Eliseo Alberto Diego, to his friends simply “Lichi,” talks as if he were writing, narrating the most ordinary stories as if they were literature. I remember some afternoons in his house in Vedado when he would tell us these anecdotes and we couldn’t say, precisely, if they were total inventions or might have some smidgen of reality. Because this big kid full of laughter delights in narrating and narrating. His acquaintances have thus become his receptive “ears” where he has tried out the fiction that later appears in the pages of his books. We set ourselves up, to our infinite pleasure, as the beings on whom he tests and practices–over and over–his work.
Thus, when Lichi the great storyteller told us he needed a kidney transplant, our first thought was that he was trying out another of his poetic tricks. He was, by then, already half Cuban and half Mexican, half poet and half novelist, and now, we suspected, he wanted to boast of being composed of organic material from several people. It seemed, viewed with suspicion, simply his latest invention. But no, he wasn’t talking about a character in the style of those described in “Esther en alguna parte” (Esther Somewhere), or “La eternidad en fin comienza un lunes” (Eternity Finally Begins on Monday), but about himself. His body was writing, for him, the most dramatic of his stories.
I remember that my husband, Reinaldo, offered him one of his kidneys, but Lichi didn’t want to believe him, or wouldn’t allow his friend to face so many battles without one of those organs. Last night we got the news that his body now houses a fragment of a Mexican teenager who died in an accident. The solidarity of a family, the wait–at times not so patient–of the son of the great Eliseo, and the desires of his friends, have combined to begin to give a happy ending to this adventure. Now, when he returns to embellish his stories, we will, inevitably, have to believe him a little more. Because Lichi, the skilled storyteller of our Havana afternoons, has been very close to an experience that only he can tell us.