He spends his days riding around the old, decrepit town, making sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing. People are supposed to be starving, people are supposed to be unhappy, and no one is supposed to be doing what they want to do.
He takes his time to shine his motorcycle before leaving the house every morning. He shines his boots and shines his badge. Throughout the town everyone sees him pass by; everyone lowers their voice when he passes, everyone hides whatever it is they have in their hands—doesn’t matter if it’s a pound of sugar or American dollars—he makes them incriminate the only rights they have.
He is master of this town, keeping everyone down, keeping everyone in line. He makes damn sure no one buys cow milk to drink, makes sure everyone has their libreta up to date—and if they don’t take today what is offered to them by the State, well, tough luck, they can’t come back tomorrow.
At the end of the day, when he goes home, he finds there’s no electricity. The month’s supply of sugar is gone: there won’t be any milk for the baby until next week.
But he sits there on the edge of that bed, polishing his badge and polishing his boots. Items that lost their shine in the year 1959.
The Cuban Patriot
Never have two words been more juxtaposed than Cuban and Patriot. What the hell do you mean, exactly, when you say patriot? Patriot to what? Are you referring to being a patriot of the Revolution? A movement that began with such promise only to be turned into the darkest period in Cuban history?
There are still many people who are patriotic to the Revolution today, although most of them work for the government, or are being paid by the government to say they are. Either way, same thing.
Are you referring to Marti’s patriotism? The patriotism to your country, to the freedom of your land from those who seek to keep you under Master’s boots! Ah, even after decades of oppression, Marti’s words have never dulled and never failed to inspire. For there was a man who was a true patriot, a true Cuban Patriot.
La Patria. The Land. The Country. The Motherland. Cuba.
I consider myself a patriot of Cuba. Not of the government, not even of its people: of the land itself. A blending of Spain and Africa. My home. Where my roots still grow even when I am no longer present there.
Ghost roots. Ghost patriot.
Here is a man who is extremely proud of all he’s done. He’s a real revolutionary. He was up there in the Sierra Maestra all those months. Fighting. Surviving.
He fights for a way of life. An oppressed people. No more, he tells himself. No more.
Truth and justice will soon ring throughout the land.
Well, after we take care of all these traitors then we’ll have fair trials. They don’t deserve fair trials.
And after everyone has enough of everything then we can start producing everything for everyone.
Well, it’s not working very well now, but we just got started, give it a few months. A few years. It works so well on paper. It practically has to work.
Everything and everyone who does not live for the well-being of this country shall be thrown out.
Well, what’s the point of freedom if people can’t choose for themselves?
That’s an imperialist and capitalist idea. It has no business here.
He is a revolutionary. That sees his revolution imploded. It’s been deceased.
Still, he is proud. Still, he imposes. He hoards and keeps things for himself—things no one else in the country has. But he puts on his olive green uniform, salutes the statue of El Che.
He smokes a cigarette with his coffee for breakfast. His mom is out on the small patio frying some eggs. The house door is open and he sits on the rocking chair looking out as the people walk back and forth. A couple of the neighbors walk in and go out back pour themselves some coffee, saying good morning to him as they pass.
And he wonders…
Is this my entire life? Will I not know anything else? Am I doomed to stay here?
He’s excited that his cousin, visiting from the U.S, is here—she’s still sleeping. She’s like his sister and he missed her. But he wonders what his life would be like if it had been his mother instead of his aunt who had left Cuba all those years ago.
What would he be? What would he have done?
He smiles as his cousin comes down the stairs and gives him a good morning kiss.
The First Love
She knew it was stupid falling for a boy here when she’s only going to be here for three weeks. They’ve known each other since she was four and he was six. He lives only three doors down to her aunt’s house, where she stays every time she comes to Cuba—the house that used to be her parents’ before they left the island.
She’s thirteen now—turning fourteen in three days. He’s already sixteen and charming. They are very much alike.
They spend those days talking, laughing, and walking around town, kissing by El Malecon, kissing in the rain, dancing, and laughing some more.
But it’s not made to last, you see. She is leaving—gone.
He’s left behind.
Two yearning hearts.
Her name is Julia. She’s eighty-five years old. Her nickname is Yuya. It’s become like a brand, passed down to her daughters and granddaughters—and now great-granddaughter too. Whenever they pass by, people always greet them on the street and say, “Ahi van las yuyas!”
She had six kids in total. But one died still in infancy—Giovanni, Leukemia—and another only last year—Alberto, Lung Cancer.
She’s got eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Her husband died young. A crane snapped and fell on his car, which happened to be passing by at that precise moment.
She never remarried.
And she raised her kids in a harsh environment. It was an island in paradise, sure, but the ones in charge chipped away at it until it was nothing more than a memory. Lost in time.