In a Neighborhood to the East of Habana

Osmel Almaguer

Beach to the east of Havana. Photo: Caridad

I met Yoilan in one of those brief periods when he wasn’t in in jail. Our relationship wasn’t really what you’d call a friendship; it was more like company, or guys who’d occasionally hang out on the corner together.

I was on night-watch duty at a restaurant of Guanabo and he stopped at the door to talk with me about “how hard things are in the streets.”

At first I didn’t know who he was, but later people told me that he’d spent more than half his life in prison.  Fraud, accosting tourists, theft, strong-armed robbery, contempt of authority and public disturbance: these were some of the charges for which he’d served time.

He himself talked about his life as if it were an adventure.  But to tell the truth, I kind of liked him – despite his record.  Maybe that was why I didn’t predispose myself with him, not even when in the middle of one of our inconsequential conversations he blurted out that he didn’t mess with anybody but that he wouldn’t spare the life of anyone who messed with him and got on his bad side.

Yoilan was tall and thin, though not skinny or bony. In his face you could see the signs of someone who had lived a life on the fringe and behind bars.  He didn’t show any scars but he had lots of rings under his eyes; plus there was a certain ferocity in his look and he had aged prematurely.

Many people in Guanabo respected him – or they feared or hated him secretly.  He owed money to numbers of people but he didn’t seem to have the intention of returning any of it.

A while later he stopped coming by the entrance to the restaurant. To tell the truth I never saw him again.  Nonetheless I continued hearing comments about his misdeeds: about how “Yoilan pickpocketed a Yuma (foreigner)” or how “Yoilan has owed me $40 CUCs for a year now,” or how “Yoilan sliced someone today…”

The jinetera (prostitute) who told me about that last incident did so with much nonchalance that I was taken aback.  It was as if to “slice” someone was a sport and not a threat to the life of another person by cutting their flesh with a blade.

From that day on I began to hate Yoilan, maybe because up until that moment I hadn’t been aware of the danger that any relationship with him had posed.

Then I remembered when he warned me about anyone messing with him…and I thought that on any given night Yoilan might just think I was trying to mess with him and then I’d find myself in hot water.

A few days later Yoilan “sliced” someone else, but later the manager of the pizzeria next door “sliced” Yoilan in the head.   After that I decided to quit that job and move out of that neighborhood to the east of Havana, where things are dealt with like in the old western movies.


osmel

Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.

One thought on “In a Neighborhood to the East of Habana

  • Osmel”
    This is a nice article and i like your clarity. However my “LIKE stops there..As a Cuban now living in Matanzas, i overstand your frustration with your assoc(former ) However as someone who also knows how easily some of us can slip into a criminal mindset, lifestyle or have a criminal agenda..i step back and say.THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF DIOS SOY YO?
    Moreover, i sense that Yollan was/is afraid to live, even as hard as it is here on occassion. Perhaps because he does need u, others, people, or someone(those) who can ,will ,and does love him unconditionally..?
    Hold it Son, i do not mean accept his crap (miertha) or join him in his activities, rather simply to be there and listen, and see him for more than the OUTLAW he is portraying and love him in spite of.

    As u have shared, and i repeat here.. I was on night-watch duty at a restaurant of Guanabo and he stopped at the door to talk with me about “how hard things are in the streets.” This confirms for me that Yollan is a man who is lonely, afraid, and suicidal. Suicidal because he admits that he will kill..His words>yet perpahs has not realized that MURDER is a two way street Your words again>.. Maybe that was why I didn’t predispose myself with him, not even when in the middle of one of our inconsequential conversations he blurted out that he didn’t mess with anybody but that he wouldn’t spare the life of anyone who messed with him and got on his bad side.

    In reality Yollan has the yin and the yang..and perhaps u have done the right thing by cutting him off..However u have also done better..By allowing him into “YOUR PEICE OF HUMANITY, by taking those moments and listening..So please know that even in his worst of times..He will remember you with love from his own POV

    Gracias

    Ps Thanks Circles.i am coming around;)

    MilagrosGarciaVillamil
    Former practicing Atty

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