The capital of ALL Cubans?


I have twenty minutes to get to Parque Central, to a small gallery near Plaza Vieja, where a friend is going to talk about his paintings. If I try to get there on foot I will miss the beginning of the talk and the aspiring painter will not forgive me. I grab a bicycle taxi and offer ten pesos to go as fast as possible. The cyclist looks at me with joy because of the few pounds he will have to carry, and hums a reggaeton that goes: “I like the bat(tleship) of the baseball player’s wife, I like the meat of the butcher’s wife, and the fireman’s wife is asking me to the fire…”  

We are already underway on the journey and I feel like a stretched matron in my palanquin. It lightens my guilt to think that if he were not carrying me, the poor driver would have had to load a couple of fatties who had also tried to flag him down. I have not emerged from my guilt when the driver, neglecting the helm, turns and asks: “Are you from Havana?”  I confirm my origin in the city and, with greedy eyes, he says, “I am from Guantanamo.  I am looking for someone to marry me so I can get an Havana identity card.  Are you single?” 

The directness of the proposal overwhelms me.  I want to explain that I already have a partner, that I do not own a house where he can be enrolled and saved from deportation. It occurs to me to clarify that my neighborhood is very close to that tower – shaped like a truncated lollipop – which is home to Power, which makes it extremely complicated to house a new person.  All the arguments why I cannot agree to such a sudden proposal of marriage are contained in one brief statement, “I can not.” 

The man looks at me as if I were condemning him to the detention center for “illegals” that he has just passed.  The same site where buses depart every week to extradite, with a written warning, those who are “without papers” in Havana. His gaze makes me feel guilty for having been born in this dilapidated and exclusionary city, that is flirtatious with international tourists and disdainful with fellow countrymen from other provinces. 

I am about to change my mind and marry him, but we arrive at the exhibition and my friend the painter saves me from the wedding ring.


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