HAVANA TIMES — Who has not reflected on death at one point or another? Who has not picked up its ghastly scent in a dark corner of one’s existence? Who has not endured it, through the passing of a friend or a relative? Who has not longed for it, at least once? And who has not been gripped by fear, having felt its proximity?
Just about every one of us has a story about the Grim Reaper to tell. As for me, I have had several experiences I thought I would not live to share.
I’ll share with you my second-to-last death-related experience. The last, I assume, will be told by someone else.
It was a weekend. The month of April was starting and, with it, the first spring rains. These had not been as strong as we had hoped, but heavy enough to drench the city.
It was the kind of day when you don’t want to get out of bed, when you want to curl up on the mattress and enjoy the scent of the moist earth mixed with the fragrance of flowers. I wanted to dream the morning away, while the rain tapped melodiously on the zinc roof. But I couldn’t: my weekend chores awaited.
Though the rain would let up every so often, I couldn’t do any washing in that weather, so I changed the order of the chores. I went to the market to buy some groceries for the following week. Mother Nature willing, I would do the laundry the next day.
I saw very few people on the street on my way to the market. People tend to stay indoors when it rains in Havana, perhaps because most sidewalks are in poor shape, or perhaps because many don’t own an umbrella to stay dry under.
Perhaps it’s because the roofs of many houses are leaky and people must return home to move their belongings out of harm’s way, perhaps they simply fear humidity will set in. Whatever the reason, it’s always the same: even after a light drizzle, few want to leave their homes.
The horse-drawn wagon/taxi took me alone to the market in the city-center. On the way over, I had some time alone with my thoughts, with some of my dreams and nightmares, and came to terms with the day-to-day problems I have to live with and those I can overcome, with difficulty.
I didn’t feel alone in the market. Many had done the same as me: they had gone out to buy groceries early, because of the weather. The crowds at the market were those of a regular, sunny day, so I had to wait in the more-than-familiar lines to buy garbanzo beans, cabbage, tomatoes, onions and some of that ground chicken meat whose taste no one has yet been able to define with any precision.
The pace got slower on my way back: I waited for a cab to take me home for nearly an hour, but no cabs came my way. I was about to give up when a man on a motorcycle offered me a ride. I didn’t give it a second’s thought. I put on the backpack with the groceries, my sunglasses and cap, and got on the bike.
Less than a kilometer from my house – I don’t know exactly what happened – the bike’s engine dropped and the driver and I fell down with it. We rolled on the pavement more than 5 meters after a loud crash.
The driver fell towards one side, my groceries, my cap and I towards the other. I don’t know where the sunglasses ended up.
The accident might have been less of a shock for me, had it not happened on one of the busiest streets in my city. Countless memories flashed through my mind in seconds: memories of my daughters, my brothers, my parents, my books, my dog.
The screech of tires shattered the thoughts of death that formed in my head. A screech of tires and a loud car horn startled me awake. The car had ground to a halt practically above us. The driver was speechless.
“It’s a miracle you’re still breathing,” said someone who had come to our aid.
“Today, you were re-born,” said another who had also come to help us up, who could not believe that we only had a few scratches on our bodies (miraculously, the driver had more than I did).
I don’t know if it was a miracle or something else, but I felt I had momentarily left this world. The honk of the car horn pulled me back to life. I don’t care whether it was luck, good fortune, a blessing. Whatever it was, I am grateful.