I had spent three entire months in Havana without house, food and love. And gathering such absences in a single line could be excessive, but there is no other way to say these things unless I tell you that I was hungry almost all the time and that’s why I insanely ate ten pesos pizzas because I was terrified by my guts moving down there, which made me think when began squirming, and those were not good times for that, at least not the best. Or unless I tell you that I almost always came around midnight or one in the morning at a friend’s house for him to think I came with a full stomach and because you can not be abusing of friends and my mother asked me to go back home, that I was born there and not in Havana. Or maybe I should tell you that I was doing this alone, and now I can not remember if I had someone close or not, but remembering in this way, makes me think that by those days I was, as I was saying, without home, food and without even a trace of love. Then I rented a room.
And I began to pay every fucking month an amount of money that easily doubled my earnings at that time. But, I have not told you everything. I knew for a while that things were going to be more or less like that, not because anyone had told me but because I had spent, in fact, more than five years in Havana. But years of college do not add much to these stories because they are reluctant to be part of anything else than themselves. What really matters is that this was my life when I met her at a bar and she told me that I was right, that my life was shit and wished, at least, a little luck.
It all began in a rather ordinary way; it began as most of the time the stories of this type start. It was, I think, a not very cold night in December and I had about an hour sitting in a bar in Cienfuegos with a friend, talking about something, anything, and looking around the red and blue lights the people who were entering with a bright laugh or a good raincoat. We had already smoked half a box of cigarettes I had bought that afternoon when this other girl came through the door and my friend stood up on a jump and began to make signs that between smoke and everything else seemed almost compulsive. Then the girl, with black hair and big eyes that seemed detached from her face, was getting closer with an unforeseen cadence that somehow horrified me. And the night went on in the middle of a horror that trickled from one body to another and that sometimes took a bluish hues and others became purple.
She sat at the table and told me that in fact, as my friend had said me, she had an apartment in Havana, near Carlos III Street, that belonged to an uncle who had left the country in the late nineties or something like that, and that she had long time looking for someone reliable to take care of the place, which, as it had been closed for certain time, had a terrible humidity and had to be repaired a bit. She added she was not cared about the money and that I did not have to pay her immediately and the fee would be very cheap. Finally she asked me the name.
Olga. I said it and kept quiet until she asked again and I answered I worked in theater and that I wrote with some regularity some notes that reached me to pay the rent, I rented in Santos Suarez, but my notes had never really been enough to pay even one month’s rent. I explained her that I had the two largest rooms in the house full of half-finished books, books that I never concluded because they were too long or too rare, or because of my eyes. My sight always hurt me because the specialists could not make me a fucking worth measuring, and that all my books, although there were none in the kitchen, had a strong smell of food impregnated on their spines and that was a rare thing because I never cooked there, I bought a pizza or a very bad burger but very cheap that were sold near Toyo corner. I said all this as I have told you, more or less, and I said it without stopping, without taking a single puff on the cigarette that it was off a few seconds ago between my fingers.
And there, I’m not sure why, we started to calculate each other from both sides of the table. She looked my careless posture, dry skin, half burned hair. I did not dare so much because something in me, I guess, was at a distinct disadvantage. The truth is that in those days I had realized that any resemblance in my face with some of those pious ideas about beauty had gone to hell and she had that going for her, because she not only looked like a doomed version of Madame Pogany in bronze, but was also about three or four years younger than me and at that time, at that precise moment of life, four years counted as four bags of wet flour.
Then I realized that something was wrong. I may have noticed it a little later or a little earlier, but something definitely was not right for that time of the night. She, somehow, had understood that all was a damn lie; I had very short fingers or hands too wide to have written and especially read so much. But she said nothing, just stared at the place; people came in and out every six or seven minutes setting the pace of the song playing in the back. I, as I told you, had only talked about my theater newspaper insufferable notes, but for some reason she understood that I had told her that I wrote poems, very long poems that I never showed to anyone because were very old ideas that do not take by surprise, coming out of a common pit, which in any case provoked a little laugh or a little sorry.
She must understood those things, because she came up with the cigarette between the teeth to a very small stage that was in that place and gave two blows to the microphone to make sure that it was no good at all, that no one had stood up there in many years, but anyway she took the cigarette out of her mouth and approached to that useless thing that swallowed words fiercely and started talking, telling me that I could not be sad, that I was not in any sense. You can say pitiful but not sad. I mean: who suffers a depression when knowing that that damn poem that has been squeezing his eyes for two or three nights is just a rewrite, good or bad, who cares? I’m just saying that no one should feel bad about tripping over a poem that has been cooked for whole mornings. You must horrify yourself with the date; forty, fifty, one hundred and twenty years before you had been face to face against any other judgment, but think, you were not even alive, who cares. There’s nothing wrong with that, so do not pretend to be something sad. I mean that others have been here two or three thousand years before you and you think it’s good, it’s a reason to be really happy that any poem to come to bust on your fingers on a night neither clear nor very dark, like those from last December. You do not feel any compassion for literature. You regret, in fact, that the entire literature not to have capsized before reaching you. But we do not redeem anything, take off those ideas of the head, we did not invent anything, we, hopefully, go blindly stumbling out there with things. And there is nothing to do. There is little to say in the same extent that there is much to say. Everything is in the climate and in the amount of coffee and food and alcohol you have in your stomach and in how many people you have at that minute around you. Yes, everything is in that. And if you think about it, it’s a relief.
She said one of these things with those frightful eyes sunk into mine through the blue and red lights and straightened up her body towards where I was still sat and told me she thought she had not been so bad, that she could never resist to karaoke and that she always chose that song not for anything special, but because she believed that it got her into the spirit of things a bit. And my friend, who is the smiling girl in the photo I put up because that’s the only thing I have of that December night, nodded several times and claimed that, indeed, she had done it very well. Then that karaoke singer that looked like a condemned version of Madame Pogany in bronze, crushed the cigarette against the table and told me to forget about it, that I had to look for something else, that she had never had a room in Havana, that she had gone there two or three times and somehow she felt sorry about that. She zipped herself the raincoat to the neck and walked to the door with that cadence that had horrified an hour ago. And just when she was almost completely on the other side she turned and looked at me in a rather merciful way, as you look at the things that do not matter much, as minor poems are read, and wished luck, a little luck, or at least that was what I understood.