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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year:

‘… few more steps and I’m in,’ he thought. Cautiously, he dragged his feet along a cement ledge three stories above a busy street in Havana. The sky was overcast, the night approaching. He moved slowly, clinging to a dilapidated wall scarred by years of neglect and erosion. Winds from the sea had been taking a toll on these old buildings; plaster crumbled and fell off, leaving patches of raw concrete like open wounds on cancerous skin. He took a deep breath and reminded himself not to look down; he was now within reach of the window.
The window gave at his first push; he crawled over the sill and found himself again in the dark, rectangular room. There was a table in the middle with two chairs, he remembered, and on it stood a vase of flowers. It was too dark to discern it, but he knew it was there, this was his third burglary in the same place in less than a week. There were no valuables to be found here, but that didn’t matter. The place was tidy and clean. He was a burglar, not a thief - and he liked the smell of flowers.
It all began a few weeks ago, maybe a month. At first it was just a plan, a way to escape the mundane and the poverty. He entered households by the way of windows, air vents at times, but mostly he preyed on open doors. People here had nothing; there was no need to lock doors. There was, in their households, nothing of great material value, nothing to steal. He enjoyed though getting good at what he was doing; he also enjoyed the thrill.
Yesterday, he broke into a man’s apartment, probably a bachelor’s; the place was a mess. His bed, covered in stained and tattered sheets, was probably not made up in days, maybe weeks. He found a sealed box of Cojibas beneath the man’s bed, and smoked one of them: a Robusto, and a sure fake, meant likely to be sold on the black market.
The cigar was awful and it didn’t draw smoke. He left it intact in an ash-tray on the kitchen counter - the dining room table was clattered with junk. He was tempted to leave a nasty note and complain about the sorry state of trade in Cuba, and how the unsuspecting foreigners were being sold crap instead of genuine tobacco. He decided against it; the nation was demoralized, Cubans were beyond redemption, rotten like their homes.
Last week he burgled a house of a defunct comandante, a former revolutionary. There were pictures of the old chap on the walls with Ché, with Fidel (probably in Sierra Maestra when Castro was still very young) and there was a picture of the General with his, most likely, deceased wife. How did he know she had died? Well, there were no pleasant smells in the house, there were no flowers. Then again, he might’ve been divorced, as was the latest fashion. Either way, he drank half a bottle of the hero’s rum, aged seven years: Havana Club Black Label, and yes, this time he left a note: Revolucion hasta siempre - ‘The revolution will last.’
Mostly though his break-ins were to less important places, still adventurous and dangerous. He broke into a couple’s place on a Saturday. They were probably out dancing. Not being able to find anything to consume and later comment on, like tobacco or rum, he used up their soap and shampoo and abused the couple’s bathtub where unaccustomed, used mostly to taking showers, he fell asleep. They, the hosts, returned home drunk and argued; he stayed scared to death and cold in their bathroom. Then they made up, made love and later passed out, both snoring. He left their place by the door which he left ajar afraid he’d slam it, leaving behind no note.
This was his closest call, he almost got caught. Yet, it further empowered him, it gave him a sense of being above the law, with Providence on his side. He’d done this for weeks now. He drank somebody’s coffee (an import purchased likely on the black market) pointing to its poor quality if compared to a local brand, genuine Cuban coffee. He complained once about a woman’s taste in poetry – she only read Plath – and recommended José Lezama Lima, a Cuban, in Sylvia’s stead. And because people kept on reporting break-ins and never a theft, he became the talk of the town of late, if not a legend.
And then he found this place - a small apartment in the attic with its neat square room, a table, two chairs and a vase of freshly cut flowers. He’d only spent a little time , an hour, maybe two hours, sat at the table, read the news (three months aged), forgot to leave a note and left. That’s why he returned two days later, and tonight again.
To his surprise, when he entered, on the table, by the vase with a fresh bouquet of roses, he found a cup and a pot with a note: "Just warm it up." The brand was local which he recalled, was the one he’d once recommended. ‘Damn it! People talk.’ he said, pretending to be irritated. He drank the coffee as it was – cold - savouring it to the last drop, indulging in the scent of the fresh roses.
He enjoyed this game, he was not afraid. What if this was a ruse, an ambush, and the police were involved? He didn’t think much of that and promised, to himself, to be back.
He stood now in the room’s centre, not far from the table. It was dark; his eyes needed time to adjust. On account of a few errands, he wasn’t here, as usual, at dusk, but much later - at night.
Good thing he knew the place, he’d seen where things were. He remembered where the chairs and the table stood, and began to smell the flowers. But tonight he sensed another presence. He lit a match.
At first he was blinded by the sudden flash of the burning sulphur, but, by and by, he regained his sight. On a chair, beside the table on which stood a cup and, to its side, a coffee pot, and a vase of roses, sat a young attractive woman wearing a skimpy, light-coloured dress with a pattern of stencilled flowers. She lifted the pot and the cup and poured a cupful of steaming hot coffee. Then, sulphur exhausted, the match died out; its smell still hung in his nostrils. Then he began to smell the coffee, its favourite brand’s unmistakeable aroma.
‘You’re late,’ she said reprovingly.
‘I’m sorry.’
‘I had to warm it up twice.’
He could only hear the voice and was confused, surprised and meant to ask but…
‘No power. Fidel’s saving plan, another blackout. Sit down. Here, by my side.’ she read his mind and replied.
He sat obediently, as he was told, by her side, smelled the coffee, sighed in loud approval and took a sip from the cup.
‘Good?’ she asked
‘Very.’ he replied
‘It’s your favourite.’
They spent the night like this, without talking. And because this was yet another night with no light, yet another blackout, they sat in complete darkness, just holding hands.
‘I’d better be going.’ he said at the first signs of dawn (no nightingale nor lark; just the first street bustle). Then he freed his hand from hers and gently touched her arm.
‘Right.’ she said as if it mattered little, whether he stayed or was gone, yet he was sure he had sensed a hint of sorrow in her voice.
He got up, slowly though, and added: ‘I enjoyed it.’
‘It’s your favourite coffee.’
‘Right.’ he confirmed and proceeded in the dark towards the window by which he had entered, but she stopped him:
‘You may use the door now. Now that you know me. ‘
‘Right.’ he said ever so slightly, embarrassed, as if only now realizing that he was a burglar and this was a break-in, and began to walk towards the exit. He now found the door, and the handle; it felt cold.
‘Will you take me to Payret,’ she asked as he was leaving, ’on a Saturday night?’
‘It’s closed for renovations,’ he said ‘It’s been like that for months.’ He knew the theatre well, he lived nearby.
‘Then, it has to be El National. Though it might be more expensive.’
‘You will take me, yes?’
‘All Right.’ he said and closed the door behind him; he was always shy with women.
‘I’ll ask for her name tomorrow,’ he thought as he descended the stairs; the ruined stairs that had seen better times. Then again, he could not see that; it was dark. The whole place reeked of urine and neglect, of poverty, but in his mind, he could only smell roses.
Piotr Wesolowski <>

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