The last time that I couldn’t distinguish day from night was when I’d just turned 17 and was locked up in a police cell during two weeks of questioning. The cell was windowless and it was impossible to tell the difference between dawn and the most intense noon hour. They wanted to re-educate me so that I would not only confuse day for night but so I’d learn that good and evil were relative concepts.
I was frequently dragged from that nine by six cell that I shared with three other inmates and asked about my terrible crime: wanting to leave my country. Days before, the overloaded boat in which I’d hoped to row hundreds of miles had gone down near a fishing dock; we’d barely started out on that moonless night. Nobody knew anything and there was no evidence, but a word from the political police was enough to call it a Crime Against the Integrity and Stability of the Nation. A military tribunal passed judgment on this civilian, a minor, with a court-appointed lawyer who stayed quiet, trembling, while the political police’s prosecutor presented a fantastic story that I couldn’t believe. Of the four year sentence I was given, I only served one, in labor camps where there were also moonless nights.
The police are not very efficient, or they’re really so preoccupied with trying to deal with the miserable problems in their own homes, which they have in common with every other Cuban, that they really don’t care about doing a good job of investigating crime. They never bothered to find out how Victor, my fourth floor neighbor at 503 La Rosa Street, died. The octogenarian passed away three days after being hospitalized. Nobody bothered to find out how he’d hit himself so many times against the wall. But all the neighbors heard him, in the silence of the blackout, and how Juana the mulatto, sixty years his junior, violently shaking him against the wall.
Victor and Juana had married four years before for the exclusive benefit of the young domestic servant, who would soon inherit the apartment and a juicy widow’s pension. Now Juana and the three kids she had while married to Victor could finally enjoy a better life. Victor had been resigned to those kids, black babies who arrived one after the other, without a smidgeon of their presumed father’s Caucasian DNA.
Everything might have been more believable if on the night of the wall banging and Victor’s subsequent hospitalization, their door hadn’t been furiously kicked in by Francisco, Juana’s nocturnal lover, who arrived and couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t let him in.
Each night, Francisco, a thieving dipsomaniac from the neighborhood, would fornicate with Juana while Victor slept a few steps away. As soon as Juana became a widow, Francisco installed himself in the apartment, and continued with the only things he knew how to do in his life: stealing and drinking.
They’d met at the bar adjacent to our building, at the corner of La Rosa and Ayestarán, a sad little place where lost souls would fill their bladders with alcohol only to empty them later in the neighborhood’s recesses. It was a little after he moved in that my life became more miserable, thanks to him, and I decided that killing him could be rationalized as an act of justice for the greater good of society.