The domestic battles between Juana and Francisco began a little after they started living together. They always ended with vociferous screaming and Francisco getting kicked out. Apparently, he did not steal enough to support the young widow and her three children. Soon, the light bulbs from the building’s common areas began to disappear, and more than once, the motor that pumped water up to the higher floors vanished.
We all suspected Francisco, and I wanted to punish the crook who had me carrying dozens of buckets of water up the stairs every night: Francisco would leave the building and find a bottle of rum in the same hiding place where he always hoarded his alcohol; Francisco would be unable to resist taking a mouthful of rum, and a little later he’d be vomiting, having convulsions, his extremities would stiffen involuntarily, then he’d finish off with a respiratory collapse and cardiac arrest. Sodium monofluoracetate, also known as Compound 1080, dissolves in water, is colorless, tasteless and without odor. Francisco’s fate was sealed.
I am going around and around the puddles and I can’t seem to find my home. If only there was a star to guide me! In the distance I see a very bright building, the Palace of the Revolution. Now I can orient myself, I’m going in the wrong direction so I turn right, go straight. I soon feel that I’m falling off a precipice, there’s no asphalt anymore but an enormous emptiness, and my bike and I smash against the rocks below. Can anyone see me or hear me from here?
Once, during Yom Kippur, I felt the same way. I had begun my fast well before what was religiously necessary. It was unavoidable. I walked and walked toward the synagogue, dead tired, hallucinating, not from the incipient fast, but because my body could no longer tell the difference between one day and the next. I saw the synagogue filled with well-dressed people and I even imagined, as in a dream, that I was a dibbuk who sexually possessed a beautiful young woman I’d never seen before. What terrible thoughts for the Day of Atonement! But, suddenly, I opened my eyes, enraptured by the chazzan’s voice flying high with the most impressive of melodies and words: Kol Nidre’…ve’esare’… vecherame’… vekoname’…
The melody abruptly stops when someone excuses himself to pass and sit next to me. That’s when I open my eyes and see that the synagogue is actually almost empty, only seven people are attending the service, there was no chazzan, there was not then and there never would be a Kol Nidre, that young woman and hundreds more have been living abroad for years and who knows if they’re even dead or alive.
If this pit is anywhere near where I live, I should be able to hear Quimbolo, my nearest neighbor. Quimbolo is the only Cuban who is allowed the privilege of screaming improprieties against our absolute Big Brother without anybody ever thinking of locking him up for the rest of his life. Quimbolo’s real name is Everardo and he’s mentally retarded.
He wanders down the street in utter filth and repeats the rich and profane lexicon which some drunks have taught him. I’ve never heard anybody scream pinga! so stridently, so forcefully and sonorously. Pinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnga, drawing out that N until the middle of oblivion. I remember hearing that word many times in the dark and at dawn like a war cry. For years, there wasn’t a child born within three blocks in any direction who learned to talk by first saying Papá or Mamá but rather by repeating Quimbolo’s word.
One day Quimbolo was diagnosed with diabetes. His ulcerous legs got dirty and he died, amputated and septicemic, depriving the neighborhood of its most obscene crier.