HAVANA,May 20 (www.cubanet.org) – Cuban authorities have implemented strict security measures at the embarkation points for the small ferries crossing Havana bay.Now, before boarding, all passengers must go through a metal detector. Newly posted signs warn passengers they can’t carry furniture or birthday cakes…
You know how it is on a stormy night when you take the ferry across Havana Bay and you smell the fear of the passengers as the waves call you to your death and the drunken ferry captain almost falls overboard three times before the rope to the harbour wall has been cast off.
The captain is drunk again, I said to my brother Ramon.
Not on his salary, Ramon said, He is dizzy with the danger.
Yes that is how it is , I said. But this danger that makes him dizzy does not affect us.
It is not that kind of danger, Ramon said.
And so we stood on the deck in the rain, all 65 of us, as the small ferry made its way across the bay.
After a few minutes, Ramon spoke again: It is the other kind of danger, like when a young chiquita comes down from the hills and sees the city for the first time. And she brings with her the smell of ripe bananas and sweet oranges so that when she walks along the street, the old men look up from their chess board and sigh: Aiy bananas, while the young men straighten their trousers and moan: Aiy Chiquita. That is how it is.
So we stood on the rain-lashed deck and prayed to God to keep a firm grip on the captain’s cojones for as long as it took. Five more minutes passed and Ramon leaned close to me and whispered : La fiesta no es para los feos. It was the signal to do what we must do and I moved through the people to get closer to the captain’s position near the front. Yes it is true I thought: this party is not for the ugly ones, but an ugly one may still start his own party. Did not Fidelissimo show us how?
When I got close to the captain, I saw it in his eyes that he still had the madness upon him. I tapped him on the shoulder and when he turned around, I pulled out the armchair from where I had hidden it in my shirt pocket and pointed it at his chest. La fiesta es perdido I said. E mas perdido. I could see from the look that came into his eyes that he had once been a good man. One of the good ones, maybe even one of the best, but tonight he stared at the armchair pointing at him and he knew that death had joined the passengers without paying a single peso. Verdad.
The captain, although he had once been one of the good ones gave a loud belch like an elephant getting up from a mud hole and the cloud of tobacco,tequila and three-bean stew caused the passengers to stumble back towards the stern of the ferry.
Que pasa? said the captain like a man waking in a gutter who feels a hand in his trouser pocket that is not his own hand. I held the armchair against his temple, and if you were not there you can never know the shiver of fear that wracked his wobbling frame. I made my voice the sound of the grave. Ramon, give me the thing, I called and he was at my side like the wind. In his hands he carried the thing that had kept us alive for the last five years. The thing that we had traded our mule, two machetes and a hundred bananas for. The thing we had to have, in the way that an old and rich man looks at a young chica in her Sunday dress and becomes an old fool for the rest of his life. Such was the nature of this thing that we had treasured.
With infinite care, Ramon peeled back the corners of the oil cloth that wrapped it, and when the light of the moon caught the shine of it, even the captain drew a quick breath.
While I held the armchair steady on the captain, Ramon leaned over and placed the thing that we had brought on the shelf in front of the steering wheel.
I stepped back and held the armchair at my side: Mi Capitan, I said in a firm voice while the other passengers crowded round,..You will take us to this thing you see before you. You will not stop until you reach it. And when we are there, we will sit around a table, you and I, and drink the best rum with real cocacola and speak of the past and the future, as men do who have looked at their feet for a long time but now choose to look at the stars.
The captain looked at me for a long time.
I knew you were the one, he said, you have a light that shines above your head, and also… he gave a small smile like a man who will not give his cards away…you have a big armchair… Then he turned to the steering wheel and took it in both his sun-darkened hands and pushed the throttle to maximum power while the rest of us stood carefully and watched the thing on the shelf ahead of him that would guide all of us to a different day. It was small but Madre Mio it shone like an angel to guide our way. One of the passengers said it was named El Statudo de Liberdad…
© Bill Dollar 2005