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The Dog on the Bus

By: Lurker

 

 

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The Dog on the Bus

This in one of the stories in which all the details are true, as far as I can remember-except for the names. I'm now working on a longer piece of fiction, another jinetera tourist story, but with different characters and a different ending. We'll talk about these stories after you read them! Thank you very much for your interest- it is very important to me.

My wife Dalia has always had a big mouth, and a big love of liberty, which is why I fell in love with her. I couldn't believe how far she would go in obstructing the police. Like refusing to get off the truck when they wanted to search us for contraband coffee- for the third time between Guantanamo and Santiago- and then telling all the other Cubans who were willing to be searched as often as was necessary that they were all stupid for putting up with it all. This was before she ever left Cuba. Some guajiros just don't know any better. They assume they can talk back to the cops just like they talk back to their own mothers. Of course, before we got married, I didn't understand that the person she would be back talking more than anyone else would be me- but I do now recognize that this is a case of poetic justice.

This story took place in Havana, when Dalia was still my novia. We were with my best Cuban friends at the time- a young official translator named Omar and his girlfriend Zenia. Omar's English was so good that I could only correct him a few times a day, for which he always thanked me, because he wanted to speak perfect English. He had just started work in the official Translator's Service in Vedado. He started every day by translating an assigned section of the New York Times for the various ministries, or maybe even for the Minister of all Ministers- nobody told him what they did with his translations. Other times, he did specialized translations for the Ministry of Trade- if a Canadian businessman wanted to talk about nickel, Omar had to first prepare himself by learning all the technical terms that have to do with nickel mining, and then they would bring him along to translate the negotiations. It must have been one of the best jobs in the whole country, and the fact that this mulatto kid from a wooden shack in Nuevitas could climb so high by the age of 25 without any personal or familial connections whatsoever is proof that there is indeed economic opportunity for Cubans if they study hard enough. Omar even let me know, quietly and confidentially, that there was a possibility he would be invited to join the Cuban Foreign Service and travel outside the country.

Zenia, a quiet white girl from Camaguey had earned what would be the equivalent of a Master's Degree in the care of autistic children. In Cuba, this is called a 'defectologa', which always seemed to be a strange word, sort of implying that she was working with defective people. That's the odd thing about languages- seemingly progressive in some areas, reactionary in others. However, Zenia never worked in her chosen field, because despite her love of children and her general desire to be helpful, there was no money and no future in this line of work. So she applied for and was accepted in a special one year Post Masters vocational training program in the hospitality industry. After a few months of study, she was permitted to begin cleaning rooms in a small hotel near el Prado- very little salary, because she was still learning. Cuban hotel workers are amongst the best trained in the entire world. One of the requirements was to learn how to give directions in all major European languages, and she also received special training in pouring drinks. A year is not really all that long, considering everything that Cuban hotel workers are expected to know.

Omar had arranged for us to stay in a private house, and for some reason, he selected a house all the way out in Boyeros. Which, in the long run, was a good thing, because otherwise I might never have gone to Boyeros.

It was late at night, and although Omar and Zenia lived in Centro Havana, they were not deficient in normal courtesy, and so we were seeing Dalia and I back to our casa. But somehow, the normal courtesy of other Cubans was beginning to break down, because when the guagua stopped, it didn't matter who was el ultimo, there was the pushing and complaining you sometimes see late at night when there are few seats on what might be the last bus. Omar was one of the first to push his way through, pulling Dalia and Zenia behind him, but I have always been a little too fastidious in these situations and so was delayed. Not to worry, because the girls each had found seats on their own, and Omar was sprawled out over two seats a few rows further back. But when I finally made it back to Omar, he was arguing with a large negro who insisted upon sitting in one of Omar's seats.

"I'm saving this seat for my uncle from America" said Omar, motioning to me.

"Mentira" said the negro. "he's not an American"

"Show him your passport" said Omar.

I probably don't respect my passport as much as I should, because I often keep it in my pants pocket where it gets folded and worn, but it was the right color, and it did have my picture, and the large negro tried a different attack

"Esto no se hace" he argued. This isn't done here. "Nobody has any right to save a seat for anyone else. This is a lack of respect."

"Look", I tried to explain. "This is not a lack of respect. This has nothing to do with respect. My nephew only wanted to save me a seat, so I could sit near him, so I would know when to get off. This is something normal, something you might do someday for one of your friends" And I sat down in the seat.
"Oye" shouted the negro. "You have no right to that seat. That seat belongs to me".

"Calm down" said Omar. "What's wrong with you, anyway? Why are you making all this trouble"

"I'm warning you " said the negro. You two don't want to show me respect? Well now I'll show you why you owe me respect" And although he didn't have an American passport, he pulled out a document that perhaps was meant to trump mine- a police badge

"Soy policia! You are disrespecting the police!"

That's when my fiance jumped in. 'Who cares if you're the police! Callate! Mind your own business and leave other people alone!"

Omar tried a more reasonable approach. "First of all, this has nothing to do with respect, as my uncle has explained. And how could this be disrespecting the police if nobody knew you were the police? No tiene logico!"

"Yes it does" said the policeman. And looking at Omar, he said "I knew that you were a troublemaker. You were disrespectful from the very beginning. Don't think that you can get away with this!" And believe it or not the two of them argued all the way back to Boyeros, calmly on Omar's part, passionately and angrily on the part of the policeman.

The entire bus ride, I thought that this was just one of those things- you know, Cubans like to talk and argue and gesticulate and usually nothing comes of it. But when we came to our bus stop, and the four of us got off the bus- the policeman got off with us! He wasn't done yet! And now he became even more provocative.

"Look here" he said, pushing Omar lightly in the chest with his finger " I've seen your face around here. I know who you are. You're looking for trouble"

"You don't know anything about me" said Omar. But now I'm going to tell you who I am. I'm not just some ignoramus off the street. I'm a University graduate, from the University of Havana. And since I am an educated person, I insist that we approach this question from an educated point of view, like human beings, and not like animals. You can make any argument that you want to make, and I will respond with my argument, like two rational people" That's the way Omar is- super intelligent, articulate, and reasonable.

I was trying to steer Dalia away from this fracas, because I already knew she didn't always exhibit these same qualities, but trying to control Dalia even in the most minimal way is always counter productive.
"Oye negro" she broke in. "You know why you're creating such a scandal here? Because you're black! Los negros son malos! Always making trouble! If they don't get you on the way in, they get you on the way out! And furthermore, you don't know anything! You're just a guajiro! I bet you're from Guantanamo!"
Can you imagine? I thought she was going straight to jail. That's the thing about being in other cultures. You can only project from what you know. I was thinking about the consequences of telling some black Illinois traffic cop that the reason he wanted to give you a ticket was because he was a troulbemaking negroe.

And I know this is almost impossible to believe, but Dalia had said the only thing that was able to calm this guy down.

"How did you know I'm from Guantanamo"

"I could see it in your face" And strange as it sounds, she really does have this talent. Twice I've been with her on the streets of Santiago when she just pulls someone over and says, for instance, 'you're from Holguin, aren't you' and when the man admits it, Dalia says, "I knew because there's a family in Holguin and everybody in that family has a face like yours". This rare and uncanny skill has always made me thing that Dalia would make a great policewoman herself.

And now, completely contrary to all my fearful expectations, the negro policeman started a new conversation by saying "It's true that we negros have our problems. We get angry too easily. Everybody knows that."

And then Omar, who as I mentioned was mulatto, although in the interests of full disclosure I will admit that he was a little more towards trigueno than black, added, " Look, I consider myself to be amongst the negros. And we negros need to behave better than anyone in order to win the trust of society as a whole"

So the three mixed race people (Dalia is the daughter of an india and an isleno from the Canaries) were discussing the trouble with black folk while the two white people, Kenia and I, maintained a respectful silence.

"So where exactly are you from" asked Dalia

"Jamaica"(the town, not the country, for readers who don't know there is such a town. It's near El Salvador, and Costa Rica)

"You probably know my sister. She lived in Jamaica for a while"

"Where did she live?"

"You know Orlando who sells batidos? She lived one street over from him." And so the two of them began catching up on mutual acquaintances.

So eventually the policeman got on a bus going back from where he came from and the four of us started walking towards the casa.

Omar,for all of his calmness before, was now extremely agitated.

"I'm really very sorry you had to experience this" he said, talking to me very quietly.

"Why are you so sorry" I asked

"Because that man is a dog!" he burst out. Not all the police, but there are some police who are so stupid, all they know is to bark when they're told, and that's why they get hired! They are too stupid to think, and nobody wants them to think, because their job is to bark and to be obedient and to eat the bones they are given" Omar was seething.

I tried to calm him down, telling him the truth- there are some dogs on every police force. In America there are some white cops and some black cops that beat up black people, and these police are dogs. And when we are surrounded by dogs are job is to be a man. But I couldn't make him feel any better. He was ashamed of his country, although, for once, he wasn't being reasonable

Omar eventually got his chance to work for the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa, but not as a translator which was his love. He and Kenia were married the day before he left. He worked at one of the desks near the front door where he gave directions to both Cubans and Canadians who had official business. He stayed in Ottawa for a year. I called him once but then he sent me an email telling me that he was very pained to tell me but it would be better if I didn't contact him again because the Embassy workers were watched very carefully due to some unfortunate incidents that had occurred in the past. It was especially dangerous for him because I was an American.

I had always told Omar that he would suffer a lot of culture shock if he ever got to Canada, but I was wrong. He learned to drive a car, and he learned how to use the internet, and within a few months could speak both French and Italian. Even though he wasn't allowed to travel freely- all the Cubans in his category lived in a dormitory and could only travel to other places with special permission- there was plenty to see, and learn, and Omar loved to learn things.

He didn't suffer culture shock until he went back to Cuba. I happened to be around when the furniture he was permitted to ship back arrived at the Port of Havana. It would have cost him thousands of dollars to send the truck load of used couches, mattresses, armchairs, end tables, and mostly boxes and boxes of books, all bought at yard sales, mostly unobtainable in Cuba, and shipped back for free since he was a former embassy worker. I helped him carry some of the boxes of books up the five flights of stairs of his ugly although sturdy building on Belascoain near Reina, and for a while he was excited to own all these things. But very quickly I could see that a dark and dour side of his character was emerging. He didn't have any patience for all the normal aspects of life in Cuba- waiting in line, going from one office to another. He also told me that he never again wanted to work for the Government of Cuba. He was able to get a job working for the Embassy of Jamaica, and was paid in dollars- not very many dollars, because , although to me Omar was such an exceptionally talented and skilled person, apparently there were many other Cubans in Havana who also spoke perfect English, and due to the inexorable laws of supply and demand, his pay was pretty low. But that wasn't what was eating away at him

And here's the only sad part of this story. After being back in Cuba.for about 6 months, he told Zenia that he wanted to divorce her because, obviously, they were no longer getting along . This came out of the blue to Zenia, and to everyone else. He then explained that when he had been in Canada, he had fallen in love with a Canadian. And now he wanted to marry this woman and move to Canada. This really made me angry, because all the many years Omar was studying English at the University, Zenia had been washing his underwear and cooking his food and smuggling cheese from Camaguey and selling it in Havana so Omar would have enough money to buy dictionaries. Omar tried to tell me many times that that's how life was, people get together and then break apart, and when it comes to love, nothing is predictable. But I'm not certain he remarried for love. Maybe he was able to convince himself, but I think he remarried for interest.

Zenia took it very hard but after a period of counselling she appears to be O.K. She's now working as a bartender in a hotel in Miramar.

When Dalia learned that Omar wanted to divorce Zenia, her only comment was, "Salio el negro", her shorthand way of saying that the Black side of Omar came out at last, just like she knew it always would. Mixed race Cubans always deny that they are racist, but they seem to say more provocative things than the white Cubans I know.

But of course I think Dalia is incorrect, not that I would argue with her. In my opinion, salio el Cubano- literally and metaphorically. Cubans put up with a lot, but don't let anyone tell you that they are happy-go-lucky. Omar is a great dancer, a great conversationalist, loves to tell stories and jokes, knows everyone in Havana- the quintessential Cubano. He simply got to the point where he didn't want to live in Cuba anymore. As the Tammany Boss George Washington Plunkett once said when under trial for corruption, 'I didn't do nuttin wrong. I seen my opportunities, and I took em"

So you see, in this story, there was a confrontation with the police, but nobody went to jail, and nobody was even fined. Obviously, we can't blame the police. People get divorced all over the world, and life goes on. Therefore, I'm sure you will agree, this story is an indictment of nobody.

 

 

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