How to leave Cuba - The 10 Step Guide

         Manuel and Mercedes

         With the ocean a couple of blocks away the heat of a Cuban summer could easily suffocate a bronze statue. Nothing more relaxing than sitting on a rocker chair under the shade of the porch, relishing on the freshest of gusts aimed at him from the ocean, well within sight. A smile of conquest caressed his lips and tilted his head back to rest it against the old wooden frame. “Life is almost wonderful.” The notion immediately became one of the purest to ever cross his mind, for he had reached the peak of Leisure Mountain and not a muscle in his body objected the thought. Sadly, a cold splash of any liquid proves more than effective to crash even a moment of superior caliber.
          “Coño, Mercedes, don’t play around like that!” Manuel’s cigar pointed down, a very foul smell emitting from the fifty-four gage unlit tip and feeding his anger a bit more. There was no fancy ring around the spotted puro, but Manuel held it with the confidence that the Commander in Chief himself couldn’t even sport. “You just ruined a perfect Cohiba Siglo Seis because you are a clown. Do you see how upset you make me, woman? And it is all because you can’t take it easy!” His eyes fell onto the cigar once again, mourning its untimely death with a firm, manly sob. He shook his head and let out a few “coños” before getting up from the rocker chair.
         The puro hit the blazing sidewalk. Water stains decorated its wrapper in numerous spots, including the cap. Most of the cold water had gone to cool off Manuel, though, who now stood in front of the stealthy Mercedes. “Why you had to go do that for, mija? Why on my face? Why not on my pants like a piss stain or on my chest like a practical joke? Why on my cigar when you know that’s like mentioning my mother’s name que en paz descanse?” His fourth and fifth digit met forming a circle, explaining to the woman the girth of the wasted good, soon shaking the same hand towards her with an accusing index. “You better have a very good reason for interrupting my relaxing time because if you don’t I am leaving the house and I am going to play dominoes until I get the next family heart attack!” The rocker chair came to its last screeches and Mercedes still stood silent, shooting bolts from a steady gaze that had seen many terrible things. Manuel, of course, knew better than to extend the argument, thus tightened his green cotton shirt and patiently waited for her to speak. The dry wind caressed both of their light-clothed bodies; Mercedes’ curly hair cleared from her shoulders and floated along until both hands dexterously entangled a tress. Her hands rested on either side of the curvy hips because it was the national sign of anger, and not due to sudden rhythm intoxication by a percussion-rich Cuban son. The train of realization made a brief sojourn in his head, reminding him the reason why he was now a bit more soaked than the chicken in the soup cauldron. A sole shiny mid 50’s Chevy Fleetline strode by, giving Manuel a chance for a change of topic, and maybe, if God showed him any sign of mercy, leave the portal unharmed.
          “Oye, Mercedes, I know you must be mad for any reason, but can you believe the gas is up to four tablas a gallon? It must be good to work for Castro and be able to afford driving around Calle Marti with a nice and polished car and a fiana badge on the plate. Coño, chica, this country is a piece of filth!” The woman’s eyes opened as wide as the eyelids permitted, shrugging and bringing her index perpendicular to her shushing lips. “Carajo! Watch your mouth! You’re going to end up like your cousin!” Felito-the-cousin had achieved the same fate as the anti-government graffiti artist a few weeks ago for giving the Committee of Revolutionary Defense a piece of mind. Lately a bottle of Havana Club, a dozen beers, and a bit of courage had become slightly more suicidal than a skydive with a steel parachute.
         The common chant of slippers on the sidewalk reached her, catching her attention and making her head swing warily. The whisper shifted into a loud, cheery greet. “¡Buenos dias, Julieta! How are things going, mijita?” Julieta blinked repeatedly after a toothy grin. Her long batecasa had lost its colors years ago, but it still wrapped itself tightly around her body, almost as if tattooed. That, she thought, was what the barrio needed; a very open woman absolutely not afraid to show her big curves. Mercedes had known Julieta since childhood, thus could not dare judge her outfit remembering how good it used to look on her. Time changed her body, though, but surprisingly not her airs.
          “Mercedita, the milk is at the bodega already, in case you didn’t know. Let me tell you...” Her hands joined together to form a cup over her mouth. “Papi is already old enough, so we’re getting milk at the house. I love it because buying it in the candonga costs two eyes and a gallbladder, and we’re swallowing a cable the size of Camagüey. They say the eggs come tomorrow. It’s about time!” Julieta imitated her previous smile and resumed the walk without awaiting response. Gossip, as she felt, was a healthy tongue exercise that kept every neighbor without mentioned ability informed. She had gotten exceptional at this skill, her house being one of the two with a television, thus where half of the block would meet every night to watch the telenovelas, and where the kids would snack cremitas de leche for only fifty cents and watch their aventuras on Channel 12 at seven o’clock.
         Julieta’s house was notorious for its lack of maintenance. It was, by far, the largest in a few squared kilometers, and the locals avoided passing under her covered porch for fear of falling debris. A few chunks of wood had struck some neighbors without seriously injuring anyone and often enough to label some areas off-limits. Long ago there were barricades warning pedestrians, yet these were also pulped by the debris. They could not be blamed for not trying.
         Two colonial pillars guarded the entrance, raising the gable roofs to at least thirty feet. It had not seen paint since the Mariel ‘80, when Rodolfo left the country, yet despite the dozens of dents and cracks it remained as solemn as ever. The outside walls were not as lucky as the Corinthian pillars, missing the bricks holding the window iron bars securely, leaving some hanging on the bottom frame, others lose on top. The rust on these bars were smartly hidden by a few layers of black paint that failed to covert the progressively antiquing metal, chipping a bit more every day to give a clear view of the rust. This failed miserably to match the long lost color of the wall, granting great evidence that many, many colors had faded into an unknown one, only achieved by salty breeze and ardent, perpetual sun. The large tiles of the portal had suffered the ceiling strikes; some shattered and cracked, a few missing, and some plainly conceding the house a beautiful ancient atmosphere by having outlived a few human generations. At the bottom of the pillars a few morivivis rested, always susceptible to the slightest touch and ever so afraid of the pestering youth that do nothing but close their leafs every time they run by.
         The entrance almost resembled a drawbridge. Any tourist not familiar with colonial houses could fear the unwelcoming slash of a Spanish-accented knight upon opening the exaggerated door. “Joo haff bin smitten!” Reason one; the huge dents on the light wood resembled an axe throwing target. Two; a couple of well-fed mature pigs could come in at the same time with plenty of space to gain more weight. Three; abuela Regla Quiñones Mendoza (the knight, in this case) had the temper of the same two pigs if they were to get stuck, and her rocker chair just happened to be conveniently positioned a few steps behind the door. This, as the whole Nuevitas knew, was an efficient way to keep thieves and vendors out.
          “What do you think I am, Manuel Garcia Torres? Do you think I’m a mula de carga that is always gonna work for you day and night? All I asked you to do was pick up the big, stinky regalito that Mochito left in the middle of the living room and you bail on me to come outside and smoke a cigar? Do you know what just happened in there? Abuela Clemencia was drinking cafe with that tittle-tattle vieja from the corner and when she got up she stepped on the friendly shit only to kiss the floor with her forehead. Now we run the risk of Fidel Castro coming here to ask what happened because you know she’s gonna tell everybody that lives within the continental limits! And abuela is in there trying to keep that tragic bruja alive that as we speak is hyperventilating and faking a heart-attack. The worst part is she fakes it so good she has one for real every time. Manuel, if you don’t pick up some responsibilities around this house I’m gonna fly out of here and you’re never gonna see me again!” Her face became long and red as a mature guava, taking a deep, needed breath. Her chancleta, anchoring on the heel, kept repeatedly tapping the ground. Manuel knew this was no sign of happiness.
          “Look at this; listen to me. Maybe she deserves it! Maybe God sent her the punishment we have all been waiting for. See? You married a prophet who is only here to punish the forked-tongue people and you commit a sin by soaking me with cold water. Be careful, you can be next.” A tiny, closed flying object reached the side of his head. It was her knuckle. “You unsentimental criminal! Nobody deserves to slip on shit because a sangandondo decided to grow a belly!” His head ducked too late, bringing both hands to cover the site, keeping a close eye just in case she decided to make it a double knuckle sandwich. “You are a beast. I cannot understand why I tolerate things like this, you see? Don’t worry, when I get to the Yuma I’m gonna hire a maid to do all the cleaning for us…” His voice lowered as the sentence came to an end. She nodded, deciding not to warn him of illegal comments anymore. A young girl in a Chinese bike flew by, laughing so loud the couple turned. “Viejo gordo! She’s got you in check! Behave!” The volume of the laugh upset the man terribly, raising his own voice. “¡Guaricandilla! I may be fat, but I’m eating the food your family is not! Tell your Ethiopian-looking father to come to my house and I’ll feed him! ¡Me cago en ti!”
         Nuevitas was known to everyone but visited by a few. Its infamous Playa de Santa Lucia had brought tourism from all over Europe to discover this little sea port affected so much by time, but the beach still remained the attraction and not the numerous architectural secrets hidden in its history. There were locals saddened by the loss of their female youth to tourism entertainment and even infuriated, but one can only damage the loved ones so much. A jinetera caught in the act could face much sorrow in prison, thus most families opted to keep it a secret, even though the knowledge was public. Mercedes had lost her daughter to the dollar a year ago, and since then, having effectively blamed her husband for it, a light dimmed in her eyes; Manuel felt no guilt but feared the release of the suppressed anger could terminate the twenty year love. Thus, he avoided the topic and remained quiet whenever Mercedes spoke of her. Some families could not afford to let negative feelings take over; their daughters brought home decent food and random household goods whenever business proved successful. This was quite often, considering Santa Lucia grew by the day and attracted Italians like mosquitoes to Julieta’s naked toes. Shame was not the name of the game, and although jineterismo walked hand in hand with sorrow, it solved problems. Survival did not take this job under its wing either. Commodity was the issue; the basic human instinct of working to have a feeling of accomplishment and to maybe, for once and perhaps not for all, own a thing or two.
         The onset of the nineties brought an unexpected surprise to the all ready destroyed island. Russia, its counterpart in all major decisions, had stopped providing cover and had retired a system that only seemed to work in old books of theories and mythology. The feeble commoner influence in their own lives had come to a complete stop. Wiser minds from former generations began to fade, and their progeny now raised families of their own. These, oblivious to the neighboring ongoing of the world, forgot the strand of common sense carried by their pre-communist ancestors that knew well what quality of life consists of. Soon the natural question of where food comes from turned into a regimental finger pointed at the United States. Manuel’s favorite argument was: “Listen to me, but look at me. How can the Fifo blame the United States for not having anything when things like milk and meat come from the cows? And how about the sugar? Are the canes undergoing embargo too? Listen to this, but listen good. We eat cows and drink their milk –they don’t give us either one at the bodega. Cows eat grass to get fat, and they don’t need Flintstone Vitamins to produce good milk. Grass is all you need! Since when has grass been imported to Cuba? Now, show up to a restaurant wearing fancy clothes and dying your hair blonde. What happens? Do you want to know what happens? Well, they serve you the best food there is in the whole Caribbean, they pat your head and comb it if you want, they smile with teeth that know what real toothpaste is and have never had to brush with soap, and never mention anything about the cows or the foreign grass. Why? Because, gentleman, the Fifo is a son-amam-bitch, and if Mercedes wants to kick my mouth because of that, then I’ll be a martyr for esspeaking the truth.” He heard his father’s stories many times, never exactly fascinated at how much the family possessed before the Castro nationalization, but intrigued at the knowledge that other lifestyles did exist at one point. The current one was general; not a soul under fifty years old knew any different.
          “But anyway, Manuel Garcia, going back to the old lady and the dog shit; why don’t you go in there and clean it before I rub all your clothes over it before putting them in your suitcase? You decided to bring a dog into the house, even though you know there’s not enough food for even the humans in here, and I have to follow it everywhere because if it knew how to fly it would shit on the walls. If you like the puppy, you better clean his poopy.” She turned around, hurrying back inside. The door shut behind her. “And hurry up! Your dog is looking at me, and if he only knew how much I want to kick him right now, he would pick up his own stink!” The words filtered through the door edges, weakly reaching Manuel’s ears. The man shrugged, sitting back down.


         The corner, as it had been for the past ten years, was packed with fish-loving neighbors. The fish market had just received tilapias a couple of hours ago, and the line all ready reached the art gallery conveniently located one hundred meters past the middle of the block. Saturday, as part of popular belief, was the best day to stand food lines. No stress, no work, no kids playing nearby. It was the perfect time to spend quality time with your neighbors, even those that come out when no one else does. Time to conceal doubts; time to learn new things about new people; time to gossip. “Julieta! Come here, mijita, it has been foreeeever since I see you!” The soothing chancletas obediently marched towards the screechy voice.
          “Hola, Maria Elena! It is true, chica, a little longer and I would have forgotten your face! I guess we are the last ones in line, eh? No worries; I don’t have to do anything today and we haven’t chatted in a while. Beautiful day, don’t you think? Everyone is complaining how hot it is, but I bet you if it essnowed everyone would really complain! People don’t know how to appreciate the things that God give’ us, chica.” Maria Elena closed her mouth, anxious to release her load of words but knew well Julieta was no easy match. “What fish do they have, anyway? I saw the truck pass by but couldn’t ask Roli-the-driver what it was. Last time’s pargo wasn’t too bad; I wouldn’t mind having it again. Tia made chuletas that still have me sucking my fingers. I told her I would cook this time, but not to bring all the cousins because they would eat my walls if I was not there to look for missing bricks. As a matta-o-fact Pepito just had his appendiz removed, and I think it is because of so much food intake, mujer. The doctor says that no one knows the reason why it happens but how can you not after looking at a one-hondre and fifty pounds boy that is only eleven years old? You offer him a rock and he will eat it with tomato sauce! I told his mother already; she better saw his mouth before he loses the other appendiz!”
         Maria Elena’s eyes widened, left brow almost meeting her well defined hair line. A minute smile showed the courtesy of attention, but the rest of her face betrayed it. Julieta had stopped talking to her, or so it seemed, for her eyes now rolled in all directions illustrating every comment.

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Jhon BWraith
Novel / Novella
writing Jhon BWraith
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Comical personalities bring you some of the struggles of the tiny island of Cuba. Make sure you read the dialogues with an accent, for added effect!
Published Date
5/4/2005 12:00:00 AM
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