••• The International Writers Magazine: Cuban Life with Jerry Alan
The Bread Line
Tales from a balcony in Cuba
A cat phones the fire department.
‘This is the cat. There’s a fire in the kitchen.’
‘Is it serious?’
‘Your address please?’
‘The number of your apartment.’
‘Look, I’m just a cat. Not a mathematician.’
His Spanish had improved a lot. He was encouraged because a few people in the bread line had tittered at the chiste. And it was a captive audience.
“The cat,” he continued, “was on a plane flying into Varadero when the flight attendant gave him a visa card. ‘You put your name here, your address and your passport number here,’ she explained.’
‘Look, I’m a cat,‘ said the cat, holding up his paws. ‘I don’t have hands.’
Somebody laughed. He saw some smiles. It was pretty bad but it was a bread line.
Laurant and about three-hundred people were in a ‘cola’, which means ‘tail’ in Spanish. A Queue. A line-up. They were waiting for bread and for some reason everybody thought they had to have bread because there was a hurricane coming. Laurant had seen the crowd of people and asked somebody what it was and it sounded important so he joined them.
“People are getting bread. There is a hurricane coming.”
Batches of bread baked and sold out just as quickly. While the next batch baked, the line got longer. Laurant waited through two batches and was getting closer to the busy nub of the line. He thought the bread might be handy, as nobody knew how long the blackout would last. Two days, three, more – nobody knew. He was not sure how important the bread was so he just followed along. Two loaves per person seemed like a lot of bread. Maybe if he chinked the walls with it, it would lessen the wind.
“The cat goes to the beach at Varadero,” says Laurant. A few amused eyes. “He sits on a beach recliner in the shade of a big blue umbrella. There is a mojito next to him and the drink has its own umbrella. The cat takes a sip and watches through his sunglasses as a great white tourist prances into the shallow water directly in front. The tourist stumbles on a rock hidden in the sand and falls face first into the water and drowns. The lifeguard rushes to him and drags him out of the water, plopping him next to the cat but cannot revive him.
“The cat takes a sip from his mojito. ‘Did you see what just happened?’ asks the flustered lifeguard. ‘I saw everything,’ says the cat. ‘Why did you not help him?’ asks the lifeguard. ‘I’m a cat. I don’t like water.’” A heavy brown woman moved closer. She was having a good time. “Are you the cat?” she said. “No, I’m really more of a mouse,” he said.
Two white hatted men pushed the newest batch of bread on tall-shelved carts into the distribution area. The outlet was a table at the door where a woman collected the money and passed out the long hard-crusted loaves. Laurant figured he was about number thirty now and as the wind picked up the crowd was pressing in. However, the cola was intact. Laurant was behind the heavy brown woman who was behind a fellow in a blue tee shirt. Everybody knew who the two people were immediately ahead and also the one behind. If somebody fudged the line to get ahead, it was called a ‘colita’. Laurant really did not care much about bread. He did not see what the point was but he had joined the line and there he was with only a few more minutes to wait.
Finally, he was next but a thin shabbily dressed man pushed passed Laurant to the front and demanded service. “It’s my turn!” The colita was stark. It was obvious. He could not pretend he had not jumped the queue but still there he was expecting service without waiting. People protested to the server. She crossed her arms, stared at the man, and said to him, “You’re going to have to wait like everyone else.”She stepped back from the outlet and sat back in a chair while the man raved and pleaded, making his case how he could not wait and had to feed his fat wife. There were some words and some laughed at him. The standoff lasted several minutes yet nobody in the line physically removed him even though there were plenty of big men and women capable of it.
Finally, when the discussion ceased and the man was just standing there looking defeated, the server came up to him, took his money and passed him the bread. Nobody beefed. It was a typical Cuban way of handling things.
He got his bread and walked down Twenty-Third Avenue and towards his rental on Twenty-Seventh, in a two story home. The army arrived in heavy greentrucks. He watched as a brigade of young soldiers sawed off tree branches and piled them into heaps on the street. They did the job and were finished and left within twenty minutes. He went up a long set of stairs.
The wind gusts were picking up and the duena, Maria, invited him to have dinner in the main part of the house with her daughter and husband and their cousin who cleaned the place.
The lights went out and they drank some white rum and watched from the balcony. Everybody was off the street now. The curfew was on and even the street cats had found shelter probably in the cat bar where a magical bird poured sweet wine.
An avocado tree unloaded its burden of fruit and finally crashed to the street. The cousin disappeared down the long stairway and came back a few minutes later with twenty big avocados. Laurant watched out the window as a score of neighbors scrambled around grabbing up the rest.
The storm blew into the small hours and Laurant went to his room with a candle and listened to it while he sipped the last of a cup of rum and munched on avocado and bread.
© Jerry Alan June 2018
Pips Wally & Dogman Jones meet Maradona
Pips Wally went to Cuba one year at last. He had heard about sun and fun, fishing and brown girls - all that he liked – but it took an invite from Dogman Jones and some harrowing circumstances to finally convince him to go.
More from Jerry's Balcony Stories
What the Heck is a Yuma?
Tahimi told him that she had not called him a “Yuma” the night before. Somebody in that room sure as hell had. He hated that word. Why couldn’t the first Americans in Cuba have not come from Idaho?
It was heating up on the balcony. Laurant, laboring on a homonym, was trying to finish his sentence but a desire to crawl back into bed with Tahimi kept returning to his mind. It was 12:30 pm and she was still asleep. He was up since nine.
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