International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Knife in Cuba
and dragging his feet past cracked, edgeless steps, he followed
a dark narrow staircase that led to the exit downstairs. A broken
banister trembled under his unsure hand - some of the wrought-iron
posts were loose and needed to be mended. Here darkness reigned
complete, darkness and stench tonight was yet another night
of blackout in Havana.
vez que miro
A mi mulaton
No se que pasa por mi
No me puedo contener
Y le digo asi
Mulato tienes en la cintura
Una tembladera que arrebata
Mulato, tiene tu dulce boca
Una risa loca que me mata
Muove la cintura mulaton de mi vida
Que me muero yo por ti
(-) Omara Portuondo
This house, just
like most houses on the seaside, was crumbling, gnawed away by the sea
breeze, erosion and neglect. In this neighbourhood, at times, entire
walls collapsed revealing shabby households with little furniture, broken,
fake antique chandeliers and here and there, left behind, a picture,
strangely, never ever of Fidel, but very often that of Ché. Stained
walls and a portrait hung askew, left behind, spoke too of peoples
sympathies, or fears.
Hungry dogs wandered and sniffed around the debris at night, before
dawn, before bricks, broken sinks, a pissing pot with a large hole and
of no more use, and a rocking chair with no support, were removed or
most often just sealed with a rope and left there to rot.
People had to move then and move on with their lives , live with their
friends, sisters, in-laws, brothers, leaving their former homes
exposed, shamelessly bare naked, half-empty rooms stacked up one atop
another like in the house of some destitute dolls.
She humiliated him, should not have said what she said, he thought on
his way down, if she never said that he wouldnt have had to cut
her. He had watched her, hed seen her before finally, earlier
that night, they met.
The place was busy and loud with music, live Negro music: the band was
one woman and three men. The sound was rough, they played rumba
men beat the drums and the woman sang - and the people danced. The dance
floor, the pit, was filthy with mud (it was December and it had been
raining). The place was smoky and it stank of sweat some men
wore greasy, tattered pants and tank shirts only, some were bare from
their waists up, wore no shirts at all, just torn discoloured pants
and unlaced boots, and some, too, were barefoot.
This was Friday night in this barrio, a remote part of town; here once
were brothels, today, under Castro, prostitution was outlawed; besides,
under Castro, no one could afford it.
She asked him to dance and they danced, then they drank: she drank lukewarm
beer, kept for her on the bar and not in the fridge; she had a bit of
a sore throat, was maybe coming down with a cold. He drank cheap local
Later in the dark corner, she leaned hard against his shoulder, put
her plump Negro hand on his thigh, just beneath his loin, pressed her
thick lips against his ear and whispered: Lets go my place,
and and show me some good time. He agreed, but then she
changed her mind and ordered more drinks and he was disappointed. She
drank more, too much now, upset a full glass of beer, got the whole
table wet. She was so drunk and she said: Cmon, cari_o!
Get me out of this filth. Get me out of this place.
They got up, body against body, amidst the mocking glances of the crowd
its still not all right to see a woman drunk in these parts
of town they left the place and the music, the smoke, mud, filth
behind, and walked onto the street where it rained.
Can we go to your place, amor? she asked, Mine is
a real mess tonight. Had a fight with my husband. He broke a few things,
you know. I mean, he broke a few chairs and things.
We cant, he cut her short and lied: I live with
He didnt reply.
Dont worry amorcito. Well go my place. Its alright
And him? Your husband? he asked to make sure.
He left and wont be back. No for long, I hope.
She embraced him, kissed him on his mouth, but he pushed her away, firmly
You sure its all right? Youre sure he wont return?
No worries, carajo,. Tonight Im a free woman. Come up this
way to my place and show me how much you want me. Lets have a
They reached the entrance to an old house, first row of houses off Malecon
broken windows, exposed bricks, dilapidated walls. They entered;
she pulled his arm along the dark hallway, he followed her blindly.
Its dark here, she apologised, Fidel cut the
light again, but, I guess, its better that way; this place is
I see nothing, he said.
Just follow me and watch your step, she warned him, And
dont mind the stench.
But the stench the place reeked of urine, mould and damp and
disinfectant aroused him; he thought now of when he was a boy
and spied on women through a hole in the public washrooms wall,
in the park by his home in the East where he had lived once.
Watch, too, the handrail. Dont lean on it. Its about
to fall. Cmon. Just one more flight of stairs. Cmon,
she pleaded now, Not like this. Wait. Not here.
He felt the warmth, and the sweat on her thick thighs beneath her skirt
and between her legs.
Wait! she implored, but laughingly, What a man. Que
Im just looking for the key, he chuckled yet he felt
almost revolted, sick to his stomach. He hated the way she spoke, smelled,
he even the way she felt.
No key here, amor. Hush! The doors open.
Open, she repeated, No thieves in this barrio.
No thieves? he asked, surprised.
Not one. They would starve here to death. Nothing here to steal,
she laughed in her vulgar voice but Hush, she said, bit
her tongue, she was the one who talked, and she stopped.
But he knew her - of her rather, of her kind; most women in these parts
sold and bought, did some contraband; they had money.
But I want in.
No keys here, honey. Wait and Ill make it worth it.
She laughed again in that awful voice of a whore but stopped again,
put her hand over her mouth, then on his and whispered, very quietly:
Hush! I dont want anybody talking. Hush, Hush! Be quiet!
He was at the top of the stairs again, it was still dark, maybe even
darker; he was no longer a thief though, as before, he was now a murderer.
He struck a match, once, twice, to no avail; his fingers, his hands
were wet, wet with sweat or blood, he wasnt sure. Never before
had he felt cold blood, it was always warm when his nose bled, or when
he had once swallowed a glass shard and let out blood for a week from
his anus. What he felt then was warm. This, what he felt now, was cold,
too thick for sweat,; yes, it had to be the womans blood. It felt
disgusting. It smelled revolting.
He groped down through the dark staircase down leaning gently like a
blind man on the banister that rattled and trembled. This was too dangerous
the rattling was, and, besides, the whole railing could fall
off and tumble down anytime. He let go of it. He moved his hand along
the damp wall. He moved his feet slowly; no running; he had to be quiet:
"I dont want anybody talking," she had said he remembered.
He needed to leave this place unseen, just as he had entered; he had
to flee quietly.
But they were seen, he thought suddenly, at the bar. And some men, for
sure, knew her there. Or knew of her. They may even know him, he wondered,
by sight of course; he had only spoken once to ordered drinks
beer and cheap local rum.
"Hola,. Que tal?" he recalled now a man say, but then again,
his mind was blurred with alcohol and smoke then, maybe he only thought
he heard the man say that, maybe the man said nothing, maybe no one
even noticed when they were drunk at the bar and later when they left.
But maybe when they danced and kissed later, some watched and envied
him, some men like women that big and that black. Damn it,
he said in his mind, Ill have to leave, Ill have to
leave the city for a time. Maybe Ill go to the East and live after
all, for a while, with my mother.
And work? he shuddered. Theyll suspect something
if I dont show up. Or, maybe they wont. And people here,
in this neighbourhood? Theyll think it was her husband. Maybe
someone saw them fight; theyll think it was him who cut her. But
why did she have to wake up? he wondered in anger.
She fell asleep soon after
no, nothing happened; she was impatient,
she lay there waiting, black fat legs spread wide (he imagined) and
he had too much rum and was now helpless.
Rotten luck, she murmured, turned her large body to one
side, facing the wall and before she fell asleep she added Carajo
through her teeth. She, too, drank too much, had bad breath, coughed
a while, had sore throat, she had said earlier, and was falling sick.
He was not upset with himself - her smell and all besides, he
was not there for pleasure; this was his night out to rob, to steal.
She had asked him to dance; he was handsome and knew that strong
body, dark hair, greased, slicked back behind his ears. He was a Mulatto
and women liked him. He, too, knew his trade, knew how to get women
take him home, show them good time and then rob them blind in the dark.
Well, it didnt work that good tonight, she was fat and ugly, but
fat like that
. must have something stashed. All he had to do was
to find it.
What are you up to? What youre doing in the dark?
he heard suddenly. She was awake. He was surprised, scared; he didnt
answer and that was dumb, that gave him away.
Thief! Thief! Thief and impotent! she screamed and tried
to grab him, but he pushed her down and covered her mouth with his huge
hand- he had huge hands. With his other hand, he reached for a knife
which he had ready, just in case, and stabbed her body three times and
with each blow she fought harder, but he held her hard, he was strong,
yet she twisted her body, wriggled like a snake- wet, slimy, as if with
each blow she gained more strength, but then, suddenly, she stopped.
He no longer felt her breath on his fingers. He felt nothing and he
slowly let go, first of her mouth and then of the rest. And he was startled
at how fast life leaves the body after its dead. He wasnt
scared. Not at all; after so many close calls, at last, he killed; he
felt relieved. The void, the emptiness in his heart, maybe in his soul,
was now filled, he felt as if his thirst was finally quenched. And yet
he had thoughts, no scruples, no remorse, just thoughts, or afterthoughts.
He reflected on how in so little time he progressed from being a thief,
to now this: a murderer, and on how little he had to say, or do, or
decide in regard, on how one thing led to another, or rather, how everything
led to one thing: death, murder, and how he felt, no, quite the opposite,
on how he felt nothing, not a thing.
Souls rotted here fast, crumbled away, like these drab, neglected homes
where entire walls collapsed at times and exposed peoples lodgings,
so now and then, as a matter-of-factly, paying no special heed, you
could see their tattered souls, dwarfed, insensitive hearts, hearts
like his, now. Maybe theyll blame the husband; he had, after all,
she said, wrecked the place, sought maybe and never found what he found
and held now in his hand, in his pocket. But he knew women, he knew
where women stashed money and things, he knew his trade. He felt no
guilt, or fear, he felt a relief only, a sense of fatum, of no cause
and effect, a strange feeling of helplessness and inconsequence. Yet
he felt good. Everything will be fine, he thought as he
left the building and was back on the street where it was dark and where
it still rained.
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