Leaving from one place, let’s say, at five in the morning and get to another place at eight, produces a strange sense of journey. At least it has that effect on me, for several years, every time I leave Cardenas in the morning, skirt the north of Cuba, the sea on the right, carob trees on the left, and arrive in Havana with the sun in face.
One would think that is moving in a straight line, draw a straight line on a piece of paper, that is the night on your back, facing the day, these two opposing forces, and that when we travel time stays still, I mean, we don’t move from five to six and six to seven, but let the darkness for the light, that our movement is a movement on the inner end of the shadows and no other destiny than the dawn, or other possible stage, or other purpose, only that: the unbearable dictatorship of light.
In other words: I have the peaceful impression when I travel, that if I’d stayed in Cárdenas it have always been night-it is a metaphor, but it is also a declaration of principles, and that only on the way to Havana – a journey which otherwise does not take me to another site other than the university could be defined as silhouettes of the real unknown, sharper and more fertile.
So, the night and day as physical tempos, embedded in fixed sites, which must be reached as when you arrive in a country, and not as it usually happens, if one takes a chair on the balcony of his house, with a whiskey or a glass of milk in hand, and some Schubert in your ears, will have before him the prophylactic spectacle of a movie that doesn’t give up at the box office: the afternoon with its saffron tone, overwhelming monologue, falling, impeccable on the world’s altarpiece.
This last time I closed my eyes; I laid like a dead sack in the back of the car and tried to sleep. I had nothing to look outside. I know exactly, at a regular speed, what tone heaven takes on the Yumurí Valley, or Santa Cruz del Norte, or before getting to Guanabo. There’s a graveyard of my unsuccessful ideas on the verge of the Via Blanca highway, the road that runs from Cardenas to Havana, or, as we have agreed, from darkness to light.
I know that the night seems dark and the slightest negligence in the smaller of the winks, never at a precise time, the night opens like a flower, one senses the imminence of the inevitable. Better not to waste myself, since the world, demure and shy, if not conservative, always expects our distraction to undress, to change clothes and bags.
Since we already set the time in space, I would say, however, that there is a point on the route, a season in that trip, I would not know, nor accurately or not, locate. Let’s be clear. The trip Cardenas-Havana is a journey that lasts two hours, but also five years, or ten.
That point, this season, is my high school. Just when I turn on the Viaduct, at six in the morning, a rare and involuntary habit makes me think I’m taking a different road to the road that would lead me to the high school.
Sometimes, truth be told, I can survive and do interviews without remembering that once I belonged to the impregnable site. However, there is a past, a month, a week, an event, a death, a book, a finding that keeps in me but the underlying raw permanence of that high school.
Not even my encounter with Contreras, not because Contreras has a World Series ring, but because Contreras was a childhood hero. Contreras or Vera, it does not matter, and Huck Finn and Sandokan. I need a chat with one of these two, preferably the Malayan, because I, in many ways, I was Huck Finn, not that lout of Tom Sawyer, as underlined by the stars and education to be.
The high school is like gas in the atmosphere, a tiny spark lights it up. Or like a contagious disease, any emotional excitement causes the virus to become active. One wants to believe he’s innocent, less guilty of something didn’t charge us with, but it certainly is there, if we can keep against the mills the never explicit oath to remember that season.
During the last trip, I pretended I was dead a sack, but I grabbed a pair of headphones and began to listen to Silvio Rodríguez from the seventies, the poet worth of remembering. I tried to put a blank mind, and it worked. I remembered. I was so tender and so ugly a boy that made you want to mourn. Always, at half past seven, cold or no cold, hungry or not hungry, with consideration or without consideration, anorexic and murky outlet attached to the door, lying on the floor of the classroom, listening from a walkman that last request, made from the other side of the gate: “today from me to you / today from you to me / I want to make you an old gift /”.
It was, in itself, too much for the age, but I added drama. I watched with devotion to the bottom of the class, a girl who later became my first girlfriend and that I fell in love with. She turned me down, then accepted me, swore she loved me, I swore that I loved her, we swore were going to fight, but the dawn approached and we stopped loving each other, with few promises. Today she is not, even, my friend. Not for trouble, but through neglect. God, through neglect.
I recently read an essay with a pair of remarkable ideas. One of them said that if we cross the desert, if we were ready to cross that desert of love, it was to later have something left, at least something strong and perishable as friendship, something that from that insurmountable magma could be forged.
The last time I went to high school, two years ago, I had to run, bloated and void. I started to make a career in journalism and I believed I was invulnerable. I stopped at the buildings of socialist architecture, with colorless walls, before the crumbling windows, to the uninhabited land, before the battered steps, before the cold aisles, and did not quite understand how that site was not the site that I was looking for, and how that school that mediates between five and eight o’clock, was just a spineless meridian, between shadow and light.
I do not know how far they will hold a place that today is any hour: minute of the stream, the second of evocation. I do not know if that’s a sign of strength or weakness, or rebellion or coupling. I wish it lasts a lifetime. I did not move a finger to save anything I cannot save himself. In either case, if death occurred. Neither the Fatherland. Or with parents. Neither the first girlfriend.
I cross the desert like that, free, because you have to cross it every so often. And I’m not complaining. My mother asks me to visit and I please her. And I return from Havana to Cardenas, once or twice a month.