Chacho moving unusually fast and pushing me so I missed my target, although he got pretty drenched by the beer. Chacho came between us both, standing in each other’s faces aggressively, and he preached:

Coño, I can’t believe you guys can’t keep the peace even on a holiday. You’re going to kill the old lady with a broken heart one of these days.”

“But Chacho…” I tried to interrupt.

“You keep quiet,” he said in an authoritarian tone, “I know you weren’t to blame, but it wasn’t that bad. And you, Dennis, listen carefully to what I’m going to tell you, I’m more of a revolutionary than you are. I’ve taken part in a thousand things you have no idea about and I built this Revolution with my own hands. But I still won’t disrespect people because of it, and you’re doing it on purpose. If you really want to bother the guy, pick a day and go out into a field and give each other 4 blows, but without taking your lap dogs and showing off your rank, fight like a man. But don’t come here, at the old woman’s house, to stir shit up because I swear if anything happens to her because of you, I’ll pull out the old wrench, which is still in good shape, and I’ll hit you a few times, I’ve already done my job. Go inside to your wife because you know even I can’t stand you out here.”

“What’s going on Chacho?” mom asked from inside, hearing Chacho’s tone of voice.

“Nothing, old lady, Lorencito getting annoyed with me as always,” he said to calm the situation down.

We drank a couple more beers in silence until the women called us in to the table. Pretty much all of us ate in silence. You could only hear mom’s and Chacho’s voices talking and trying to liven up the dinner.

We’d barely finished eating when Dennis’ phone began ringing. It seems it was work-related because we went out to the doorway to take it. He came in with a sad face and said:

“Mari, we have to go, something’s come up. Sorry old lady, but we have to go, work calls,” and he gave my mom a kiss on her forehead. “Well, brother-in-law, we’ll see each other, next time don’t be in such a bad mood.”

I was going to get up, but Chacho kept me in check and I calmed down. Mom doesn’t deserve to have one of the few days we’re together to be spoilt. My sister gave kisses and best wishes to everyone and then left with her husband.

As soon as they walked out the door, the atmosphere became relaxed as if by magic and Chacho became the same old chatterbox he always is, mom began laughing and I caught the giggles too. I opened a bottle of wine to have it with my old woman and took out an egg yolk and almond turron that she likes.

The wine and turron accompanied more of Chacho’s tales, as he told us how they made the “real” turron in Spain. As for the wine, he went into lengthy explanations about how the production process works from the vineyard to the bodega and bottle, as his grandparents were renowned wine producers in the Homeland, until Franco confiscated their land and put them in prison for being Communists. 

Midnight came along with the alcohol we drank and Chacho’s stories, we wished each other well for baby Jesus’ birth and went to sleep, after I made sure Chacho got home OK, just a few meters away. By the way, Chacho who always goes on about being so Communist, has never been able to shake off his Catholic inheritance and beliefs.

Read more from Lorenzo Martin’s diary here.