The line for the bus at Coppelia is a special place, one of the corners so eloquent that if it disappeared one day Havana wouldn’t be the same. Yesterday at ten at night I was waiting for my P4 bus when a woman standing next to me with her daughter commented how “alive” the city was for the anniversary party for the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). “Is that a joke, ma’am?” I asked, and she gave me a serial killer look.
The driver swore that not one more person could fit on the P4, so I got on through the back door. A drunk behind me was pushing to cut the line, but he was staggering around and trying to hold onto his bottle of alcohol at all costs and he lost his balance and fell. The driver started while the man was still trying to get on and he was almost killed in the attempt.
The woman of the “lively party,” at my side started screaming, and me, I answered, “He’s so plastered he won’t even make it to the corner!” She added, “He had to be black, all blacks are the same,” and started a lecture all about “those blacks” which if Martin Luther King had heard he would have died a second time. I looked around embarrassed. Everybody nearby was white. No one opened their mouths and I realized that they would all remain mute rather than defend the blacks. I got hysterical, I regretted it later, but at the time I wanted to strangle her, especially since her ranting was quietly being listened to by her young daughter, what a great example!
“Madam,” I said to her, “if I scream ‘Down with Fidel!’ you would be the first to jump on it. May I ask, then, why I have to put up with you talking like you’re the president of the Ku Klux Klan? And if I scream, ‘Down with Estaban Lazo!’ are you going to jump on that too or is it not the same?” The phrase came out rather awkwardly. She said nothing. People were staring at me and soon I felt like I’d stepped out of a tomb at the Colón cemetery, with worms crawling out of my half-gone skull.
I knew I couldn’t stop myself. That should not be the approach to dialog but sometimes dialog is simply beyond my capacity for tolerance. I got off at the stop at 23rd and A and walked the half mile home, talking to myself.
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.