This past Tuesday June 12th was for me a personal errands day in the hot Havana sun, the thick smog of the avenues and the usual dirty streets. It was one of those days that are doubly exhausting because of the slow pace at which life moves on the Island, the mundane nature of any movement, and the irritation of the people under the scorching summer that makes us wish we hadn’t left home. So I felt almost blessed when, at the end of the day, I managed to board a full almendrón*, on my way back home.
As is custom and folklore, the passengers were doing their daily catharsis with complaints about all small and great evils: our lousy public transportation service, the sweltering heat, the cost of living, the bad potato harvest, no one can live in this country, etc. Our driver, however, seemed determined to maintain a good mood and had an optimistic and comprehensive response for each complaint. He was a man of about 50 and seemed to know everything, as if he possessed the gift of universal philosophy. Heat?? “But ma’am, we should be happy for this climate. Don’t you know that there are countries where people are dying due to heat waves or, conversely, cold waves?” Transportation is bad? “Yes my friend, but in a pinch, at least ten little pesos seem to appear to pay for a car, right?” The potatoes? “There are potatoes, but they are being kept in refrigerators so they won’t rot this rainy season in the fields.” Are the prices high? “Well, they’re doing a study to raise wages, you know.” The country? “It’s the best in the world. Here, anyone will lend you a hand and people will help. In other countries, you can die and no one will lift a finger to help.” It seemed that this driver, in addition to being a philosopher, was a noted expert traveler and knowledgeable about the world.
But I was definitely amazed about the man’s infinite capacity to appease hotheads and his ability to spread a positive atmosphere inside the vehicle. I think that, deep down, I even thought he was right. It must be awful to spend your whole day listening to complaints and disagreements, however profitable being an almendrón’s driver might be.
So we went on like this, balancing between the disgruntled and the peacemaker, until we got to the Esquina de Tejas and we had to stop for a red light. Then the driver noticed, on the porch of a nearby house, a group of street dogs: a female dog in heat and a gang of eager suitors wishfully sniffing at her, while a male dog was busy, in turn, sniffing the other dogs, loftily ignoring the female. Unexpectedly, the driver exploded and started yelling at the dog in question: “Sniff the female, you queer, the female!” And turning to the astonished passengers, red with anger, he almost shouted at us: “It turns out that being gay has become fashionable, and even dogs are trying it out! And I will not put up with that! What’s this country come to?” He snorted in a real fury, and accelerated violently when the light turned green.
Suddenly, the quiet philosopher was gone, and in his place emerged an irate homophobe, able to tolerate any of the many problems that plague the lives of ordinary Cubans, but not the right of the people (or dogs, obviously) to choose their own sexuality. Fortunately, none of the passengers backed his opinion and a heavy silence descended in the car until, with great relief, I got off at the corner of Infanta and Carlos III. I didn’t say goodbye.
Believe me, dear readers, this is my testimony, faithfully taken from real life.
*An Almendrón is a taxicab that operates as a small bus.
Translated by Norma Whiting