International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year:
BURGLARS LOVE PIOTR WESOLOWSKI
few more steps and Im 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 didnt matter. The place was
tidy and clean. He was a burglar, not a thief - and he liked the smell
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 mans apartment, probably a bachelors;
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 mans 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 didnt 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
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 mightve been
divorced, as was the latest fashion. Either way, he drank half a bottle
of the heros 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 couples 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 couples 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 hed 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. Hed done this for weeks now. He drank somebodys
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 womans taste in poetry she only
read Plath and recommended José Lezama Lima, a Cuban,
in Sylvias 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
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.
Hed 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. Thats 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 hed
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 didnt think much of that
and promised, to himself, to be back.
He stood now in the rooms centre, not far from the table. It was
dark; his eyes needed time to adjust. On account of a few errands, he
wasnt here, as usual, at dusk, but much later - at night.
Good thing he knew the place, hed 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 brands unmistakeable aroma.
Youre late, she said reprovingly.
I had to warm it up twice.
He could only hear the voice and was confused, surprised and meant to
No power. Fidels 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
Its 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.
Id 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.
Its 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
Will you take me to Payret, she asked as he was leaving,
on a Saturday night?
Its closed for renovations, he said Its
been like that for months. He knew the theatre well, he lived
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.
Ill 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 <email@example.com>
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