By Ariel Glaria
HAVANA TIMES — He came back home with a bandage wrapped around his head, with no recollection of what had happened to him. It was the summer of 1984, a Thursday afternoon. Two weeks later, he was already out and about, greeting everyone and answering by his name, Miguel.
In addition to the Communist Party members in the building, some people probably knew what was going on. I found out years later from Pipo, who was no longer a butcher at the time, but people continued to call him that till his death.
Roberto, from the second floor, was the one tasked by the Party to tell Miguel that, while he was fighting in Africa, Ines had cheated on him. Despite this and the pressure applied by the Party, the two remained together.
Two months after his accident, Miguel was kicked out of the Party rank-and-file. I don’t know of anyone who has dared asked Miguel if he recalls having once belonged to the Party or that Ines cheated on him.
As of that moment, the couple opened the business that made them popular. At first, it all seemed a kind of hobby to distract Miguel from his traumas, but the fish multiplied and I myself helped the neighbors with their fish-tanks more than once.
In two years – a span of time I have since used to measure the success of all enterprises in Cuba – the business became so prosperous that my building came to be known because of it.
Roberto finally succumbed to alcohol. His mother and wife abandoned him, fleeing the house one night after he tried to beat them. His most notorious act of violence came months later, in broad daylight, when he tried to stab his dog on his balcony. The animal desperately leapt down onto the street, where it was picked up and saved by Elena.
Through the remainder of Roberto’s life, the animal did not stop wagging its tail whenever it saw its former owner go by. Roberto fulfilled his promise of drinking himself to death. It was the most peaceful drunken bout I recall. He left the bar on his own two feet and looked more sober than ever when he walked past me. He died that same morning.
Luis, who doesn’t miss a single wake, did not remember what year he died when I asked him. Flora returned to her son’s apartment, where she spent the last years of her life looking after a nephew of hers. Her decency always had a kind of anachronistic appeal that surprises me to this day. Canelo, the dog, died a week after his first owner passed.
There are two versions about the accident that changed Miguel’s life. According to one, the door of a bus he caught slammed shut on his head. The impact was so powerful that he simply collapsed on the pavement, unconscious, after getting off at the next stop. The other version claims that, at one point, the bus swerved so close to the curb to avoid a pothole that Miguel’s head struck a traffic light. The only one who truly knows is Miguel.
In 2002, the couple moved out of the building and I haven’t seen them since. The last thing I heard about them is that they sell exotic fish and have become the pioneers of a domestic market with legal ties in the Amazon.