I just called a friend and was shocked to find out that he had slept at the police station. My friend is a painter, 24-years-old, and is universally recognized as “the best there is.” As I know it’s difficult to get involved in problems I dismiss the most common possibilities (those almost all of us under thirty have lived through and we aren’t that good): forgetting your identity card, getting into a fight with someone, shouting Down With…Communism, Fidel, Raúl, State Security…in a dark street, or walking around in a shirt with a “troubling” slogan on it.
Discarding the most common, I’m left with the more complex ones. These rarely end up at the station, unless the officer on duty is in a VERY bad mood (sadly the police suffer from chronic bad humor): urinating in a public place, sitting on the grass in a park or on a wall, talking on the corner with a group of friends, or not wearing a shirt.
What happened was: my friend’s friend wasn’t wearing a shirt and the police office was in a VERY bad mood. There were at a bus stop and from the bus the officer shouted at him to get dressed, which he did without saying a thing. The bad thing is that for that type it wasn’t enough and the officer got off the bus to ask him for his identity card. Not only did he not have his card but, like a good citizen and a gentleman, he was carrying his girlfriend’s and as evil fate would have it he made a mistake and gave the officer a card “with the name of a woman.”
To be an officer of the People’s Revolutionary Police (PNR) implies in many cases that you believe yourself master of destiny, i.e. you live with the conviction that everything arbitrary that happens is related to you or your job or, another way to say the same thing: you have a complex. And the officer understood that it didn’t just happen, but that the friend of my friend had given him the wrong card to make fun of him, a woman’s card for the height of impudence and irrefutable proof of “disrespect for authority” (the incomprehensible twists of police machismo).
By then a patrol that was passing through the zone had reached the “scene of the crime” and the officer was beside himself shouting, “You’re disrespecting me!” and he slapped the one with the girlfriend. The group at the stop didn’t wait but jumped to the defense of the slapped one, without thinking of course that the patrol would jump in at full speed with more officers in a VERY bad mood, with nightsticks in hand and without having passed the course titled do-not-use-your-nightsticks-to-hit-defenseless-citizens.
The chaotic rest of the story is more or less similar to all the others where the protagonists are young men of 25 and police officers who lack registered addresses for housing in Havana. In a moment the first were kicked into the notorious “car cage” and from there taken to the station, where chapter two began: the reconstruction of the facts.
But power is power and in the declaration which my friends refused to sign the charges were: resisting arrest and contempt for authority. Mysteriously there was no mention of the slap, and much less of the effeminate card that gave free rein to the imaginative sense of causality of the officer.
This is an excerpt to a version of the song, Epitaph for Vladimir Visotski by Karsmarski Jacek (Polish dissident songwriter), which includes Ciro Diaz in his latest album, The Blue Slug, that I listened to compulsively for at least two months, especially on the street with my mp3 inherited from a friend who now has an I-pod. (Download the lyrics here) (Download the recording and album cover here) The song (in summary, which runs about ten minutes) is about a desperate artist going through the circles of hell in search of an answer or death, and at the end of his journey there is only loneliness and the weight of the supreme power above himself. So I found myself at times catching the bus across Havana at 12 noon in August under the perennial sunshine and with the distressing feeling of not going anywhere, or arriving too late, or going for pleasure ... I feel that I have already arrived at the eighth enclosure (this is the finale of the song) where there is nothing, and I feel useless and empty, and I look at people without faith who walk along the street and who have so much fear that they no longer know they're afraid, and who have seen so many Roundtables and so many news broadcasts that they no longer know what belongs to reality or just to the TV screen. They cannot discern that they no longer believe, but cannot disbelieve either, and just move along past me not going anywhere.