Cuba and the Night

Free Cuba and the Night by Pico Iyer

Book: Cuba and the Night by Pico Iyer Read Free Book Online
Authors: Pico Iyer
up in the Tropicana or the Salón Rojo, and Ricky, the dog, was yapping, and backed away when I came toward him, a Cuban right down to his untended coat.
    “So how you doing, Richard?”
    “Great. And you?”
    “Fine. Is always the same with me. Hey, you remember Luis?”
    “Sure.” The tall, handsome black boy came up to me with his smile.
    “Look, Richard, my brother is living here. We make a room for him,” and taking me out to the roof, he showed me where they had constructed a complete bedroom since the last time I was here, and erected an outside sink, and bought a coffeemaker. Their apartment was as full of remodelings as Trump Tower.
    His “brother” was a frizzy-haired mulatto from Santiago who looked nothing like Luis, and compensated for his lack of English with a smile. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Be happy.” I had long since stopped trying to figure out family relations here, and how Chinese-featured José from Camaguëy had a black brother from Santiago, and was introducing me to a mother who was all white in Havana.José’s attempts to explain all this had only made things worse: he and Luis were brothers, he’d told me; they were raised by the same wet nurse; they were brothers in Combinado jail. Even the simplest things were complex here. Like when Lourdes told me
“Yo te quiero.”
Did that mean “I like you” or “I love you”? Come closer or stay put?
    His “brother” went back to playing dominoes with a friend on one corner of the roof.
    “You see,” said José, with his wry smile. “True Revolutionaries.”
    “How come?”
    “They are following
El Jefe
. You know Fidel once played this game from five in the evening until ten in the morning?”
    “Sure. And never stopped talking all the time,” said one of the boys, looking up, smiling.
    Then there was a knock on the front door, and Luis opened up, to a boy who looked like a Greek god, his frilly shirt open to the navel, a tangle of dark curls, soulful eyes: the kind of guy Helmut Newton would have cast as Pan.
    “Richard, this is Carmelo. He was a dancer in Tropicana. But now he is an underground man. You know Mariel? Fidel sends all the
maricones
—the gays—to Mariel. But Carmelo doesn’t want to leave. So he becomes an underground man—like Dostoyevsky, you know? He marries a dancer and they live in Vedado.”
    “Better than prison, I guess. Better than Florida.”
    “I think it is the same as prison.”
    Carmelo, understanding nothing, sat down and ran his fingers through his curls.
    José led me to the edge of the roof, and we looked out at the whole city stretched out under the blazing Havana sun, still and warm in the silent morning. It was a strange feeling, being on top of Havana, in this blue vacuum, out of time, out of space. No way you could imagine the rest of the universe here; no way you could see beyond the moment. Just one big sensuous waiting room, where some people slept and some made out and others played dominoes, and a kid asked his mother if it would all be over soon.
    “So, José, how come I never see you working?”
    “Working?”
    “You’re always free.”
    “You call it free. I call it work. It’s not easy to live like this. But I work. I walk up La Rampa sometimes, and if I see strangers, I give them my card. And maybe I give ten people my card, two come here. And with these two I make work.”
    “What about a job?”
    “A job! Five pesos a day! Forget it! I can get some old guy—a
Fidelista
—to do my job for me. For him, five pesos makes him a millionaire. For me, it’s nothing.”
    The coffee boiled on the stove.
    “In Cuba, you understand, you don’t need to get money; you need to get friends.
M’entiendes?
So it’s better to work in the hospital, because then you can get food. It’s better to work in a restaurant, because then you can get rum. In the United States, I know, it’s different. Maybe you work hard, you get money. But here, you work and you work and you

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