When I was 22 or 23 I was staying with a Cuban family in Havana. I call the parents my Cuban mum and dad. I tried (tried!) to live like a Cuban for a month or so.
One day after lining up with Cuban Mummy to get her supplies of brown sugar, oil, beef and potatoes (the latter is no longer rationed and now available on the free market – happy days!) I headed home to drop off our sacks of precious supplies. I then discovered a pineapple sitting on my bed…
I asked Cuban Sister how this could be, and was she responsible for this treat? Nope. It was a tall, thin Cuban boy, she told me. He came to the door looking for me and asked her to stick the fruit on my bed.
It was quite puzzling and I got a surprise when I headed out for a walk along the Malecon sea wall and there he was – Johnny the Cuban. I recognised him: 2 days before I’d struck up a conversation with 2 bongo players on the Avenidas de los Presidentes the day before.They were sitting on the pavement with a bunch of their friends, all young Cuban boys and girls of about my own age. This guy was amongst them.
“What do you like the most about Cuba?” The bongo players had asked me.
“I love the clean streets, the mojitos and most of all: the pineapples – they are nicer than any of the ones in Australia, Thailand or the Philippines.”
They thought it was a very dull answer. I don’t know what they expected me to say – that the bongo players are the best things I’ve come across in Cuba? That I enjoy their drumming and it’s real music not just irritating noise? That I love men who sit on the street asking personal questions?
Anyway, this boy had tracked me down and delivered said pineapple. I was quite impressed that he’d found me, although now I have more experience of Havana I realise he probably just said to someone “hey, there’s a foreign girl saying in this street who gets around town with a Spanish dictionary and tries to talk to everyone. Where is she staying?”
His name was Johnny. His mum lived abroad (she was transferred to Germany with her job when he was a baby and had travelled back and forth ever since) but he had no intention of ever moving from his hometown. He was very stylish for a Cuban – and skinny. Far too skinny. Apparently Johnny had been sick recently, maybe something to do with a diving accident – did the pressure suck all the fat out of his body? Indeed, his passport picture showed him to be at least 10 kg heavier and much more attractive. I’ve never before looked at a person and thought if only you had a good feed you would be quite stunning – but it’s first thing that came to mind when I’d seen him with the bongo boys.
Johnny was very interesting and well read, as most of my Cuban friends and acquaintances tend to be.He told me about his time in the army and his travels across Cuba.I never had to call John as he just turned up at my house.He took me out to some outrageously cool places and some spots in Vedado and La Rampa that I’d never have found on my own. We went to the best beaches in the province, none of which were in the guidebooks. John always left me flowers and various parcels of fruit and cake when I wasn’t home. I was, again, rather impressed.
After a few weeks however, I began to feel a bit suffocated. Everywhere I went he was there before me. He even anticipated where I’d go to take photos next. He loitered outside the cathedral where I sought solace.
It’s so hard to tell a nice person to sling their hook though, isn’t it? Johnny had bribed his supervisor to give him time off work. This damn Cuban was everywhere that I went and insisted on walking me home and turning up first thing in the morning and sabotaging my whole day. John may have been quite lovely but he could talk the hind legs off a donkey. It got on my nerves after a while as I could never EVER get a word in with him! Cuban Mummy and Daddy felt my pain and started taking me to the ballet and to their favourite spaghetti place with them on their date night just to give me a break. Cuban sister took me to see a film with her friends under cover of the night. Cuban Daddy even walked me to the hair salon and sat with the newspaper till I was done. Bless them!
I decided to get away, so booked into a resort in Veradero for a bit of a 5-star treat; headed to Holguin and then an impromptu trip on the back of a truck to stay in a place in the jungle without electricity. Nothing like a bit of balance when one travels!
My new novio gave me a bag of coins for pay phones and instructions to call me every day. I was very annoyed that he’d turned up to see me off, took his phone number and flowers and ran off in the other direction. I mumbled something about seeing him before I came back and then kind of ignored him. He was a bit upset with me and he had every right to be: I was impolite.
I had a wonderful time but I never went back to Havana on that trip. I must say, I did miss the skinny boy’s daily pineapple deliveries and had to find another source of fresh fruit.
I called Cuban Mummy and Daddy to let them know that I’d be going straight to the airport and that I’d see them next time.
Back in Havana, I saw Johnny on my way from the railway station to the airport in a taxi. I passed him on a park bench in his favourite red t-shirt. I was sad and disappointed with myself but I’m not quite sure why I felt that way.I had acted a bit spoilt with that poor boy but, being the spoilt brat that I was, I didn’t realise this fact. A proper goodbye is always polite, isn’t it?
2 months later I received an email from John. It was quite exciting and I was happy to have contact with him again. It was nice to remember all the fun we’d had in Havana before he started to get on my wick.We started corresponding and then he asked me to call him.I tried the 2 numbers he gave me unsuccessfully – it’s hard to connect to Cuba, and I can hardly hear when I do make a connection.Some lady told me that she’d give him a message and that Johnny (who was 26 at the time) was away at college. Very odd – he’d finished university years before…
After that I heard nothing for 3 years.No reply, nothing at all.
On my next trip to Cuba I asked my friend J.A to find Johnny’s address so I could write and tell him I was in town… or even just turn up and surprise him. We found the address and I thought I’d try and call one last time rather than arriving unannounced. The lady who answered the phone was taken aback that I’d asked to speak to John and started interrogating me about who I was and how I knew him. After about 2 minutes she was getting more and more worked up and I couldn’t understand her rapid, obscene spanish so I put her on the phone to Cuban Daddy. He hardly got a word in and from 3 feet away I could hear that vulgar woman screeching down the phone into my poor Cuban Daddy’s ear.
It turns out that this maniac was Johnny’s disgruntled former lover. She seemed to think that Cuban Daddy (who’s about 70) was John himself so she started swearing at him and telling him that she’s not taking him back even if he is out of prison.Prison! Gaol! The dog house! So it was a correctional facility in Cienfuego is the place where John had been “studying.” for so long! When Cuban Daddy explained that she was mistaken and that he was not Johnny – he was trying to find the boy, the crazy lady asked if HE was “another” of Johnny’s lovers.
It’s always best to phone ahead when calling in on old friends.