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A day at Guanabo Beach

By: Lurker

 

 

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A day at Guanabo Beach

Friends- this is a piece of fiction- meaning, the central events didn't happen to me or, as far as I know, to anyone I've met. However, hopefully, they happened to someone- or at least could have happened- because, first of all, fiction has to be plausible.

I
Raymond Vachon was a 45 year old independent stock broker from Montreal who lost 80% of his income thanks to discount commissions. He had been divorced twice, was a little overweight, and a little short of breath when he had to climb more than two flights of stairs. His business partner owed him $30,000- money he had put into the business. But either he didn't have the money or he didn't want to pay Raymond back, and since Raymond wasn't bringing much business into the office, his partner felt justified in criticizing Raymond mercilessly every time a client switched to another broker, which happened almost every day. There wasn't a single thing Raymond like doing in Canada, and when he was in Canada he thought of himself as an absolute failure. But when he went to Varadero, Cuba, every winter for a 30 day vacation, Raymond Vachon was treated like a king.

First, of course, there were all the girls. Years before, when he first went to Cuba, there were literally hundreds of young girls from all parts of the island on every block of Veradero's main avenue, grabbing at him, or just smiling when he walked by. It seemed that all the women in the country were available, and although they were all technically prostitutes, Ray didn't really think of them as whores at all. He had never solicited any prostitute in Montreal, but from what he understood, the way it worked was that a woman would be waiting out on a corner, and would ask him if he wanted to party. If he did, they would negotiate a price, and Ray would then get half an hour without any emotional attachment or romance. In Cuba, everything was different. No girl had ever asked for money beforehand, and if he wanted, Ray would give $20 or $15 the next morning to a girl who would be anxious to go out with him again, who would be jealous of all the other girls on the island, and who would want to go to the beach or to a club or maybe to go shopping for shoes or for something for her family

Maybe it was the girls who breathed life into him, but in Varadero Ray was adventurous, courageous. He knew his way around. He never stayed in hotels, with all the other Canadian tourists who didn't care what country they were in as long as there was plenty of sun by the pool. Over the years, Ray had made an effort to study Spanish- he read Cuban literature almost every day, and was now fluent enough to laugh and joke with everybody. He knew how to bribe the customs people when he came through with presents for his many friends- hot plates, clothing, cameras. The best way to get through customs was to bring a little medicine, and give the police at customs what they needed for their family. In Cuba, corruption was a form of friendship-Cubans were naturally generous, and generosity was almost always reciprocated. It was always exciting and challenging to really know how to manage things in this parallel universe, and every time his plane landed in Varadero, Ray came alive.

The girls didn't think he was a failure at all, because he owned a car, and could buy as many shoes as he wanted, and could travel to other parts of the world. Nobody really understood anything about the stock market but everyone knew that he worked near the center of the capitalist world, and that he was therefore wealthy, powerful, and someone to be envied. The fact that he spoke Spanish and was generous with presents, and also generous and honest in talking about himself, made him popular everywhere he went. Before going to the beach every day he would first go to the campesino market across the bridge from the tourist area and would buy a few dollars worth of fruit to give away to the girls, and over time most of the girls would accept a mango or a few bananas and would want to sit with him, and talk about their lives- their children, or their former boyfriends, or the tourists they had gone out with. Ray felt as if he had hundreds of girlfriends, aside from the girls that he actually slept with.

When he first came to Veradero, there was a small club, the Pantano, on the other side of the bridge, located in an old boat that was permanently harbored near the river that separated the tourist area from the rest of Cuba. In the old days the girls would wait outside the boat, and if he saw anyone who looked interesting, Ray could invite her up by motioning to the bouncer whose job it was to keep the surplus girls out, buy the girl a drink, dance, invite her to the room in the private house in which he was staying if he wanted. What a relief these girls were after 11 months in Montreal! French Canadian women have a reputation of being sexy, but as far as Ray was concerned, all the women of North America were frigid. Not only did the Cubans like sex, they didn't make any demands beyond sex, which made the sex that much more pleasurable. His first Cuban girlfriend was 22 years old and lived across the river in Boca de Camarioca with her young daughter and her parents. Her name was Angela, she was unbelievably beautiful and she had bounced up and down on him, literally jumping into the air and landing on him again- something he had not even know was possible. In the morning she looked through the sack of medicine that he had gotten from some drug reps, took some antibiotics for her daughter and some heart medicine for her mother, and was incredibly grateful.

Contrast that with the women he could meet in Canada- mostly divorced, angry, always wanting something beyond his ability to give. One time he had flown back from Varadero to Montreal, and just to do something different, had gone the same night into a topless club with horrible black lights where the women looked and acted like iguanas- not that he had anything against lizards. One girl had come up to him, sat on his lap, asked him if the thing in his pants had any name, and declared that she wanted to make friends with whatever the thing's name was. There was a back room where they could go for fifty dollarswhere the friendship could begin. This girl wouldn't be worth two dollars in Varadero, because she was so repulsive.

He didn't talk much about his girlfriends when he was in Canada because most of the people he knew would think there was something perverted about a middle aged man going out with women less than half his age. In Cuba a pervert would be a man who had the opportunity to sleep with young girls and who didn't want to. Everyone there thought it was completely natural that he would like to have sex with young girls- even the girl's parents. The first time that one of his girlfriends had invited him to meet her family, he expected that everyone would be suspicious if not hostile, but in fact he was warmly welcomed, served plenty of coffee, invited back. The young lady was proud before her family, and the family was proud before their neighbors.

In Cuba, Ray loved women! Not just the women he went out with, but almost all the women he met. Of course, some women were disappointing- liars, petty thieves. Years ago he had met a girl named Andrea at the beach, maybe 20 years old, who invited him to visit her in the small country village she lived in, outside of Cardenas. Andrea explained that her parents were gone cutting sugar cane and she had the house to herself. Her sister was in a nearby hospital, but that didn't mean much in Cuba- people go into the hospital for anything. She borrowed his extra large beach towel with the tropical fish design and promised to come back after visiting her sister, and then they would go to her house, which would be something new. He waited for her all evening, until the last bus would have come in from the hospital. A few days later he saw her at the beach again. He went over to ask her what had happened with his beach towel. She was embarrassed to see him, and told him that the towel was at her house, and that she would bring it back tomorrow. She was sorry about not coming back, but her sister had been sicker than she had thought. Would he still like to visit her in her village? She wasn't as attractive as he had first thought, probably because he knew she was lying to him, and he hated liars. Liars reminded him of his first wife. He didn't especially want to sleep with her, but he also didn't want her to get away with stealing his beach towel. So he told her that it would be better for both of them to go back to her village now. It took about an hour to take the first bus, and then the second local bus, and then they walked about 3 miles along a dirt road, until they came to a gate. They followed a smaller path on the other side of the gate that ended at a small swamp. There were a few planks laid over the swamp, and on the other side the path forked in three directions. Andrea's house was a two room shack with a rough-sawn wood siding mixed with odd pieces of tin. The floor was dirt and you could see the sun through the holes in the roof. Andrea kissed him as soon as they walked inside, and then she told him that she hadn't wanted to tell him earlier, because he might get angry, but his beach towel had been stolen, probably by her ex- boyfriend who was angry that she had dumped him. As proof, she showed him her open clothing drawer where the beach towel had been, and explained that many of her clothes had also been stolen. Ray didn't believe any of it, but it was already nightfall, and Andrea was kissing him, so he decided to stay. There was no running water in the house so he took a bucket bath behind the house. When he came back into the house Andrea had left. After almost an hour Andrea's grandmother came over to visit with a pot of coffee. She was recently divorced and she asked Raymond jokingly if he knew any Canadians that might want to marry a good Cuban woman who would do anything to get out of Cuba. She then asked him how things were going between him and Andrea. Ray told her the truth- he didn't think Andrea was being honest with him. For instance, how could anyone believe this story that his beach towel had been stolen the very first day that Andrea had taken it home without his permission? Andrea's grandmother agreed with him- undoubtedly, Andrea liked the towel and was hiding it somewhere because she didn't want to give it back. Ray explained that he would have been happy to give her the towel if she really wanted it, but why did she have to make up all these stories? The grandmother nodded- ever since Andrea had become a jinetera, about a year before, she was turning out to be worse and worse. Now she was stealing towels from the tourists! That's what life in Cuba was doing to everyone- the men were no good, and now the women were becoming almost as bad as the men. The house was full of smoke from the wood fire in the kitchen. Andrea then walked back into the house, and her grandmother excused herself. Ray asked where she had been, and she explained that she had been at her ex-boyfriend's house, looking for the beach towel, and just as important, all the clothes that he had stolen from her. Raymond noticed that there was a bicycle in the corner of the bedroom, a nice looking pocketbook, and some perfume in the bathroom. How come the thief hadn't stolen these valuable items? Andrea didn't really know. Then she thought about it and added that the bicycle had been locked with a chain.

The sex was disappointing- as it always was when Raymond decided that he didn't really like the girl he was sleeping with. That was one of the differences between Raymond and most Cuban men, who seemed honor bound to have sex with any woman they could- old, young, thin or fat, whether the woman was liked, loved, or despised. Raymond only enjoyed sleeping with women that he genuinely liked. Luckily there were an endless number of women that he liked.

This girl, however, had little sores on her ass, maybe some kind of infection. Raymond always used condoms, and he felt safe enough, but what exactly was he doing with this girl who was just a petty thief? Moreover, the brutal poverty of the Cuban countryside was depressing. In the morning he gave her a twenty and felt good just to be walking along the path back to the place where he could catch the local bus back to Cardenas. He always felt good whenever he survived an adventure, even if the adventure was a little unpleasant.

II.
Over the next three or four years Raymond adjusted to the changing rules in Cuba. First, all the girls from the provinces were prohibited from coming to Varadero. Only the Cubans who actually lived in Varadero could cross the bridge- and if a provincial girl was found on the other side she would be fined, sent back to her province on the first offense, and jailed second offense. Raymond could still meet girls at the Pantano, or at a show that was held every night near the Pantano. The show was much more fun. There would always be ten or twenty girls waiting outside the show for someone to pay the three dollars to pass them inside, where there would be live music, dancers with feather costumes, maybe even a comedian or a magician. Ray would pick someone he liked and invite her in, just to attend the show, but with the understanding that he could take her home if he wanted to. It wasn't as fancy as the Tropicana and the dancers weren't as talented but Ray liked it much better because it was so informal. You could talk to the dancers or to the Cubans at the next table- at the Tropicana the Cubans were segregated from the tourists who sat in their own section. Every night a group of about 15 teenagers sang along with the singers or told the punch lines along with the comedian. At the end of the show lots of people would come to Raymond's table, just to talk, and since everyone knew everyone, the girl he was with would usually be friends with all the other girls including sometimes a girl he had been with in the past. These other girls would come over to kiss him, and although sometimes there would be a little jealousy, everyone understood the basic rules- no scenes, no problems.

Then one year the girls started to be arrested for hanging out at the show, even though they were across the river from Varadero. The police knew that all these girls were prostitutes, and everyday it seemed that Fidel or Raoul would be making some statement about the necessity of stopping the rampant prostitution in Cuba. In the past prostitution had been tolerated, but the sheer number of girls who wanted to earn a living from the tourists was interfering with Fidel's claim of having saved the country from being the whorehouse that Batista had permitted.

The next year the girls weren't even allowed to talk to tourists in the Pantano. The only way to arrange things was to rent a room in one of the little houses just outside of Varadero, before the police checkpoint at the bridge, go to the Pantano, make eye contact with a girl he liked, tell her which house he was staying in, and return to his room, with her following a good distance behind. It wasn't at all the same, because there wasn't the pleasure of courtship, such as it was, the bantering that went with sitting and drinking and talking about the stock market or the lack of cooking oil in Cuba. It was this small talk which had enabled him to pick one girl over another- how could he pick a girl he liked if he couldn't even talk to her first? And even if he got lucky, he couldn't take the girl to the beach the next day, and couldn't even hold her hand in public.

Meanwhile his life in Montreal was more miserable every year. He didn't have any girlfriends in Canada, and he didn't want to have any girlfriends, because none of the women he could meet were as pretty or as vivacious or as interesting as the many girlfriends he could have in Cuba. Why bother? He hated to go to work, because everybody was unsatisfied with the job he was doing. Instead of entering trades, he would be thinking about Cuba, or reading about Cuba, or trying to imagine a way that he could move to Cuba. The latter was impossible, because without money he couldn't support his girlfriends and it was impossible to earn any money in Cuba. Recently he had stopped shaving every day, and sometimes he slept in his clothes. The worse he felt, the less he cared about doing his job. For years he had been managing the account of a high school friend, a former hippie who had built a dome house in the eastern townships and who later had inherited almost a million dollars. They had been good friends in the sixties, had smoked marijuana and hashish together, and for years Raymond had managed his friend's account, but now his friend was threatening to sue him for forgetting to execute a trade, which had lost him almost $5,000. In addition to the lawsuit, it was conceivable that Raymond could lose his securities license. Worse yet, his partner was ragging on him every single day, even though his partner had made plenty of mistakes in the past that Ray had covered for. Every time he tried to talk calmly about the money his partner owed him, money that he had invested into the business in the hopes of earning more profit for them both, his partner became furious, and would announce that he was sick of carrying Raymond who couldn't do anything right. He wanted to quit the business but he couldn't afford to write off the money his partner owed him- and worse yet, the partnership agreement had been word of mouth, based on a handshake, and if he walked away, he would lose his half of the income that still tricked in. He thought about working for a different securities firm but the truth was that he hated selling stocks because selling was based upon lying. How the hell did he know which stocks were likely to rise? He had access to plenty of research, but the experts were wrong at least half the time. The only way to make money as a stockbroker was to convince his clients to buy and to sell, but to do that well a broker needed to believe all the prognostications that he was given, or at least pretend to believe, and Ray could no longer do either. He didn't want to do any cold calling, didn't want to send Christmas cards to his clients, didn't want to go to lunch with anybody. All he wanted to do was to make enough money to go to Cuba for 30 days in January.

He survived this last, difficult year, but this time, when he got off the plane at Varadero, he soon realized that everything had changed again. The girls were gone, maybe in jail or maybe just sent back to their provinces. There weren't any more shows and the Pantano was almost dead. Yes, there were a few desperate girls who would risk jail for twenty dollars for their families but all the romance was gone. No one could even pretend that these girls were interested in anything except money. Ray decided to leave Varadero and check out the scene at Guanabo, a beach within commuting distance from Havana where maybe it would be like the old days.

III.
He got to Guanabo late in the day, and immediately rented an apartment for thirty dollars a night. The apartment had two bedrooms, a small kitchen, and most importantly, a separate entrance so he wouldn't have to bother anyone if he wanted to entertain. The rooms were spartan, but very nice for his purposes. There was a refrigerator, a small hot plate, and a nice bath with running cold water. The front door opened out almost onto the beach, and there was another door that led from the kitchen to an alley behind the house. Hot water was a luxury that nobody could reasonably expect, and if he really wanted a warm shower, he could always heat some water on the hot plate before pouring it over himself. He didn't really know how things worked in Guanabo, but he was beginning to feel better. The owner of the house offered to sell him a case of bottled beer for eight dollars- the normal price was twelve dollars so he bought two cases. The beer wasn't branded and didn't come with labels, and was probably stolen from the same factories where Mayabe or Bucanero was bottled and then sold on the black market. Ray didn't drink much, so the beer was for his guests.

He went out to the beach- it was almost dark and there were very few people around. Four girls were sitting on a towel, so Ray went over to introduce himself. Nobody seemed nervous.

"May I sit with you?" he asked

"Of course! What country are you from?" asked a thin mulata, chain smoking. "Are you staying in Guanabo? Have you ever been to Cuba before?"

"Please permit me to introduce myself. My name is Ramon, and I am from Canada. I have been to Cuba many times, and I can even say, without exaggerating too much, that I know a little bit about what's going on in Cuba. But tell me-in Varadero, the Cuban girls are not allowed to talk to the tourists. Is it the same here?"

Three girls were quiet but the mulata answered "The only girls who have problems with the police around here are the jineteras and the thieves. The police know that we are not jineteras. We never have any problems. My name is Matilda, and this is my cousin Beatriz" she said, motioning to a young blonde girl who was staring at the sand. Then she smiled and asked "Do you think you could buy me a pack of Winston?"

"A whole pack! Most people are satisfied with asking for one cigarette, at least until they know me a little better. And why don't you smoke populares? Winstons cost four times as much"

"Winston is better. Nothing from Cuba is any good. I don't like Cuban cigarettes, Cuban beer, and especially Cuban men."

"What's wrong with Cuban men?"

Another girl, also mulata but shorter and heavier jumped in. "Cuban men drink too much, and they all have other women in the street".

"So if they have other women in the street- isn't that the fault of the women as much as the men?"
Matilda said, "I don't care if they have other women. The reason I don't like Cubans is because they don't have any money"

"Look," said Ray, "here's enough money to buy 3 cigarettes. That should be enough for now" Matilda carefully put the coins in a small white pocketbook.

Ray looked over at the other two girls who hadn't been introduced, the shorter mulata and a very pretty Spanish looking girl, thin, pale, with long black hair, and asked, 'And what are your names?"
The shorter mulata answered, "My name is Doris" and after a pause the thin pale girl said, "My name is Nilsa" Nilsa shyly put out her hand. These two were students at the University of Havana, studying economics, in their young twenties. Economics in Cuba meant the history of Marxism-Leninism.
Nilsa and Beatriz were in his opinion the prettiest, and they were also more shy- the type that Ray liked. Matilda was too thin, almost sickly. She had the false bounciness of a girl who was pretending to be happier than she really was.

"Economics" repeated Ray, and then looked over towards Nilsa. "I work in economics. That is to say, capitalist economics"

"Are you a teacher?" asked Matilda

"No, I work selling shares of privately owned companies" All the girls looked at him blankly.

"Look, it works like this. Let's say that you like Winstons, and you think Winstons would be a good investment. Winston is actually a brand name owned by R.J. Reynolds. Right now, R. J. Reynolds is selling for around $30 a share. A share means you own a very small part of the company, and you are entitled to a very small part of the earnings. Suppose I were to lend you the money, and then you could buy one thousand shares of Reynolds. Now lets suppose that the embargo is ended and suppose that the Cubans have more money than they do now. Lots of Cubans might want to buy more Winstons, and Reynolds might be able to make more money. Let's say that people all over the world also like

Winstons, and pretty soon, Reynolds is worth $60 a share. You could sell your shares, give me back my money, and you would have a profit of $30,000 to keep for yourself. That's capitalist economics"
"Wow" said Nilsa. Doris repeated the words "thirty thousand dollars" Matilda asked a passing cigarette seller to sell her three Winstons. Beatriz didn't say anything.

"Of course it's not always that easy," said Ray. 'Right now Reynolds is in a lot of potential legal trouble. What if all the people who get sick because they smoke Winstons sue Reynolds, and what if all these millions of people each win $10,000 because Reynolds caused them to get cancer. Reynolds might go bankrupt, the shares would be worth nothing, and you'd still owe me $30,000. You'd be in a lot of trouble!"

Nilsa giggled. Doris was dumbfounded- how could she suddenly owe so much money? Matilda wasn't following the conversation at all. Beatriz was listening, but it was clear that she couldn't understand how somebody could make or lose so much money without doing anything at all.

Nilsa was the girl he was most interested in. She appeared to be bright, she smiled a lot, and she was as pretty as the Puerto Rican Barbie.

"How do you know whether the Winstons will go up or down?" she asked him.

"That's just the problem. Unfortunately, there is really no good way of knowing. My job is to tell people whether Winstons will go up or down, and unfortunately, I'm not very good at my job any more. I really don't know what is going to happen with Winstons" He made a little gesture of humility, and smiled.

"I'm sure you could tell me what to buy," said Matilda. "One day I'm going to have a lot of money. My cousin lives in Rome. She married an Italian. She sends a little money to my mother's sister, and last year she came back to Cuba and brought me two dresses that were made in Italy and two pair of stockings. She always told me that I could marry an Italian if I wanted to, but I've been waiting to meet a handsome Canadian."

"You wouldn't like living in Canada," said Ray. "It's too cold up there. You'd be happier if you married an Italian."

Matilda stuck out her tongue and then smiled at him. Nilsa was looking pensive.

"What are you thinking about" Ray asked her.

"I think it's wonderful that you've had a chance to learn about so many things. I'm an economics student, but we never get to learn about shares, or about capitalism, or about how things work outside of Cuba. Here it's always the same- what is the proper relationship between Marxist economics and the US blockade? What is the relationship between Marxism and the development of tourism? What is the relationship between Communism and the non-aligned world? I'm so tired of everything I have to learn, and I never get to learn about anything that's interesting"

Ray wanted to go over and hug her right away- she really was intelligent, and she admired him!
"Nilsa, I've rented an apartment for a few days, and if you like, I could invite you to have a drink with me, or dinner, and then we could talk some more about what you've been studying, and maybe I could tell you more about some of the things I've learned"

She looked at him, and then apologized. "I'm sorry, but I couldn't do that. I would like to, but I can't! I'm not a jinetera at all! I have a boyfriend! We even think about getting married because I'm also a Christian and we want to have children, although it's impossible to take care of children because it's impossible to find clothing for them! You're the first foreigner I've ever met, and I enjoy so much talking to you, but I can't go with you at all!"

Of course Ray understood. What a sweet girl! He was disappointed, and he had a desire to share as much of his life as he could. He began talking to her about economics, a quick review of the writings of Adam Smith, the theory of the invisible hand, the relationship between freedom and efficiency, the reasons why socialism had never worked and could never lead to a higher standing of living, the notion that private property was one of the essential human rights, the reason why people who owned their own businesses would always out-produce the bureaucrats who didn't lose anything no matter how many mangos rotted in the fields. He ignored Matilda, who wanted to use his apartment to go to the bathroom- the public facility was closed. He could give Nilsa hundreds of examples, but one would be enough, since she was listening so intensely. He had met the manager of a bicycle factory in Santa Clara who had explained everything to him. Cuba didn't actually produce any bicycles- it purchased lower quality bicycle parts from China and assembled lower quality bicycles, because the cost of labor was lower in Cuba than it was in China. The difference between the cost of producing the bicycle and the price of the bicycle sold in the store was about forty dollars. In a capitalist country, the owners of the bicycle factory could invest this forty dollars in the factory, could tool up to produce the wheels and the brakes and the other parts to actually manufacture bicycles. But in Cuba, all the money went to the government, which spent the profits on the Soviet engineered nuclear power plant that never got finished, or on electrical plants that cost more to run than the value of electricity, or on a thousand other projects that all lost money. In other words, the government took the money of successful businesses and wasted it on unsuccessful businesses. Instead of allowing an efficient bicycle business to develop, Cuba produced terrible bicycles that Cubans had to buy because there weren't any other bicycles for sale, but that nobody else would ever want to buy because t he bicycles were so inferior to the bicycles produced in China. Even though the workers in the bicycle factory were only paid about seven dollars a month, the factory could never make enough money to subsidize all the stupid government projects that no intelligent person would ever attempt if he had to risk his own money.

Nilsa listened to every word, sometimes close to tears. It was all true! Her grandfather had once owned a very small factory which had employed six people that produced tablecloths that were sold to small restaurants in and around Havana. A little after the revolution the government took over the factory, and a year later shut it down because it was losing money and because tablecloths were not important compared to all the other things the government was concerned with. Her grandfather had hated communism, but he loved Cuba and never wanted to leave, although two of his brothers had gone to Florida in 1963, and now she had many cousins and all of them were in business and all of them owned their own houses with swimming pools. Even her grandfather's employees had gone to the United States, except for one young Negro who later died in Angola.

It was now nighttime. Matilda had stopped paying attention when she saw that Ray was only interested in Nilsa. Every so often she would ask for more cigarettes, until Ray gave her enough money to buy a pack of populares. Doris was following the conversation, more or less, but it was clear that she didn't really care. Beatriz, Matilda's young cousin, smiled every once in a while when Ray looked over at her, but apparently didn't know exactly what they were talking about or why Ray and Nilsa seemed to think it was so important.

After about an hour Nilsa told Ray that she had to go back to Havana because her mother would be very worried about her. She was so grateful that Ray had explained so many things so clearly. If only her grandfather was still alive! It would be wonderful to talk to him about the tablecloths, and about the reasons that he had stayed in Cuba until it was too late to leave. She also loved Cuba, not just the scenery and her friends and her family, but almost everything about Cuba. But now she knew that she would have to leave if it were ever possible, even if her mother didn't want her to go, even if her boyfriend refused to go, because nothing would ever be better in Cuba until the people had more freedom to do what they wanted. Nobody had ever listened to Ray so carefully! He was practically in love with this girl! He wanted to give her money, but Nilsa refused to accept any, until he told her that she should give the money to her mother, and then she agreed to take thirty dollars.

"Everybody told me not to trust tourists" she said, "but they're all wrong! You know so many things! And you're such a good person! I haven't done anything for you and you're giving me so much money!"
"I don't know as much as you think" said Raymond, "but I like to be generous to people that are really both good and intelligent. Today is my first day back in Cuba, and I've missed being here more than you could imagine- but I agree with you. I wouldn't stay here one day if I had a Cuban identity card instead of my passport."

IV.
When Nilsa left, Doris went with her- they had come from Havana together. He was very sorry to see Nilsa go. As soon as they were gone Matilda asked him if he would invite her and Beatriz over to his house to have a few drinks with her. Ray thought about it- Matilda was exactly the type of woman that he didn't like-loud, brassy, pushy, greedy. Still, there was nobody else on the beach, and he could chase her away later. Her cousin had hardly spoken a word all evening- she just didn't know enough about the world to have anything to say. He was still thinking about Nilsa. But he liked being generous! Why not let the girls have a few beers?

They walked over to his place. Matilda was looking in all directions as they walked inside. Beatriz didn't drink, but Matilda finished three beers in about three minutes. She then became even more animated. She went over to his soft suitcase and wanted to know what he had inside. Maybe he had an extra T-shirt that he could give her as a souvenir? Ray explained that he had learned to travel very light- all he had was a few pants, three shirts, a deck of cards, a few books, a dictionary, a few personal things, and the suitcase itself. He had nothing for anyone, no shampoo, no extra soap, nothing. He didn't even have much money-when he needed money he would go to the bank, every day if he had to, because there were plenty of thieves in Cuba, and if he was robbed, the thieves wouldn't get very much. He showed her his wallet- $60, and a plastic debit card that the thieves couldn't use. Matilda asked him if he would give her the deck of cards. No? How about the dictionary? She had always wanted to study English, even more than Italian, and if only she had a dictionary she was sure she could learn. Ray explained to her that this was a Spanish-French dictionary, that in his part of Canada French was more important than English. French was another language that she had always wanted to learn, at least as much as Englsih! The more she drank, the more shameless she was becoming.

Meanwhile Beatriz sat quietly by the kitchen table, looking at Matilda every once in a while. Since Ray didn't want to listen to Matilda anymore, he quietly drank his second beer and tuned her out entirely, even though she wouldn't stop talking, mostly about her cousin and a few other friends she knew who had married tourists and gone on to live in other countries. Ray was staring at Beatriz, until she blushed and looked away. She didn't appear to be bored, just uninvolved. Possibly there was something interesting about her, under the surface? She had a cute little body, small breasts, straight blonde hair, a small round face with nice skin except for a small bit of acne under her lower lip. He looked at her again, more carefully, as if for the first time. She appeared to be about 17 or 18, although with Cuban girls it was often hard to tell. Teenagers in the tropics knew more about sex than fully grown women in Montreal. The government restricted the activities of girls under 18 much more stringently than girls over 18, and if the girl was young enough, maybe under 16, it was even possible that the tourist could be deported from the country.

Matilda reached for another beer, and finally asked him, "Do you want me to stay with you tonight or not? You're very handsome, and I think we would make a very nice couple."

"The only handsome thing about me is my passport. The rest of me is ugly, except for my money, which is also handsome".

"No, I'm more interested in you than in your passport or your money" said Matilda, without making much effort to appear to be sincere.

"To be honest, Matilda, you're not my type". Then, really without thinking anything through, he added, "But I might be interested in staying with Beatriz, provided that she wanted to and was over 18".

The two girls looked at each other. Apparently this was something unexpected, although not completely unimaginable. Matilda snapped shut her white pocketbook and handed it over to Beatriz , who still refused to say anything.

"She had her 18th birthday two months a go" said Matilda. "She acts young for her age because she's never gone out with foreigners before. Don't worry, she's very shy but of course she would like to stay with you".

And now Ray wasn't sure if this was a good idea, but she was pretty enough, and he was lonely, and he hadn't been with a woman for almost a year, and at least this would be another adventure. On the other hand, she hadn't expressed the slightest interest in anything, but maybe it was true, maybe she was just very shy and would open up a little in time.

"Are you really 18?" he asked her.

"Yes. My birthday was in November"

"Could you show me your carnet?"

Carnets are the identity cards that all Cubans are supposed to carry at all times, to show to police whenever asked. In addition to the photo, the identity cards reveal the date of birth, place of permitted residence, and lots of other information that the police find useful.

"She didn't bring her carnet" said Matilda. "She doesn't need one because she's not a jinetera".
This was a little suspicious, but Ray let it pass. "I don't know," he said. I don't usually go out with people that aren't interested in me".

Finally Beatriz began to talk. "I'm very interested," she said. "I just don't know how to talk to tourists. I've never spoken to a tourist before. That's why Matilda brought me here- to help me meet tourists and learn how to talk to them. I'm sorry if I don't know how, but I'm afraid to say anything because I don't know what to say".

He brought out the deck of cards to help break the ice a little. They played a fairly simple Cuban game that still required some skill. Beatriz played well, and laughed whenever she won. It was nice to see her show some emotion. Matilda tried to cheat, and angrily denied cheating when she was caught. Ray and Matilda continued to drink. With every beer Beatriz seemed slightly more attractive, and slightly more interesting. After a while, without really deciding, somehow it had been decided.

Matilda asked Ray to take good care of her cousin. Then she took Beatriz into the other bedroom, apparently to give her some pointers. She promised that she would be back first thing in the morning, to make sure everything was all right.

When Matilda had let, Beatriz relapsed into muteness. Suddenly Ray understood- she wasn't shy, she was terrified!

"Look" he explained. You don't have to stay with me if you don't want to. This is my first day here and maybe things are happening too quickly".

"No", she said, "I want to be with you."

"Tell me more about your life."

"What do you want to know?"

"What do you like doing?"

"I like to go to school."

"What grade are you in?"

This was a trick question but she gave a plausible answer- "12th grade"

"What do you like studying?"

"Everything. Social studies, geography, mathematics."

"What do you like doing outside of school?"

"Music. Dancing. Taking care of my little brother."

Talking to her was hopelessly awkward, although he tried for almost a quarter of an hour. Without Matilda around, she was scared to death, or maybe deep down she really wasn't interested in anything.
Ray pulled out a twenty dollar bill and gave it to Beatriz. "You don't have to sleep with me" he said. "This is the money I would have given you. Now you can relax. You can stay here with me, or you can go home".

She refused the money. "No, I can't go home, I want to be with you. My cousin told me not to be shy but I can't help it. I don't know what I'm supposed to do."

He tried kissing her. She kissed back, nervously. He took off her T- shirt and the bra underneath. Her breasts were surprisingly hard, like rolls that were a few days old. He kissed her for minutes, and then placed his hand between her legs. She shook herself away- almost an act of rebellion, compared to her previous docility. Then she quietly took off all of her clothes and presented herself to him. He took off his clothes, lay down next to her, and even though she began to kiss him again, her body tightened. As long as she truly wasn't interested, he couldn't be interested either.

He sat up. "This isn't working," he said. Please forgive me- it was a mistake to invite you. I should have known better."

"Don't worry," she said. "I'm very nervous, because I've never been with a tourist before, but in a little bit I'll try to relax."

He looked at her carefully.

"How old are you really? Are you really 18?"

"No" she said, "but don't tell Matilda that I told you. I'm really 16".

"I know that you don't want to make love--no don't tell me otherwise because I know. So what do you want to do?"

She thought for a second, and then answered, "I want to go to the club where they have music. Then I want to come back and sleep with you."

"Beatriz, you're too young for me. I'm an old man, and you're just a baby. I feel like I'm robbing the cradle".

"I'm not a baby" she said, "and this is not a cradle. We're sitting on a bed, not a cradle. And everyone says that mature men like to be with younger girls".

"Up to a point, Beatriz. But you're too young, you're afraid of me, and to tell you the truth, you should take the money and go and find Matilda."

"Please, don't tell me to go home!" she whined. I would be ashamed if you sent me away. I can't go on being shy forever. Please, let's go dancing! I want to go to the club!"

Ray was a terrible dancer, even worse than the average North American. He didn't really like dancing clubs, except as a place to meet Cuban girls and take them home and then get to know them better.

The club, as it turned out, was just a few blocks away. Beatriz took him by the hand and held him very close on the walk over. She wanted everybody to see that she was with him, and this was very embarrassing. Now he was the one who felt ashamed! What in the world was he doing with this girl? And when they walked into the club, before they could sit down, there was Matilda! She shrieked in happiness, kissed Ray and then kissed Beatriz, and then introduced them to everybody she knew, which was most everybody in the club. Thankfully, there were only about 15 people there, no live music, only an old cassette player with non-stop salsa and merengue, a cheap strobe light, a handful of Cuban girls dancing mostly with each other or waiting for something to happen, the bartender and a few waiters, two Cuban men and their girlfriends drinking in the corner, one other tourist who was dancing wildly and badly and drunkenly with his black Cuban girlfriend who was wearing a leopard-skin dress and who tried to imitate the tourist's crazy gyrations, to the amusement of the other girls.

"Look what a wonderful couple they are" said Matilda, and at first he didn't know who she was talking about, but then he realized that she was referring to him and Beatriz. To prove that it was true, Beatriz began to kiss him. Ray was not only ashamed, he was beginning to get angry- he and Beatriz were a ridiculous couple, and everyone in the world could see it.

Since Ray didn't have a camera, Matilda borrowed one from the other tourist who turned out to be from Germany. No one else in the club could care one way or the other that Ray had ended up with such a juvenile adolescent girl. If only he could have stayed with Nilsa! Matilda took a series of pictures, and Ray had to pose with his hands in Beatriz' hair, with her kissing him on the lips, as if these were wedding photos. Then everyone forced him to dance with Beatriz, and then with Matilda. He was still feeling the effects of the many beers, but he hadn't drunk enough to not feel ashamed, and it didn't help much that he was the only person in the club who was ashamed.

Matilda wanted him to buy a drink for her, for Beatriz, and for a few of her girlfriends. Ray recounted his money- he wanted to save enough to give to Beatriz, but drinking at least gave him something to do until enough time had passed for him to go back to his apartment. Beatriz didn't want to drink but Matilda ordered her a mojito and forced her to drink it. Matilda drank rum, from the bottle, and poured glasses out for Ray and for everyone else.

Ray needed to go to the bathroom, and he felt much better the moment he was alone. Without saying a word to anyone he left the club and walked back along the beach to his apartment. The ocean was always so beautiful, so calming even when it was raging against rocks or a sea wall. When he got back to his place he had to try the key a few times- he really was more drunken than he had realized. After he made his way in he made sure that both doors were locked tight. He was almost asleep when he heard someone crying- Beatriz was begging him to let her in. She didn't have anywhere to sleep. Matilda had insisted that she go back and try to make Ray happy. Ray reluctantly agreed that she could come back in, but only to sleep. But as soon as they got in the bed, Beatriz took off all of her clothes and kissed him insistently. He became aroused, and although he was drunk, if that's what she wanted, he wasn't going to argue with her. She took off his clothes, lay on top of him, and in a few minutes he was finished- and then she began to sob! Ray didn't know what to do. He tried talking to her, but she had nothing to say- she only wanted to cry. He gave her $30, almost all the money he had left, and told her that he was sorry, but what could he do. He went over to the other bedroom and went to sleep.

In the morning Beatriz dressed very early and waited just inside the door for Matilda to come and get her. She and Ray hardly spoke. It was difficult for Ray to even be polite. He was almost angry again, and he didn't know why. The wait was interminable. He was grateful when Matilda finally showed up, although he was even more angry at Matilda than he was at Beatriz. Matilda invited him to go out with her and Beatriz again that night, and Ray told her that he didn't want to see either one of them again, especially Matilda.

"What did Beatriz do wrong?" Matilda asked, and Ray just said, "Forget about it". Matilda wanted to know, because if Beatriz was acting improperly, Matilda had to each her. Ray tried to explain- actually, Beatriz had done nothing wrong, but Matilda shouldn't be introducing her young cousin, if that's who Beatriz really was, to tourists, since Beatriz wasn't interested. Or maybe she was just immature for her age.

Matilda exploded. You're the one that wanted to sleep with her- it was you, not me! And as for being immature- the poor girl is only thirteen years old! You dirty tourists are all the same! Just because you have money you think you can do anything you want! You treat Cuban girls worse than dogs- three tourists with one girl, touching her on the beach, infecting everybody with aids! What do you think- that we should quietly starve to death!"

Thirteen years old! Those were the only words he heard clearly, and the fact that Beatriz was only thirteen was more of a slap than all of Matilda's insults.

He wanted desperately to get rid of this horrible woman as soon as he could, but he also wanted to apologize to Beatriz. He told her that he hadn't known, that he would never have gone out with a thirteen year old girl but everyone had lied to him. He was sorry. He didn't think that he was as bad as the other tourists, and he wasn't responsible for what other people did.

The girls left and Ray shut the door behind them. What a disaster! Everything had happened so quickly- his first day in a new place. He had made a few mistakes, and now he had to be more careful. He hoped that Beatriz and Matilda would go far away. He just wanted to relax, to forget about all these complications. This was supposed to be his vacation!

V
He took out his wallet and his passport and his suitcase and hid everything under the bed in the second bedroom. Then he sat at the table and thought about what he had done. He didn't go out to the beach until noon. It was a quiet sunny day. When he became hungry he went to get his debit card and walked over to a hotel, withdrew a little money, and went to a small bar where cheese sandwiches and chicken were the only things on the menu. Cheese sandwiches were good enough. He went back to the beach, and sat quietly with a book, but he couldn't concentrate on anything- he was still trying to understand what had happened to him. Every so often a girl walked by and he would smile but his own smile seemed false even to him.

Towards late afternoon a solitary thin girl with black hair walked past him and then sat about twenty yards away on the root of a sea grape tree. Normally Ray would have invited her over to sit on his beach towel but today he was unsure of himself. The girl smiled at him every time he looked at her, but otherwise did nothing to advance the romance. Eventually he motioned her over, but she only smiled, and then threw him a rock with a note attached explaining that she was afraid of the police. Ray was becoming an operator again. It didn't surprise him that last night the girls could sit and talk, but not today- the rules changed all the time. He moved his towel a little closer to her tree-even when girls were not permitted to sit with tourists, no one had ever defined the legal separation distance. Ten feet was close enough to talk, but far enough that they could both pretend that they were randomly minding their own business.

Her name was Lidia and she was happy to learn that he was Canadian. She said that her uncle now lived in Longueil and had obtained a Canadian visa for her- she would be leaving in about a month. She and Ray would be neighbors! He asked her a few probing questions about her uncle's address and she named a street that really existed. She knew where the Canadian Embassy was located in Havana, and she knew the exact procedures for obtaining an exit visa, down to the various fees. She knew all the steps in obtaining Canadian citizenship. She spoke some French- she had been studying because she knew that she couldn't work in Montreal without, as she said, dominating French. She knew the difference between Jacques Chretian and Rene Levecque, and could talk intelligently about separatism, including the economic dislocations that needed to be balanced against the legitimate preservation of culture and language. She worked as a radiologist in Havana, and she knew more or less what radiologists were paid in Montreal. It seemed that she was telling the truth.

She explained that she needed to be very cautious, because she didn't want to do anything that would risk her departure. Even a minor charge of associating with a tourist could hold up her exit visa.
She wasn't especially good looking, although she did have a nice smile, and a good figure. She was 29 years old. Ray considered her to be almost Canadian- he didn't try to flirt with her because she didn't need his money- soon enough she would be making her own. Her skin was neither white nor brown, but both, depending on which side of the bikini line he was looking at. She was one of the many Cubans for whom race was a meaningless concept- it was impossible to say whether she belonged to one race or another. Her hair was nappy but her eyes were almost green.

They spoke for hours, with mutual respect, about single payer health systems, and about the prospects of Canadian investment in Cuban hotels. She laughed often, and Ray began to laugh along with her. She was exactly what he needed to forget about the girls he had been with the night before. No, she didn't have any steady boyfriends- she wanted to be independent until she was really settled in her new country. She did have a few part time boyfriends, people that she would truly miss when she left Cuba. Her mother, a surgeon who had been given a car for helping to patch up soldiers in Angola, was also independent. When Lidia had asked her mother why she never remarried after throwing out her husband for being an alcoholic and a womanizer, her mother had answered- "if I ever need a husband, I'll borrow one of the neighbor's".

They talked and laughed some more, and then Lidia asked, "Could you do me a favor? There isn't any bathroom at this beach, and I've been needing to pee all afternoon. Do you have a place that I could go?"
"I've rented an apartment" Ray answered, pointing behind him. "Of course you can use it. Just be careful that no one sees you go in"

He gave her the keys, and watched her go inside. After she closed the front door, he realized that he might be making another mistake- and although he didn't like to be so suspicious, you really couldn't trust anybody. He walked over to the apartment and listened in at the door. He heard the toilet flush, and then Lidia came outside again.

"Thank you so much" she smiled. "Nothing works in this country. Even something as simple as a public bathroom. I needed to go hours ago, but I was too embarrassed to ask when you were a stranger". She looked back at the door, and then she looked around to make sure there were no police walking by. "Would you mind if we went inside? I like talking with you, but I don't want to take the chance that anyone will see us together. Also, I don't want to sit in the sun anymore. If I stay too long in the sun, I become almost black- and I've heard that Canadians are prejudiced against black people" Once again he laughed with her. "Don't worry, Montreal doesn't have any sun, so even a Zimbabwean would become white after a few years".

They shut the door behind them, and Lidia walked over and sat down at the kitchen table. She picked up the deck of cards and asked Raymond if he knew a came called cribbage- something her mother had learned from her grandfather, who had lived in the United States for twenty years. He asked if she wanted a beer, and she accepted, and then opened a bottle for him. She played well, and they kept up a running commentary. They traded jokes, and a few times she was able to tell him the punch line in French. He realized that for all of his experience, this was the first sophisticated , cultured, normal Cuban woman that he had ever really gotten to know. The girls he had gone out with all seemed silly when compared to the natural wit of this confident woman who was at least his equal in intelligence and education. He admired her!

They drank a few beers, until he realized that he was pleasantly tipsy. She kept opening bottles for him, and when he told her that he wasn't accustomed to drink more than two or three beers, even on a hot day, she told him that he needed to relax more- wasn't this his vacation? She told him that she was having a wonderful time- he was so different from the ordinary tourists who were only interested in sex. He was the first Canadian that she could honestly say had the potential to be her friend- who could tell? She would love to keep in touch when she got to Montreal, where she didn't know anybody except her uncle, and where, she admitted, she was a little afraid of being lonely, despite her independence. They drank, joked, played cards, laughed, drank a little more. She opened another bottle and some beer spilled over her shirt. When he burst into laughter, she reached over and spilled half a bottle on his shirt. They were having such a good time that at first he didn't notice that someone was knocking at the front door. Lidia heard the knocking first, and stopped laughing immediately. Ray told her to go into the far bedroom and hide- he wouldn't let anybody in.

She closed the bedroom door, and Ray stumbled over and opened the front door- and there stood Matilda and Beatriz!

"I lost my hairbrush," said Matilda, "and Beatriz said it was in my pocketbook. She thinks that she must have left it in here". They looked around the front room but couldn't find any hairbrush. Matilda pointed to the many bottles of empty beer and said, "You try to pretend that you're a good man but you're just another drunk that stays in his room and drinks all day".

"You might as well leave" answered Ray. I don't need to explain anything to you".

Beatriz had wandered over to the bedroom, where she had slept. " I think I might have left the brush next to the bed, she said quietly.

"You can't go in there," said Ray.

"Why not" said Matilda. "It was OK for her to go in there last night. Why can't she go back and get my brush, if that's where it is."

Ray wanted to keep her out, but the door opened from the inside and Lidia walked out, with tremendous composure. "Look all you want" she said. "I don't think you'll find anything"

Beatriz burst into tears. Matilda looked at Ray with pure hatred, and then she said to Beatriz, "I told you he wasn't any good. Here you were crying your eyes out because this son of a whore didn't want you around after he was finished with you. The only thing that tourists are good for is money. Thirty dollars! I've never stolen a thing from a tourist in my life, and I don't know why. You should have stolen everything he has," she said to Beatriz, who was still sobbing.

Matilda walked over to Lidia, and Ray realized that he had no idea what this girl was capable of- it looked like she was going to start pulling out Lidia's hair. Lidia acted as if it was beneath her dignity to respond to these girls in any way.

"Get out of here or I'll call the police" Ray threatened.
"Sure, you have the police to protect you, because you're a tourist, and we're just Cuban dogs" said Matilda, "including you, blanquita", pointing to Lidia. "You think you're better than me, you whore, but I'm better than you."

Lidia responded slowly and quietly, "people like you almost make me ashamed to be Cuban There isn't any brush here, so you can go back to wherever you came from"

When they had finally gone, Ray sat down by the table. "I'm so sorry," he said. "I'm so sorry that you had to meet these girls. Last night I made a terrible mistake. I let these girls into this apartment and before I knew exactly how it happened I got in some real trouble"

"You don't need to tell me about it" said Lidia. "These kinds of girls are all over Cuba. Even though I only met you today, I think you're an open and generous and honest person- the kind of person that always gets into trouble in Cuba. You just need to be more careful"

"No, I want to tell you everything, I want you to know. I feel so terrible about what happened to me, about what I did- I'm still confused about it, and most importantly, if we really have a chance to be friends, I don't want to hide anything from you."

"Let's go and sit on the bed" she said. "I want to stretch a little. You can tell me everything if you want to, but I already know. That type of girl is exactly the type to stay away from- you did a good job of getting rid of her. Not only is she a whore, but she is certainly a thief. Now she is teaching the other girl to be a thief. I feel sorry for that other girl- I don't think she's so bad- yet. But she will be."

Ray wanted to confess, and he did- he told her everything. Yes, he had been lonely for years- his life was empty. He felt better when younger women looked up to him, admired him- was that really so terrible? Was it really so wrong to want to enjoy life, to have adventures, to meet all kinds of people? He had slept with the young girl, and he didn't want to admit it but he had learned afterwards that she was thirteen years old. Honestly, he hadn't known, he didn't know exactly how it had happened, but he did know that he had been wrong, that somehow he had taken a very wrong turn. Life in Canada was not as easy as everyone thought-despite the fact that Canadians had everything and Cubans had nothing, Cubans were at least as happy as Canadians, and he was even willing to say, happier. It was amazing, if you really thought about it- money had nothing to do with happiness, nothing at all. People work all their lives for money, for cars, for new clothes- really, for nothing, because it didn't make any difference! No, he couldn't expect that she would understand all of this, because the absolute lack of money, the poverty that the Cubans had to live through was enough to make anyone miserable, but on the other hand, maybe it was he that couldn't quite understand, because for the most part, even the most miserably poor Cubans were not miserable at all. He loved Cuba, because in Cuba he was respected, and he had a few opportunities every once in a while to do something nice for someone with the little money he had-actually, a lot of money, by Cuban standards, although not much money at all in Canada. He wanted to be clear about everything

Lidia was absolutely sympathetic. She didn't interrupt, but she did nod repeatedly, and she smiled with encouragement, and a few times she patted him on the arm. In Cuba, she explained, a great number of men were absolutely shameless. A Cuban would cheat on his wife, and even if he had a child with a mistress, and one day the mistress came up to him and his wife on the street, the man would deny everything, would slap his mistress in the face, would tell the world that this woman he had never met must have gone crazy. Since so many Cuban men were so utterly selfish, so egotistical, it wasn't surprising that so many Cuban women had become jealous and hateful themselves. Add in the economic necessity, and you had a country with plenty of vicious whores like Matilda. Of course, not all the girls were bad. She was very sympathetic to the honest girls who wanted to meet tourists to have a good time and forget about their everyday lives and maybe be given enough money to buy something nice that otherwise they could never have. As long as a girl wasn't a thief, she couldn't criticize anyone for wanting to enjoy themselves. Luckily her circumstances had been different- she lived in a nice house in Vedado, and although no one in Cuba was wealthy, she loved her mother and her two little brothers and her work and there was always enough food for everyone. She wanted to go to Canada because she believed in liberty- the freedom to work with the most advanced medical and diagnostic equipment, and to think what you wanted, and say what you wanted, and sleep with whoever you wanted, and get married if you wanted to. All of that was impossible in Cuba, especially the thinking and talking. That's why she liked his company- he was honest, intelligent, and thoughtful, and even though he had made a serious mistake, his real mistake was wanting to act as callous and as macho as the Cuban men he had met. Maybe he was ashamed to think of himself as someone who took advantage of this young girl, but she knew, he was only a make believe womanizer, an amateur playboy, he had none of the cruelty or the hatred of the real womanizers. He shouldn't feel so bad- he was just in over his head. She wouldn't say that it could happen to anybody, because other people might have more sense, but it could have happened to anyone who was honest and expected others to be honest and who really didn't understand Cuba as well as he thought he did.

Raymond had never in his life met a woman who was so sympathetic. He realized that at some level he really was ashamed of all the women he wanted to go out with- he would be so much happier with just one good, honest woman that could appreciate him and value him. Why had it been so difficult to find that one woman?

Lidia smiled at him and told him that she wanted to take a shower- she still had beer all over her and she probably smelled like a brewery. Since there were no towels in the bathroom, and since his towel was covered with sand, she took the sheet off the bed and shut the door of the bathroom. He could hear her pouring the water over herself, and she actually was singing an old ballad- he didn't understand the words but she was so emotive that the song seemed to explain everything. Yes, he was drunk, but that couldn't explain why he was so enamored with this woman.

When she came out of the bathroom she was wrapped in the sheet. She walked over to the bed, unwrapped herself, and stood naked before him. How could he have believed that she was not beautiful? Her breasts were small and firm and her legs were long and her belly was flat and most importantly she was an angel. She held out her hand and pulled him up- no, she didn't want to kiss him quite yet, she wanted him to wash up first. She places the sheet back on the bed, lay down, and then rolled herself up in the sheet demurely.

He went into the bathroom and began to pour cold water over his body. He was aroused, but he felt no anxiety- he was both aroused and relaxed and entirely comfortable. He hadn't realized that he was so drunk. The water was cold but he was having a wonderful time. He wanted to sing a different ballad but he couldn't remember the words so he just sang the melody. He washed himself carefully, and then brushed his teeth and rinsed his mouth with mouthwash. He was walking on a cloud.

When he came out of the bathroom Lidia was gone. She wasn't in the other bedroom. Then he noticed that the sheets from both bedrooms were also gone. His suitcase was gone, and his wallet was gone. He stood quietly, at first without being able to comprehend anything. Everything was gone, except the clothes he had worn into the bathroom, his debit card, which he saw under the bed, and his passport, on top of the bed. The door which led from the kitchen to the alley was open. Slowly, as slowly as the door was swinging back and forth, he realized how stupid he had been. She, on the other hand, was as witty and clever as she had seemed. Thievery was the highest and best use for her intelligence. She had left the card because she couldn't cash it, and the passport because she couldn't use it. He wanted to believe that she had left the passport on the bed as a token of generosity- after all, she could have thrown it away later, thereby creating many complications for him.

Raymond went to the bed and began to sob- just as Beatriz had been sobbing the night before on the same bed. For all of his years, it seemed that he didn't understand things any better than she did. He didn't want to become cynical, he didn't want to believe that women were just no good, they were all whores and liars, as bad as his first wife. That's where his life had gone so dreadfully wrong. He had loved his wife, he had married for love, but his wife had married for money, back when he had been successful. It had cost him his house and half his savings and most of his innocence to get rid of her, almost ten years before, after a marriage that had lasted less than a year. He cried for the rest of that evening and for most of the night.

He understood that there were many Cuban girls who would be very happy to sleep with him. It was even possible that someday he would meet a woman who would love him, whom he could love in turn. Meanwhile, he would still be treated like a king. But he no longer felt like a benevolent king. He preferred to be more honest. He didn't really love women after all, because these women didn't love him. As long as he had money, he would trade fee for services. But he didn't want to pretend that women loved him, because it was too painful when the bubble burst. Lidia had been correct about something important- he was only an amateur womanizer. In the future, he would have to be as cruel as he needed to be.

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Name: omar laffita

COMMENT: I'm just in awe. But i gotta tell you, this Ray guy is a little bit of a fool. No "keeper" would undress in front of you for no reason, I mean, that's my rule. If she does, then is a putica, that i'd drag her love down to the shower and f... the s... out of her and then... well we'd have taken from there. But, that's just me. Anyway, good story, real or not, it was very good. Thanks!


 

 

 

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