In Cuba, every thing, place and even individual has its exhibition version. We have our exemplary artist, writer, musician, athlete, sugar cane grower, sugar refinery, scientist, etc.
In keeping with the new policy of every man for himself decreed by a government suitably wrapped in a nice watertight life jacket to keep itself afloat, thousands of Cuban workers now have to take to the streets at noon to work miracles on a budget so tight they can hardly eat.
Today, they are finally leaving. Days before, everyone had been anxiously waiting for Carlos, his wife and daughter to get the documents they needed to travel to the United States.
The truck comes to a stop at one of the corners of the park. From the license plate, everyone knows it’s come from Havana. They’ve seen it before. They tear themselves free from their provincial, afternoon lethargy and quickly approach the vehicle. It’s around four in the afternoon in Guantanamo, Cuba’s easternmost province.
Though many years of neglect have effaced some its former splendor, one can still tell the building was once a luxurious colonial mansion. Today, it is one of the many shabby tenement buildings on Aguiar street, in the heart of Havana’s old town, a working-class apartment block where more than twenty families have settled wherever they have found the space.
I have no recollections of places devoid of fences or walls that divide spaces into two. Whenever I take a stroll around the city or go on vacation with my family – even when I step onto the balcony and gaze at my surroundings – my eyes invariably settle on walls and boundaries.
I love Havana, the city I live in, and there are moments when I get pleasure from talking and writing about her. There are others, though, in which that enthusiasm deserts me, and I refuse to even look out the window of my apartment.
I won’t mention his name (he doesn’t want me to). I don’t need to, anyway. It could be replaced with any other name. I’ll say only that he is an editor, one of the best in Cuba, perhaps. He is sixty-five years old and has spent more than half his life publishing books of every kind.
The afternoon settles in Havana and young people who sell their bodies begin to throng on the sidewalk in front of the Payret cinema. The young men and women sell themselves for nearly nothing. An hour or an entire night of pleasure, or all the time needed to satisfy the lustful cravings of those who pay.
I have read and re-read the congratulations that those friends of mine who have left the country (definitively, it seems) sent me this New Year’s. In their letters, they make toasts, wish me good health and express their gratitude for the life they have built far from Cuba and for the miracle of being alive.