My Cousin Bebito

Veronica Fernandez
Veronica Fernandez

So who is Bebito? I can tell you that he’s my first cousin and during the first six years of my childhood we lived together in the town of Regla where I was born, on the other side of the Havana Bay. He’s the nephew of my late father, son of his only brother, also deceased. His real name is Urbano but the family has always called him Bebito. My paternal grandmother raised him and granted him all the whims ever had or to be had – as we Cubans say.

Bebito was always very restless. When I was born he was already a handsome young man, but even so he used to play with my sister and me. He adored motorcycles and everything dangerous. He kept my grandmother in pure terror.

One day I saw him cleaning a revolver in the back yard of the house. I went up to him and asked, “What’s that for?” He answered, “To make revolution.” Of course I didn’t understand anything at all that he was saying. When I asked our grandmother what he meant about a revolution, my grandmother grabbed me by the arm and dragged me into the house.

That phrase went around and around in my head, like any child who senses that something is being hidden form them and burns to discover what it is. I wondered – Why was my grandmother always taking pills for her nerves and her digestion? I would watch her following Bebito from one part of the house to another, and even more so when his friends came.

One day I hid under a small table in a corner of the living room where no one could see me and I could listen to the conversations of the grownups. I said to myself – now I’m going to find out what this mystery is. I listened to them talk of sabotage, of breaking this thing and the other, of rebels, of Fidel, but I still couldn’t understand anything.

A few days later I found my grandmother crying, and I asked her what had happened. She told me that she was worried about Bebito who has gone off to the Sierra Maestra without even saying goodbye. I asked her “What’s that?” And she answered “A place very far away and I don’t know if he’ll come back alive.” I put my head down and walked off sadly at seeing my grandmother so distraught.

In time, I came to understand what my cousin Bebito had been involved in. He was one of the members of the 26th of July movement which had risen up against the Batista dictatorship that was in power at that time. Bebito had to leave the country – my grandmother told me – because they were searching for him to kill him. They came and searched our house several times.

A few days after the triumph of the revolution, Bebito returned home and reassumed the work that he was assigned. He graduated as a journalist from the University of Havana and worked in the magazine “Cuba International” and later at Prensa Latina news agency where he served for five years as correspondent in the former German Democratic Republic. He went there with his third wife, a woman much younger than him, who left him a short while after they returned to Cuba.

As I said, my cousin Bebito was always very restless in all aspects of his life and unstable in questions of love. I don’t know if it was due to his bad luck with women or the very busy life that he has led. He has a son from his first marriage, who has given him one grandson, and a daughter, born from a casual relationship, who he never sees but who has also made him a grandfather. Now in his old age, it has occurred to him to be both father and grandfather to a little neighbor boy who he has raised from a child and who is now 16.

My cousin Bebito who was an atheist from the day he was born is now religious and practices the Santeria religion. From a young age he was a tireless revolutionary fighter, but no longer. As I’ve said he doesn’t have a partner and he lives in a small room in Regla with no glory and with many aches and pains. Last week I went to see him and he said: “Don’t worry cousin, I’m not going to collapse, but I’m not going to change either. Such is life.”

2 thoughts on “<em>My Cousin Bebito</em>

  • This is a fascinating portrait you’ve drawn, Veronica. Much food for thought, on many themes…
    Thank you.

  • It’s a shame to see that your cousin could not grow old with grace and dignity and enjoy his life’s accomplishments. Clearly he does not. We can at leat thank him for what he did for socialism — more than many socialists I know. However much sand that may be in his mouth now.

    I hope he doesn’t read this. A shame, that.

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