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The International Writers Magazine: Cuba Story

The Perrita, The Darkest Man
J Alan Billstrom


The Yuma did not bring a guitar with him to Cuba because he wanted to buy a Cuban guitar.  He had four in Canada.  His favorite was a cut away made in the 'States however most of the time he played a Mexican mariachi guitar because it was smaller and made a fine sound and he bought it while on a trip with his daughter.
Before he reached Cuba he stopped in Ottawa and there he played a small steel string which made his fingers very tough.  However after three months in Cuba and only occasionally playing a guitar his fingers had become soft and he was drinking a lot of rum.

Havana was a relief to him after four weeks in Veradero and Cardenas where he'd fallen in with a band of hustlers with whom he could barely communicate.  The rum; the girls; the heat; the Malecon; the Prada, and more tourists with whom he had less and less in common with.

One day a perrita followed him home along the Malecon.  His friend had told him it was infirm but after a kilometer under the late morning sun the Perrita was still with him so he wrapped it in his towel and carried it across the Malecon to the Casa Particular where he had a room upstairs.  There was no one around when he opened the metal gate and rosewood door.  The small living room was dark and the kitchen quiet.  He took the Perrita upstairs to his room and washed it in the shower with a foaming antiseptic then fed it some milk.

The Perrita was exhausted.  Another couple of hours and she would have perished and been nothing but another bundle of dead matter cast aside in the busy city.  He lifted its head and looked into its eyes which focused on him in passive fear.  After the washing the Perrita shivvered in the air conditioned room which was hardly chilly at twenty two or three degrees.  When the Perrita finally drank some milk he was satisfied it might live so he took some newspapers and hid her in them under the bed.

Later that day he told his friend he had taken the Perrita home.  They bought a package of hotdogs for it.  His friend told him the right words to say to the landlady.  "I want to have a dog.  I need affection."  When he said this to the landlady she agreed he could have a dog.  Later she changed her mind, but for the moment he was glad to have the Perrita there.  He didn't need affection so much, but the landlady, who reminded him of the Matt Dillon's girlfriend on Gunsmoke, had noticed his girlfriend seldom showed up on time and for the last couple of nights, not at all.  This was seen as somewhat of a tragedy in the casa.

He had decided his girlfriend was a jinatera who only saw him as a Yuma.  He quit phoning for her and stayed a few days with the Perrita, feeding her hotdogs and washing her with anteseptic.  Later he put cortisone cream on all her sunburns and she licked it, spreading it evenly over her tiny body.  He felt very happy for a momentico watching her do this.  He looked at her from time to time, appraising her.  A puppy perhaps only five or six months old; her paws the paws of a dog a foot and a half at the shoulder.

When the Landlady told him she could lose her license if it was found out she had allowed a street dog into the room of an tranjero, he was disappointed and relieved at the same time.  Caring for a puppy in a small room was almost a full time job and when his girlfriend came he had to mop the whole place with soap to get rid of the odor.

 He appealed to his friend and he helped him find the Perrita a new home in Havana Vieja.  She told him there was an old fruitseller who lived in a doorway who said he would care for the Perrita.  The man sold fruit that looked like tiny limes but was sweet.  He heard a girl who decided not to buy from him call him a 'criminal' but to the Yuma this sort of petty hustler was only pathetic.

When the fruitseller saw the Perrita, however, he changed his mind.  The Yuma had carried the Perrita there in a plastic grocery bag with some newspaper on the bottom so that the Perrita only peeked out from the bags handles.       His friend told him that the people were afraid to refuse his request for a home for the Perrita because of santeria as San lazaro was the Saint who cared for lost children and animals and might be displeased by such behavior.  Not to mention the African gods which were worshipped in the place of the saints at night.  The Yuma waited for a quite a long time as his friend went from one abode to another.  In one place the family said they would take care of the Perrita for one CUC per day however without explanation they changed their minds.  The Yuma made a joke in Spanish then, saying that he was going to sell it for meat in the Chinese barrio.  They laughed but it was not a comforting laugh.

 At last it seemed, the fruitseller changed his mind.  He beconed the Yuma to follow them across the street to a workshop where there were some old cars locked behind a metal fence.  The Yuma tied the Perrita to an hulking, half-rotted Dodge and fed her the remainder of the hotdogs.   Then he left with his friend.  Over the next two days the Yuma returned to pay the man first ten  pesos of national money then thirty for two more days more.  Room and board.

One night the Yuma's novia showed up and he made love to her.  She was very inexperienced and the whole ffair was a tender thing and when he saw her this time he didn't think of her as a jinatera.  He presumed a jinatera would know a lot more about the needs of a man.  And what of it anyway?  She was strict about missionary position and only during the most vigorous thrusting did any sound escape from her at all.  And only then came a subdued sound that escaped from her broad sculpted nose like air squeezed from a punctured foursquare ball.  He loved that sound.  And she had a most marvellous body.  Work strong arms, buttocks shorn of fat by years of strenuous acrobatics and dancing.  And those kisses that spoke sweet nothings to him and a smile that lit up her eyes with a youthful, joyous spark.  Her breasts, however, were small and pancake like, the nipples large and too narrow for their length.  And worse of all she would not lend him access to them.  She protected them as if she were being groped by a stranger on a bus.

That night as they smoked she saw that he was reflective.  She asked him,  "What is the problem", and he told her what had happened.

One night he had shown up to pay for more nights for the Perrita.  The last couple of times he had arrived the Perrita was not in her usual place, tied to a car behind a gated parkage.  He'd assumed the fruitseller had finally seen the Perrita's true nature, so very cute and smart as she was, and taken her inside.  However this time he noted a shifting of the fruitseller's eyes which compelled him to look further.  He inquired, politely at first, to see the Perrita.  The fruitseller looked regretfully at the small wad of nation money in the Yuma's hand and admitted she had escaped.  His girlfriend let out a quick laugh but it did not bother him as he had realized the Perrita was a street dog after all.  However, at the time, the Yuma had become furious and left with an accusing demeanor that cast a pall in the ether.

The next day the Yuma, numbed by morning rum, was making his way down the Malecon.  He was not thinking about the Perrita now but enjoying the gentle buzz of Havana at ten in the morning. Three musicians stopped him.  Two of them were quite black and the other mulatto.  When the Yuma told them he played guitar as well, the older man, the darkest, handed him his guitarra.  The Yuma played well and the darkest musician asked him if he had a guitarra in Havana.  The Yuma told him he did not and the musician asked him if he wanted to buy his for one hundred and one CUC.  The Yuma foolishly agreed as he liked the guitarra and was somewhat seduced by the timing and the energetic welcome he had received.  They went back to the casa particular and the musicians played.  They were very good. The Yuma paid the darkest man who said he would return later to teach him some salsa but this never happened.

The Yuma had a guitarra and the darkest man had rum said his friend on hearing the story.
But the darkest man was a baracho and while the Yuma had thought the darkest man would buy a nice new guitarra for himself he did not.  He drank up the money.   He drank up his guitarra.  And later, when he and his friend were walking on the Malecon the musicians beckoned him and had to tell them he had no time for them as he had been warned about these three.

The Yuma thought about this when his friend later told him the darkest man had taken advantage of him.  The darkest man had lost his guitarra, however, and this was a shame as he was a very good player.  Sixty years old and no guitarra.  Who had taken advantage of whom?  However, as this had not been the Yuma's intent he did not feel the full weight of guilt for this transaction.

 And it would have been badly placed guilt as sometime later he saw the darkest man again, adorned with a new guitarra, perhaps donated by one of the other Yuma's or won by hard fought days on the Malecon, shaking peas in a plastic bottle with the others of the trio.  Who knew? The Yuma congratulated the darkest man and carried on with the Artista to her Saturday showing on the Prado and there he saw the Perrita  curled up in the shade on a marble walk. She shook herself and looked up at him.  He was enchanted again.
      FIN
 

                               
Jinatero is a word that loosely means 'hustler' but somewhat defies that strict a definition.  'Jinete' means jockey.   The implication is interesting n'est pas?  It is also not very clear about what 'yuma' means.  Havana's  king of the yuma's had to be Ernest Hemmingway, however a king is immune to such labels.  Oops. The Malecon, built in the early part of the twentieth century by Americans to shield the stately colonial homes and an eight lane motorway, is often referred to as the 'couch of Havana'.  In the night the gente sit on its edge, wide enough to comfortably seat whole families who lounge on their chosen strip like they were in their own living room.  Tourists and joggers; fishermen, police and artists; and occassionally a heartbroken  drunk or two, street dogs, musicians, lovers, and the lonely drift along it's expanse.  In the daytime it is cleaned of the night's debris and is just a seawall again.

© J. A Billstrom December 2007
huckmeabone@yahoo.com

Old Bone
JA Billstrom
                                   

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