HAVANA TIMES — Many dramatic scenes are played out on Cuban buses. A space one is forced to inhabit for a relatively brief period of time, it tends to create a false and circumstantial sense of intimacy among strangers. There, we breathe the same air, become privy to the conversations of others (sometimes even their thoughts), rub bodies, share smells and emotions.
Some days ago, while on my way to Regla in an overcrowded 462 bus, a woman startled me when she yelled:
“You took my bracelet! I saw you put it in your pocket!”
A man replied something I was unable to hear distinctly. I looked in the direction of his voice, but a crowd of people blocked the two people from view. It was a serious accusation, but the female voice didn’t show any signs of nervousness.
“Take it out of your pocket. We’re going to the police, you and I.”
I was surprised to see the people around me weren’t showing any signs of interest in the whole affair. Those who knew each other continued talking; those who didn’t looked about, a look of indifference on their faces.
The woman insisted, becoming more and more agitated. I pictured the man’s face and thought that, if he were actually guilty of what she was saying, he must have wanted to bury his head in the sand out of shame.
The bus came to a halt and, since I had to get off at the next stop, I tried to make my way through the crowd to the front. That’s when I heard the woman say: “Of course it’s gold, you swine!”
While people murmured, she yelled:
“Look, look, I was right!” I saw her hand, held up above the crowd, holding a golden bracelet.
Apparently, the pickpocket had given back the bracelet when the bus stopped at the lights of a busy intersection and had gotten off, losing himself in the crowd.
The woman made her way to the middle of the bus. She was a mulatto woman, dressed in white. She must have been around 60. I thought it commendable that she had shown so much resolve, despite the fact that no one had offered to help her. It was then, however, that people began to show interest in the whole matter and talked to her.
“But, you just let him get off the bus like that? You should have punched him in the face!”
“No, you should’ve kicked him in the balls!”
“They should cut off those people’s hands, teach them not to steal anymore!”
“They should kill them!”
As I got off the bus, squeezing past two passengers who were repeating phrases of this sort, I thought that Cubans never cease to surprise me. How quickly they can come together to plan someone’s lynching, but how difficult it is for them to support someone who peacefully defends their rights.