I should be used to these interminable blackouts, omnipresent since my early childhood. If sunlight is a gift from God that has accompanied us always and will be with us forever, electric light is also an intangible miracle that doesn’t depend on us but on a group of men who tell us day in and day out that we must save what they squander, who make the blackouts coincide with the hours in which the radio and TV broadcasts from the United States to the Cuban people are most intense. Or worse, the blackouts drag on when I need to write or study or when friends come over. The drunken thieves from the adjacent bar take advantage of the darkness to make off with what they can. It seems to me that the blackouts are a punishing reality that haunts us daily, from infancy to our deaths.
“We’re going to let you go,” says the bureaucrat who has just given me the approval to leave Cuba. “We’re going to let you go because your soul is no longer in this country, you don’t think or feel like us. You haven’t matured enough to forget the idealism of your youth. You have not taken advantage of all the opportunities we’ve given you.”
I am left dumbfounded, trying to figure out what these opportunities were that I didn’t learn from or appreciate. But in this moment of joy, I mentally thank him instead, for not torturing me with a long delay in approving the leave for my family and myself.
The dark of the blackouts pursues me while I work, during dinner, trying to read or attempting sleep under the heat’s caress, or hauling buckets spilling water up and down the stairs, waiting in interminable lines to buy something to eat, as I make love or during a funeral, healing or teaching others, trying to heal myself or trying to learn. I should be used to this since it’s been the same thing since childhood, when the city of Havana began to lean on crutches.
I live in what could be called the clitoris of the Ayestarán neighborhood, which was built in mid-twentieth century between the old colonial district of El Cerro and elegant Nuevo Vedado. My apartment is in a part of the neighborhood that looks like a giant vulva right in the middle of Havana; it’s south, at the perineum of the intersection of Ayestarán Road and Rancho Boyeros Avenue. To the north, both avenues stretch for various blocks like thighs inserted in the city’s hips, crossed on the west by 20 de Mayo Avenue, parallel to La Rosa, and headquarters to the National Library, the Ministry of the Armed Forces, the Ministry of the Economy, and other public buildings.
The worst part of pedaling incessantly in the dark isn’t the actual darkness or not being able to perceive the difference between the street and the sky, the asphalt or the pit. It’s not the fact that you see the same thing whether you raise or lower your eyes, if you look ahead or to the side. The worst isn’t even having to go slow enough so that you can jump off in time when the bike’s wheels fall into the many ditches, invisible because of the water. Nor is it getting lost, but rather losing your life, if this can be called a life.
For some time now there have been rumors about events which the mass media obscures: dozens of adolescents and adults have been killed while riding their bikes on the darkened streets. Following the bikers, the murderers hide behind the giant ocuje trees then bash them with baseball bats, or they make the bikers fall by stretching a nylon cord from one side of the street to the other, which they then pull quickly and violently around their necks, before the bats deform their craniums. Life is the price of a bounty that is nothing but a pair of used shoes and a cheap, obsolete bike. And, of course, the police don’t investigate; they can’t be bothered with the everyday.