HAVANA TIMES – I walk in haste. We’d agreed to meet at 3 PM. I only have two minutes left and still need to walk six blocks to get to the meeting place. I’m anxious. I hate arriving late, even in a situation like this.
People come and go. A man looks at me, draws near and tells me I’m beautiful. I don’t pay him any attention. I carry on. I don’t have time to rebuke him for his harassment. The line at a peso store goes all the way around the corner. Two women are arguing and the rest watch on, some try to intervene, I carry on walking. It begins to drizzle, I pick up my pace and my heart begins to beat faster too. I finally cross the avenue and reach the meeting point.
I look at my watch, it’s 3:05 PM.
I’d received a call the day before. I didn’t answer at the time because I was doing something important. I received a message soon afterwards, asking me to call him as soon as I could. I wasn’t going to do it, but he insisted anyway.
I called him back after a while, he asked me for details linked to paperwork I have to do – in a tone of voice that expressed concern – but I imagine that he didn’t say everything he wanted to, maybe because the first thing I told him was why I hadn’t picked up before, but it might have also been because I was quite hostile in the last call I received from him, a month ago. He said goodbye. We hanged up.
Minutes later, I received another message, he told me to meet him at the place we always meet, I asked him to change the meeting point because public transport is bad and it’s far away from me, he didn’t put up a fight. I enjoy using him as a taxi sometimes, because Cubans pay for his fuel. His compulsory meetings turn my stomach; I know what they mean and the consequences involved. I can’t help but feel bad. I get a pang in my stomach, the day won’t be like it was.
I’m nervous, I look right and see the repressor coming.
“You don’t have your cellphone, do you? I called you and you didn’t answer,” he told me.
I told him I didn’t, but I do have it; it’s at the bottom of my backpack on Silent mode. I’d sent my current location to a few people before leaving. Even though this isn’t the first time, I’m always afraid something might happen to me.
I get on his motorbike, I try to keep my balance so I don’t have to hold onto him. The helmet doesn’t fit me properly, I have to put it straight a few times. I’m on my period and I can feel my trousers pull up inside with every pothole. It’s a long way; it’s also very uncomfortable. I just want to get there and get it over and done with. He asks me questions along the way, they are signs of what’s to come, but they can always surprise you.
We arrive. They’re waiting for us. It’s always like this. It’s the same house I was taken to last time, but the usual room they take me to is closed. They take me to the next room. They’ve just turned on the air conditioning and my chair is right in front of the unit; I know I’m going to be cold, colder than you’d be in a hostile place, despite pieces of furniture being spaced out like they would in any Cuban living room and with immaculately painted walls.
I’d been warned about who was waiting for me. The presence of a new repressor is abusive, I don’t like it, less so when I’m here against my own will. We said hello to each other, he asked me how I was, I told him I was OK. His fake friendliness bothers me, and trying to pretend we’re friends bothers me even more.
“We’ve kept our word, we haven’t bothered you during the time you needed. But the question is: have you kept your word?” he says to me.
I don’t know what to answer, I’ve been overwhelmed: work and studying, mainly. It’s been almost two months, I don’t remember what I could or could not have done, which is a normal and everyday occurrence for me, but a problem for them. I also don’t know what I should have done. Before the last meeting, I had abandoned the project they tried to destroy.
He lists everything I’ve done during the time I was supposed to have been left alone – that was the promise they made me. I nod my head the entire time, he asks me again if I’ve kept my word, I tell him I have. He asks me the same thing over and over again, then he raises his voice, my constant no’s upset him. I don’t want to be in this place, I don’t want to come back, but I won’t let them lie, I won’t keep quiet when I don’t agree.
The new repressor continues on with his re-read script that he’s memorized by heart. I look him in the eyes, he isn’t to blame, but I’m not in the wrong either. They won’t make me feel bad about what I did. None of this affects them, but they are afraid of people like me, they are scared that we won’t keep quiet.
During our last two meetings, the normal repressor hasn’t spoken, he just watched me in silence. At the end of the day, he’s just a private soldier who keeps quiet in front of his superior. Maybe this is the behavior they were expecting from me; maybe it’s his way to set an example so I learn. But I don’t have any bosses, I don’t owe anyone my respect, nor do I have to be an example for anyone. His job – of being a normal repressor – is to keep people quiet and serve the table when the door that separates the cold room from the kitchen? the pantry? God Knows, is knocked on.
I drink some coffee. It’s free. They always joke around because I drink way too much coffee during these meetings – which is what they like to call these encounters – but I know, and they know, that if I’m here against my will, there’s no other name for it but INTERROGATION.
The new repressor apologizes for raising his voice before and carries on. His questions unsettle me sometimes, he talks to me about situations and people I don’t know; he’s testing the waters and also sending messages to other people. It’s his way of making me know they have control and power. He always lets me know his convictions between the lines, convictions he calls revolutionary, but he also expresses interest in my personal life, he wants me to believe he’s worried about me. He even insinuates we can be friends, after a while and when we keep on seeing each other. “No, Lieutenant colonel of State Security – I call you this because I don’t know what your name is -, we aren’t friends and we will never be friends, you will always be my repressor.”
The Lieutenant colonel ends the meeting, I drink my third cup of coffee and he eats. He’s surprised by some salt crackers on the table. The normal repressor doesn’t eat or drink coffee, he just drinks water, he carries on in his exemplary role.
I light up a cigarette as I’m leaving. The new repressor talks to me about trivialities, he wants to normalize the situation. He says goodbye and apologizes for being in his work clothes, he’s wearing his Ministry of Interior (MININT) trousers and a worn-out T-shirt.
I get on the motorbike again, I relax a little, I’m on my way home, my safe space. The normal repressor talks to me and asks questions, he really thought we were friends. I play along, I know how to be cynical.
I get off and say goodbye, I walk the few meters that separate me from home. It’s dark, I was gone two hours; last time, it was four. I see the decimated line. I wonder what these people would do if they knew where I’d come from or where I was going in the afternoon. Would the guy harass me? Would the women carry on fighting? How would they react when I walk by? Would they feel sorry for me or have compassion? Do these people know what it is when many of us hear the names: MANUEL, JORDAN, ROBERTO, JUAN CARLOS, GUILLERMO, HANSEL, ADRIAN, SAMUEL, KENIA, DARIO, DIEGO…
Do they know what it feels like to receive a call from State Security?
No, they probably don’t, and they probably don’t care.