» A Piece
by Romina Ruíz-Goiriena

Photo\Helena Kubicka de Bragança

It’s raining again. Pinga. I better find my umbrella quickly. Traigo aquí una pila de
panes y hoy de verdad que no estoy para que se me enchumben de agua
. Oh, and then
there’s the men—you know, the ones that stand around waiting for the first jevita to walk
by just so they can make a pass. Those guys are capable of harassing a woman wearing a
burqa and mistaking it for Latino macho flattery. Dream on, losers. By the time I finish
my thought I’m completely soaked. Great.

I quicken my pace down Neptuno Street. It’s Friday evening and it’s been a long week.
Tonight is Shabbat and the familia is waiting so that I can light the candles and my tío
Israel can bless the wine before we sit together for a humble meal of whatever my tía
Lea was able to “resolver” through the infamous rationing card—and the donations of
socially-conscious-guilt-ridden Canadian Jews of course. But at least for what it’s worth,
after all these years where the Party was the people’ s only religion we can finally be
Jewish. “En fin,” I sigh.

I look around my ‘hood, Centro Habana, with that particular voyeuristic air that allows
me to be present but invisible at the same time. I do that a lot. “If they only knew,” I say
to myself. I am, of course, referring to the fact that I spend my days as an underground
journalist: unauthorized and unaccredited. Since I was I little girl, I dreamt of a world
bigger than this Isla. Someday I’d live on a sailboat and I would finally be able to see
things only pictured on maps, from the Tropic of Cancer to the topography of Lilongwe.
My aspirations dissipated as soon as I realized that it didn’t matter how many atlases
I perused through; the chances of me leaving were nonexistent. Short of marrying a
foreigner, winning the visa lottery or getting on a boat, all cardinal directions continue to
point to Havana. Again, de pinga.

Instead, I resort to voraciously roaming the streets in search of stories telling what
really happens in this “God-forsaken land.” That is how my savta, my mother’s mother
always described it. To her it was simple: since Communists were atheists it was further
confirmation that God had not only abandoned Jews after World War II but now too the
Cubans. After the triumph of La Revolución, la pobre vieja refused to call Cuba by its
name, as if every time she was reciting the Shema in agony.

Like most of my friends, I teach English in exchange for a few hours of Internet access.
This is how I e-mail out my work and eventually publish. Usually, the vendor is some
bratty general’s son—what a punk that Maikel is! But here, the passage of time and the
flow of information follow a different rhythm. Almost everyone walks around with a
USB drive. Some people carry around worthwhile articles their family in el exterior
sent them. But for the most part, people’ s flash drives are filled with pirated Hollywood
movies and porn. Not to mention, people here have learned not to be worried about what
really happens on the Island anyways. There are better hobbies, like good old-fashioned
gossip. Take my case for example: most of my vecinas tell the C.D.R. they can’ t figure
out if I’m a jinetera or some closeted lesbian that ran away from her little town of
Yagüajay to avoid the shame and be able to mamar bollo in peace.

In any case, Neptuno is Cuba’s 123 Main Street with a criollo twist. The street is almost
two miles long ending at the gates of the Universidad de La Habana. Its residents coil
downstairs and congregate on street corners. For a coffee-producing country, cafés are
designated for tourists only; they might as well be non-existent to regular Isla folk. I
mean, who can pay two bucks for a café con leche when most people make less than
twenty a month?

“Brring Brring.” That’s my cell phone. “Coño, it’s Sergio.”

I crouch up against the wall in order to maneuver the umbrella and the grocery bags
to pull out my “made-in-China” TIM cell phone. Chinese imports are practically
everywhere: from the new buses en la capital, the compact refrigerators and the
commercial air conditioning systems. In other cities Chinese goods are a beacon of trade
and liberalism. Here all they do is replace former U.S.S.R. clunk—that’s what twenty-
first century Socialism is all about.

He won’t stop calling. I can’t pick up because I don’t have money until next month to add
credit to my Cubacel account. Sergio probably wants to know about that “cocaine-for-
tourists” story we’re working on for El Nuevo Herald. Since their journalists simply don’t
make it into Cuba, we write stories for 25 bucks on racey subjects they market as exposés
and then publish under their own names. They bank five times as much as we do without
moving a single comma. It’s probably a relief my name isn’t on the stupid thing anyway.
The sad part is, I’m not so sure El Nuevo or any other foreign press really understands
that Cuba is more than cigars, prostitutes, corruption and Fidel.

What they don’t see is that our complexities stem from a schizophrenic sense of
patriotism resulting from the legacy of a nationalist project our grandparents undertook in
the 1960s. Today we not only have no use for it but also have no idea what to do with it.
But alas, if I ever plan to update my blog or start my own online paper here (qué sueño),
writing their psychobabble-Cuba-journalism is the only way. Who cares that there are
more relevant things actually happening in Cuba, right?

The only reason they even want this story is to legitimate (yet again) that the Revolution
can be corrupted by the same plagues their enemy countries face; further proving
the “New Man” a fallacy. Sadly over the course of my work for El Nuevo I’ve only
learned one thing: regardless if it’s here or there, we’re still subservient, spreading our
legs for somebody’s political agenda. Qué mierda. I guess; this is my own kind of

“Having dinner with los viejos. I’ll meet you at the Casa de la Música at 10 PM,” I text.
There go 16 cents of a CUC.

I open the eight-foot front door and climb the 51 stairs to the apartment, wet bread and all.
Yessica’s door is open and she’s blasting the latest Gente de Zona hit. She’s been playing
that shit non-stop. After years of pursuing foreigners who come to explore Cuba’s finest
assets, “Yessi” landed an Italian 60-something. He’s everything but an Italian stallion:
short, bald and walks around in Speedo shorts from 1972. But to her, he has to be prince
charming. After all, fucking his brains out had already gotten her the apartment and a
stable fixed income. Comparatively speaking she has tons of time off: he only visits
every three months and in between she comes and goes as she pleases.

Y qué?” I say uninterested. She looks up as she lights up a superfino Popular cigarette.

Staring out of her interior balcony, she’s contemplative—probably about when he’ll
marry her so she can finally leave this “God-forsaken land.” Who knows if he’s even
considering such a thing; he’s probably still married to Ave María and has no intention of
making their business transaction more than his quarterly escapade. Without him, she’ll
always be another prietica from Centro Habana in heat.

But I have too many problems of my own to start feeling sorry for her.

After dinner, I’ll take a shower and change into some sexy dress. I’ll meet Sergio at the
bar in Miramar. There I’ll pretend to be a prostitute and he’ ll cover me standing in as my
black pimp. There goes my phone again; Sergio now wants to meet 15 minutes early.

From the landing I notice her laundry hanging on the clothesline. I have that mini-dress
too. Hmm, maybe I’ll wear that tonight. Hopefully, I can take some pictures and get some
quotes. Best-case scenario, I’ll gather the info on how the cocaine is arriving through
the Hemingway Port into Havana and distributed to the chulos by some guy named “El
Checo,” then to the Spaniards and Italians. Worst case, the police will round me up with
the plethora of prostitutes in one of their raids. But they’re usually far too busy charging
their commission to bother making any arrests. I bet I’d look great on all fours. Truth is,
so long as I hit that send button, I’ll still feel like a puta.