My two grandfathers were always a source of knowledge and advice, and from them, I learnt how to use the written word, how to survive, and more importantly, history.
From their hands, as a young boy, I learnt why the streets of Havana bore their name, I learnt Cuban history reading the epitaphs and inscriptions on the graves of prominent Cubans, people who were important, really important, colourful, or simply folk heros, or the theme of some theatrical play like Yarini, the überpimp from Havana killed in knife fight over a lady of wonders.
Also, they were masters at outfoxing the regime, and they both always told me not to only look both ways to cross the street, but also to look both ways before opening my trap. To listen first, think always, and speak last.
One of them, a gentleman of yesteryear, was an accomplished master with the sword, and therefore dexter in beating thugs with his walking cane. In the early eighties, just one year before his death, we were walking in Old Havana, where he was showing me the building of his birth. Suddenly, and from the zaguan of a building, a girl came with her blouse torn. She was a working girl of the night, if you know what I mean, and after her, at full speed, a Palestinian cop came bursting and banging the gate like a demon straight out of hell, he slapped the girl, and threw her on the sidewalk. My grandfather told me: "look how a gentleman takes care of this", and he poked the cop on the side of the neck with the point of his waking cane. The guy gasped and let the girl go. The cop was in four points coughing, with his hands on the sidewalk. He poked his hands with enormous energy on their upper side. The guy could not pull himself to stand.
My grandfather kicked him in the ass, and beat him on either side of the ribcage with his walking cane. The old man was strong, I can tell you. The young jinetera said Ay Dios, gracias! my grandfather took her hand and said, "my name is not God, my name is so and so". We disappeared faster than lightning, (without running because he would say a gentleman walks but never runs, I always get a big kick when I hear the song An Englishman in New York, by Sting) guided by the girl, into another solar.... after a few minutes in a room, and old black woman showed us an exit through another street. The labyrinth reminded me of the Casbah.
Well, I wasnt' planning on writing about this grandfather, but about the other one....
One day, he showed up at our home and said, I got my papers to leave Cuba.
He had been in a lot of trouble, and he had to leave, no matter what. He even had spent some time in la Cabaña, and my mother was kicked out of her job by the method of choice of those days, with a newspaper with the name of my grandfather in the first page, marked with red pencil where they asked "paredon" for him.
That's why my brother celebrates his birthday a few days before he was supposed to celebrate it.
Well.... My grandpa was about to leave Cuba and he asked me to go with him to see and old shoemaker who was his friend.
What the hell, I had a game of stick ball! But my grandfather -no offense to my friends- was funnier than the gang I ran with.
He entered the house of the shoemaker through the backdoor, without knocking.... Threw a 20 pesos bill on the kitchen table and got a canvas bag and left without a word.
At my house, he got a pair of hand made pointy boots with cowboy heels, also known as Tacon Hollywood at those times and un-nailed the heels, they were hollow. He put some jewelry inside, and glued them and nailed them again. Then he put some old dollar bills between the inner lining of the boots and the exterior shell of leather of the boots. Got a needle and thread and stitched those together.
He went to the living room.... A friend of his was waiting for him and took him to the airport.
I would see him only eight years later, and then two years after that, and one day we got a phone call that he had passed away.
He outfoxed kasstro....
None of my grandfathers could outfox death to see kasstro's final days.
So that's my task, to let them know that kasstro is dying as he lived, he covered Cuba in blood and shit, and now he's covered in blood and shit! a very fitting final, as both my grandfathers would have liked it!