Havana Cuba. – There are days that are good, but there are also those that are not. And there are also bad days, like the one I lived a few days ago. There are good days and worse, like the one in which you receive the news of the death of the friend you loved very much, whom you accompanied. Some days ago a friend died from which I was very close, and then far away, but even so we loved each other very much.
And that friend died a few days ago and I wanted to accompany the ashes that the friend became after he died, even at the risk of not being well received at the wake. I intended to arrive and whisper some verses by Emilio Ballagas to my friend from afar, those verses from Sonnet for a dead friend. I wanted to say goodbye to his ashes from the last row, away from the inquisitive eyes and with the verses of Ballagas.
I went to meet the dead friend, to meet the ashes of the dead friend. I went to bow to the friend, to the ashes he became. And to get to him I walked down Calle Obispo, to get closer to the place where his life and his work would be remembered, but someone got in my way. A uniformed policeman stopped me with all the force of his voice, he called me a citizen and, without pause, the very surly man demanded that I show him my identity card, and I reciprocated well.
I wanted to think that it was just a loving compliment from that “police officer”. I waited as patiently and candidly as possible for the document to be returned to me. I looked at the ground and then at the sky without putting my eyes on the young policeman. All my efforts were focused on getting to the funeral of the friend who had died in a hospital bed.
I wanted to attend the headquarters of the Cuban Academy of Language, which was the place chosen for the wake, but a policeman stopped me and, very surly, demanded that I show him my identity card. I tried to calm down to accompany later, with some peace and for a while, the friend’s ashes, but even so the policeman kept me by his side.
I looked at the sky and then at the ground, and at the passers-by, and at everything I could keep an eye on to control my rage at the policeman who had come from the increasingly poor eastern part of the country. The young policeman had a certain grace, even if he was sullen.
The policeman is sullen, I already said it, and above all silent. The policeman looked at my card and then at the surroundings, and again at the card. To calm myself down, I looked at what used to be a beautiful bookstore and which today is just the memory of something called “Modern Poetry”; Maybe that’s why I even thought of dedicating a few verses to the policeman, but I didn’t, I just repeated to myself that verse by Neruda that says: “You were the gray beret and your heart was calm.” His beret was very red…
And then the policeman almost managed to make me lose my cool, when he told me, with the most blatant audacity, that he knew what the end of that walk through Obispo was, and that I would only get to my destination if he wanted to. . The policeman, as if I didn’t know, said that I was going to a funeral “down there” and pointed to Obispo street, which runs towards the Plaza de Armas, with a finger.
The policeman said something like that, although I confess that I was improving the construction of his sentences so that the reader can understand what the policeman really wanted to tell me. The policeman, wanting to intimidate me, assured me, “I know you’re going to a wake up ahead,” and then fell silent. And it was true. I was going to the funeral of a dead friend, to the headquarters of the Cuban Academy of Language.
I was going to Antón Arrufat’s funeral and I was tense, very tense, among other things because I could face rejection from some writers and, of course, from the “authorities” who direct Cuban culture, who govern it in the same way in the one that ruled my life that young policeman.
And finally he returned my card and I grabbed it with just two fingers, and looked into the policeman’s eyes to tell him some verses by Guillén, those in which the lyrical subject says to the policeman, to the soldier. “I don’t know why you think,/ soldier that I hate you,/ if we are the same thing/ I/ you. You are poor, so am I…”, thus I declaimed to the policeman, looking into his eyes, and I also made him note, like Guillén in his poem, that we were both from below, and that we would already be together on the same street, in Bishop, in any other, if he didn’t give it to him to leave the country.
I told him almost everything I remembered from Guillén’s poem, but I don’t know if the policeman will still remember any of those verses. I don’t know if the policeman will understand everything those verses say that Guillen perhaps wrote in 1937, perhaps for Gerardo Machado’s soldiers, but who still serve Machado, Fidel, Díaz-Canel. Those verses can be recited to all those who were policemen from 1959 to today.
Those verses by Guillén are ideal to shout in front of all the armed groups that Fidel Castro founded to repress those unarmed bodies that take to the streets on July 11 or any day, on those days when so many are repressed, overwhelmed, in those days when so many could end up as corpses. These verses serve to confront a despotic government, even without addressing moral, political or legal issues.
And it is that the law should not change its procedures when an opponent is in front of it. There can be no affectionate prerogatives for the faithful, while the “infidels” are mistreated, arrested and locked up… And I finally walked to the place where they paid homage to the dead friend. I entered repeating some verses by Guillen: “I don’t know why you think,/ soldier that I hate you,/ if we are the same thing/ me./ You are poor, so am I…”.
I walked after the young policeman ran over me without understanding the reasons that led him to detain me, but I well know that it must have been an order from his bosses, those bosses who order “phone tapping” and spy on the conversations of so many Cubans. And if it wasn’t like that, how did the policeman know that I was going to a funeral?
And aren’t he and I the same thing? Doesn’t he, like me, have so many duties? Don’t the very shortcomings stun us? Don’t you remember that you became a policeman because there were many hardships back in the Oriente? Does he not recognize the juggling he does to send his family a little money?
The unfortunate does not recognize that he has allowed himself to be manipulated, much less that he betrays his equals; the helpless is wrong, the unfortunate does not understand that power despises him, he uses it at convenience. The police tap my phone and forget that he and I are the same thing. I and he are victims of power. And that is what Fidel Castro put his efforts into. He made us look different, and very enemies.
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