“You Don’t Know Havana Like I Do”July 10, 2013 | Print |
Jorge Milanes Despaigne
HAVANA TIMES — “My life has been a never-ending struggle, just like everybody else’s,” says the 30-year-old fellow who sells used eyeglasses across the street from my cousin’s.
“I moved to Havana when I was 15 and had to sell deodorizer to make a living when things were really tough here. Life got so difficult, in fact, that I became a pickpocket at one point. Yeah, that’s the first thing I did,” he says, looking at his hands. “I did it in buses and crowds. In addition to this “trade”, I also snatched people’s necklaces, purses, etc.
“Then, I started doing something a bit more honest: I started to buy pieces of gold and silver jewelry from people. I was able to put some money together,” he confides in me, looking to both sides. “With this money, I set up a small business, I sell clothes from Ecuador, something that gives me a little bit more cash.
“Then I bought this small apartment, which is plenty for my wife and I. And a car. Wanna see it? Come have a look.
I followed him and had a look at the jalopy the couple gets around in.
“It’s not brand-new, but it gets the job done,” he says to me. “Between you and me,” he adds, lowering his voice, “this is just temporary, ‘cause I know this Peruvian lady, a really nice person, who’s going to marry me, and, of course, I’m taking off.” He pauses, breathes deeply. “I have to continue getting ahead, beyond Cuban borders.
“She knows my entire past, kiddo. It’s you my friend who doesn’t really know what Havana’s like.”
“I was born in Havana,” I said to him, “and I know the ins and outs of that underworld you describe. I’ve had to “struggle”, as you put it, but not the same way. It’s never crossed my mind to steal from people, much less from elderly people, as most pickpockets do.”
“The whole thing is cruel, inhuman, I call that “spiritual slime” – it’s not my nature, really. It’s amazing how you’ve gotten ahead in life without scruples,” I stressed, “climbing over everyone’s heads anyway you could. I imagine what you’re telling me is only a part of the whole story, but I don’t want to know the rest.”