••• The International Writers Magazine: Tales from A Balcony in Cuba
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.
He got in the egg line-up at the bodega. While waiting, a corpulent elderly woman in front of him at the steps of the bodega suddenly fell backwards towards him. He half-caught her, his foot catching her tailbone before it could shatter on the sidewalk. He also caught her under the arms. He helped her to her feet then asked her if she was dizzy. She said no.
It was an odd place to fall, on the flat of the sidewalk. One of the others in the line-up pointed at a large chip out of the first step, perhaps the source of her fall. Laurant had doubted that but now he imagined it must have happened that way.
He bought thirty eggs, bagged up most of them, and stored them in the fridge. The rest he left on the flat carton and stacked them on the fridge’s upper rack. He fried up bacon and bread, cut up some tomato and soft-boiled two eggs. He had a good coffee that topped it all off.
After breakfast, he washed up then checked on Tahimi. He offered to play ‘stick ball’ that would be more like ‘flag ball’ to her.
“I’m suffering from menstrual cramps.”
He was still in a good mood. He had very little libido these days. Not like the old days. Oh Boy! He took more coffee out to the balcony and stared at his green typewriter.
||In the afternoon, they rode up and saw his American friend, now seventy years old. Laurant stopped in front of Denton’s columned house and adjusted the idle as Tahimi stood next to him holding her helmet. Denton unlatched his gate and came out.
“I’m Denton”, he said to Tahimi. “What’s your name?” he managed in Spanish. She smiled and said, “Tammy.”
Laurant had one hand on the accelerator and the other on the idle screw as he stood with the idling bike between his legs.
“Looks like it’s temperamental.”
“Not at all. It’s really not at all,” said Laurant, but it did not look good. Maybe he was lying to himself. This idle problem had ruined Laurant’s attempt to impress his friend of eight years.
"Oh yeah, it’s temperamental all right,” said Denton, a steady smile on his face.
He was an Afro-American as was the present idiom in the U.S. To the Cubans, however, he was a North American (which included Canadians) or a United Statesian. In Cuba, they considered themselves American, since Cuba was discovered first, or second, depending on your sources.
‘African-American’ was the popular expression of a long-standing feeling of not identifying with your own country. In Cuba, they would just say ‘negro’ but Denton was not black here. He was ‘mulato’.
Laurant’s first girlfriend put it this way, in broken English: “Lorry, I am nigger.”
“No you’re not, you are an Afro-Cuban.”
“No, I am nigger,” she said in a matter of fact tone.
This conversation had started because he had called her a “mulata”. She‘d told him she was 100% black. Almost any Cuban black you talk to will not go along with any divisive euphemism. Moreover, it is divisive from a Cuban point of view.
“You are Afro-Cuban.”
"I am Cuban.”
“You came from African slaves so you are African-Cuban. Like Afro-American but Afro-Cuban.”
"I am Cuban, nothing else. I have seen Africans. We have lots of African visitors- they go around in large groups and walk funny.” He never brought it up again.
At last, Laurant got the idle right. He had been turning the idle screw the wrong way. This sort of thing worried him as he thought there might be some degeneration going on in his brain and he was developing some kind of ‘slydexia’, an appropriate term invented by his Canadian friend, Rob. The Simson started to idle right, and then died with a ‘pop’. Laurant shut off the ignition and dismounted.
“Simson,” said Denton, “that’s a Jewish name. Where is it made – Germany?”
“Yes, you’re right.“
“Nineteen sixty-one. It was built in a second world war armaments factory.”
“And then they got the opportunity to leave.”
“The Nazis kicked them out and they took over the factory.”
“No, no,” corrected Denton. “They were given the opportunity to leave with their lives. The Nazis never kicked anybody out. They just killed them off.”
Denton led them to the gate and unlocked it. He had locked it out of habit when he went out even though they were only a few feet away. Denton was an old military vet so he had learned to do things by protocol.
“The only mistake I ever made was when I went to Vietnam,” he would say. He had said he had not seen any action but was with the engineers, building an airport. He was a resident in Cuba where he had spent a lot of time over twenty years. Around the time Obama came, he had had plenty of visitors, some of them important journalists and documentary people from the U.S.
Denton sat in an upholstered chair on the patio and Laurant and Tahimi on the steel framed sofa facing it.
“Like I said when you called, my son and I just got back from a bike ride. We were up to a beach past Baracoa.”
“How old is your son, now?” asked Laurant. Denton did not care much for the question about his young second family and made a face. “He is eeeleven,” he replied, dryly.
“How long did the trip take?”
“Yeah, that was about all morning. Like I said we just got back.”
“That’s a lot of kilometers on bike.”
"Not really. It’s okay. I’d say about sixty kilometers.”
“It is after Mariel?”
“No, it is about some kilometers this side of Mariel.”
Denton turned his focus to Tahimi.
|She stood five – six, 120 lbs., her hair straightened and barely touching her shoulders. She was curvy. He thought she must have had some Taino Indian like another girl he knew like her. She had nicely proportionate legs, narrow muscled stomach that accentuated her breasts. She was not very wide at the hip but had a shapely gluteus maximus. Her face was expressive; her eyes were bright now without the green lenses and she had a half-inch straight scar on her nose from a broken bottle or a knife. She was an earthy knockout.
“And you, young lady. What is your name again?” said Denton in his Chicago accented Spanish.
“Tahimi,” she said, putting on a bit of timidity. Alternatively, maybe she really was timid. No way.
“And SO,” he said, “looks like you’re mostly black. What are you mixed with?”
Laurant translated and she said that one grandfather was Chinese and the other was mixed with Guanahacabibi rock people or something suchlike. All bullshit anyway. Nobody knew where he or she came from around here. (Maybe that is why most of the Cubans say they are Cubans and nothing else. Surely, they are their own ethnicity by now. Even Canadians are an ethnic group.)
“How did you two meet?” he said. Tahimi understood.
“Manuel,” she said.
Laurant thought that needed explanation. “We met because she knew this army ‘colonel in his late seventies. I have been his neighbor for years and he’d told me that he knew a very good girl.”
“Oh, that’s good,” he said. “It would be hard to miss the curves on this girl.” She became coy under his gaze.
“Do you have a sister? Oops, I am sorry. I keep speaking English to you — hermana? Tienes hermana?”
Tahimi held up three fingers of her right hand and then looked at them. The fake nails had come off two of them. She hid the hand and held up the other hand that had the whole set of long metallic colored nails.
“That’s alright. I don’t like fake nails.
"Neither do I,” said Laurant.
“So you have THREE sisters?” he said, holding up three digits.
“En Mexico. Y una aqui.” (And one here.)
“One here and then you have two in Mexico. How old is her mother?”
”She's forty-four,” said Tahimi in Spanish.
“Lucky Mexicans. Is your mother guapa como tu?” Tahimi ran her hand down her side.
“Si, como yo.”
“Hmm... wouldn’t mind meeting any of them.”
“I haven’t met her mother yet,” offered Laurant.
“If she was half as nice as her daughter…”
Before he finished his wife, Yahima, almost walked past them all with their son. She stopped when she recognized Laurant, leaned over, and gave him a peck on the cheek. She smiled. He always liked her. She was a language prof. She carried on with their son, past the patio and out the metal gate. Denton watched her leave and waited until she latched the gate before he continued.
“So, Laurant, you are a lucky man, I’d have to say that. This girl is a gold seal girl. She’s good people.”
If Laurant had known the entire visit would be about Tahimi, he would not have brought her. However, there was some satisfaction to hear his friend praise her so much. He really liked her. The visit ended and Laurant kicked over the Simson.
“Starts on the first kick,” said Denton.
“Yeah, like I said, it’s actually a very reliable bike.”
They mounted and Laurant gave it some gas propelling them up towards the hospital. That was “E” street which Laurent liked to refer to as “Easy” street but Denton did not get the intended meaning. Who really had it easy, anyhow?
© Jerry Alan July 2018
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?
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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.
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