It is not a date. Nor are they my lucky numbers. They were the digits with which a boorish officer, with a constitution gained from many hours in the gym, called me with a voice of thunder at the door of a walled cell in Villa Marista, home of the Cuban political police.
How could I forget those 13 days behind bars, from March 8-21, 1991, accused of “enemy propaganda.”
The fateful figures came to my mind when in the Island’s illegal lottery, known as ‘la bolita‘, the three winning numbers were drawn in this order: 26, 6 and 76.
I asked old Arsenio, the ‘bolitero‘ in the neighborhood where I live, if someone won with 26, the fixed number, or 6 and 76, the two runners. “Nananina, there was nothing for anyone,” said Arsenio with his Creole way of expression.
I don’t play ‘la bolita‘, but I told him the meaning that those numbers had for me. Very serious, Arsenio told me, “From now, I will put money on these numbers for at least six months, they will come again.”
I smiled and told him I was not to blame if he lost his money, and the numbers don’t repeat. “I am going to be a story for you, when I tell it, take this Iván, this gift of a thousand pesos,” he replied, smiling.
A Cuban slogan once asserted that the lottery was the hope of the poor. That was before Castro, among many things, hacking away at it also eliminated that hope.
A few blocks from the home of my daughter, there is a street of identical houses. They were built more than 50 years ago by the owner of the Candado soap factory, who apparently had shares in the national lottery, legal before 1959. The people who hit the jackpot, won a home.
Now, if you take the top prize in ‘la bolita‘, the money is not enough to buy yourself a house. Nor repair one if it is in poor condition. But the loot allows you to have a good quality beer in hard currency and, perhaps, to get a few pounds of beef.
Either way, I will not follow the advice of Arsenio, to put money for a while on 26-06-76. Even if I won, that money would not bring me fond memories. If the chilling digits come out, I prefer the old bolitero get the money.
Photo: Francis Miller, Life. Lottery ticket seller on Obispo Street, Havana, in 1958.