I saw him. It was he. He did not recognize me, engrossed as he was, in a bar on Belascoaín Street, listening to one of Orlando Contreras’ boleros, or perhaps it was La Lupe, with “Yours is Pure Theater,” on a decrepit, recycled RCA Victor record player.
It was 4:30 in the afternoon on Wednesday, September 8. An almost desert-like heat seemed to melt the asphalt in Havana. Without a drop of breeze. People were crowing into a dirty little store on Sitios Street, trying to cool off from the heat wave by drinking a tasteless juice, with a slight taste of orange.
It was the day of the Virgin of Charity. Dressed in yellow, many people were walking quickly toward the Church of the Virgin, located on Salud Street, at the corner of Manrique. At 6:00 in the evening, a procession would leave from there with the patron saint of Cuba, to walk through the streets of Central Havana.
To kill time, I sat down in a bar with a blackened mahogany counter. And as if it were a miracle of “Cachita,” when I turned my head, I saw the poet Raúl Rivero playing dice with the bard Rafael Alcides and the journalist Reinaldo Escobar.
A record player salvaged from some warehouse of useless objects offered a recital of boleros. From the two Orlandos, Contreras and Vallejo, continuing with La Lupe and Blanca Rosa Gil, up to Freddy, that voice that puts meat on the chicken.
Reinaldo and Alcides were drinking out of glasses, in no hurry, from a bottle of Caney rum, aged seven years. The plump Rivero, with closed eyes, was enjoying the music, while in his fingers a mentholated cigarette threatened to burn his hand.
I did not want to call him. I did not want to break the spell. But I swear that the man with glasses, seated with his friends among drinks, dice and boleros, was he. The poet who in his last years in Havana lived on Peñalver Street, in the La Victoria neighborhood. He had come back in disguise. To this Havana in 2009, without charms or spells. But with something to put under my pillow at night to fall asleep.
Yes, I saw Raúl Rivero. One of my journalistic icons, who for seven years directed me at the Cuba Press Agency. It was in the middle of the ’90s, until the fateful spring of 2003, when an arrogant and closed government, that did not want – and does not want – to permit ideas and poems to be published on their merits, sentenced the poet of La Victoria to 20 years in jail.
At that time I was a novice wanting to consume the world. His journalistic advice was engraved on me forever. For me, a one-hour chat with Rivero represented years of classes in any school of journalism.
One cold afternoon in the spring of 2004, he left Canaleta prison, in Ciego de Ávila, the land where in 1945 he saw the birth of a world war, recently ended. He marched into a hard exile with his native land and his friends on his back. Also his manias.
In the splendid city of Madrid, a stranger to the city and its people, to boleros and record players. For that day of the Patron Saint, he jumped over to Havana. And I discovered him seated, listening to boleros, in a bar on Belascoaín Street. It must have been a miracle of the Virgin.
Translated by Regina