By Pedro Pablo Morejon
HAVANA TIMES – My eyes open at dawn on November 12th. My partner’s voice whispers a “happy birthday” that reminds me that I came into the world on a day like this, at around 5 PM apparently.
I shrugged it off involuntarily. The truth is that after my 20s, I don’t really like my birthday. It’s a reminder that the years are inevitably falling upon my body.
I’m not a freak but people might think I’m a strange guy, the kind that doesn’t take a sip of beer when they are in Varadero because I don’t like the taste, the kind that prefers the solitude of a good book or working out my muscles rather than going to a party and being surrounded by people I don’t manage to fit in with.
I’m not the kind of person that gives special wishes on Christmas, or New Year, or Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day. It all seems stupid to me. I prefer to be congratulated if I win a literary contest, manage to get a visa, or achieve some important personal feat.
In short, I get up and head to the bathroom, look in the mirror and I see a young man still looking back at me. I like what I see. “I’d be in love with this man if I was a woman,” I think to myself and smile with my narcissism. I get my act together and stop messing around, today’s the day I’m visiting my daughter and I need to get a move on it.
I shave, shower, have breakfast, get dressed, kiss my partner, and leave the house. I walk to the bus terminal, I’m hoping there’s a private truck. Luckily, it’s about to leave and I manage to get onboard amidst a desperate crowd that struggles on without any decency so they’re not left behind. Once inside, we’re like sardines in a can. There isn’t space for one more person.
I’ve reached an age now when you would think any hardworking man would have achieved different goals by now, however, like many Cubans, I’ve had to resign myself to just getting by on an island without a present or future.
I try to think about something else, to seek shelter in the here and now. Stoic and a minimalist, the only way to survive this hellhole because I have no chance of leaving this country in the near future.
The truck stops every now and then. The owner tries to get more people on with the false argument that there is still space for more passengers, for us to be understanding, he’s just trying to do well. The people below think those of us up above them are selfish, they just want to travel. Those above protest because we aren’t animals, they’re just trying to reduce their discomfort. It’s the Law of the survival of the fittest.
My daughter is waiting for me and when I get out of this torment, she runs towards me, throws herself into my arms and kisses me. She then invites me to go for a walk, an outing which I clearly have to pay for.
A have a few virtual currency (MLC) left. We go into the store, which has electricity luckily; in fact, the electricity’s been on for two weeks in Pinar del Rio, I guess when they finish repairing everything after the Hurricane, we’ll be back on the blackout schedule again which has hit other provinces.
I spend everything on the card on what she asks for: a pack of cereal, another packet of chocolate, a jar of olives and some gum. There wasn’t anything else in this undersupplied store, nor did I have a budget for anything else.
“To finish off on a high note, let’s go to the Coppelia” (Ice Cream parlor), she tells me.
The line is huge and she gives up herself. We go to the park where we spend the morning with turron de mani (peanut nougat) and gum.
“That’s strange, it’s my birthday and I’m paying for everything,” I tell her with a smile.
“Don’t moan, when I leave Cuba, I’ll send you 400 USD every month.”
When we say goodbye, she takes her “present” out of her bag: an old science-fiction book which I’m sure her mother gave her and a piece of paper with some words that expressed her feelings and best wishes. Nothing of economic value, but of great sentimental value.
The book came with a dedicatory that read: “For you, papa, because you like reading so much. I haven’t read this book because it looks boring, but I know that you’ll really enjoy it.” At the end of the book, there was another message that read: “If you read it to the end, you’re a fool.”
Another piece of paper had long lines of love, gratitude, praise, which between deep and hilarious anecdotes moved my sensitive side, which I sometimes try to hide behind this armor I’ve tried to put on. She manages to bring tears to my eyes and smiles, and I have to fight hard to keep the tears from falling.
It’s incredible how this 13-year-old girl can manipulate my emotions, she’s my Achilles’ heel. But that’s not news, it’s normal for any loving father.