by Vince Vanguard Vainglorious
I am awakened by a gentle stroking across my forearm. Through sleepy eyes I look to my left and see a weathered but graceful old woman gazing through the window. She looks at me softly and points. She only said one word "Havana." From that moment I knew I would soon love it as she did.
The cab driver dropped me off at the Hotel Lincoln. I found out later I paid him too much, but I didn’t mind. I was just happy to get to the hotel without any trouble. Besides, I figured out early on, that cab drivers in Havana were good people to know.
I decided to take a walk around the city, but not to stray too far from the hotel. No sooner than I stepped onto the sidewalk, a copper complexioned beauty in a yellow gingham dress, walked up to me and inquired in Spanglish “You like chica?” I was intoxicated by my new surroundings, but I managed to sober up long enough to reluctantly reply “No gracias.” I do like chicas, but I couldn’t think of a more appropriate response at the time.
I made my way along the Malecon, using it as a landmark to find my way back. The sun glistened on the water as teenagers jumped into the murky green agua without fear. Couples young and old stroll along the sidewalks and sit on the seawall immersed in lively conversation. I am almost overwhelmed by the breathtaking beauty of my new environs. The sun, the scenery, the Caribbean breezes, they are so beautiful they almost seem evanescent. By the way, did I mention the beautiful women?
The women walk miles in high heel shoes with their backs straight as boards on legs that glow like bronze pillars. They have a certain dignity made all the more beautiful by their struggles. The old women fill me with melancholy, as they teeter through the streets carrying their bags in their hands and their troubles on their backs, as they stoop slowly to play with children.
I almost become so swept up in my new surroundings that I didn’t notice the chica from the hotel is following me. “You no like chica?” she asks with an impish smile. I maintained the same puzzled look, as her questions continued. These were simple questions and she was speaking English, but I couldn’t manage to answer any on them. I was curious to see where this was leading. Against my better judgment, I did not try to get away.
In the back of my mind, I was expecting some picaresque accomplice to appear out of nowhere with a shiny blade demanding my purse. I took a quick look around and realized there was no lurking lothario about and remembered I wasn’t trapped in a Hemingway novel.
“You like mojito?” she inquired as she made the universal hand gesture for knocking one back. “We go drink the mojito, Ok” she announced. She grabbed me by the hand and we proceeded towards the city away from my desired path. I had no idea where we were headed, but strangely enough I wasn’t worried. Apparently I am on a date now with a woman whose name I don’t know and I have no idea where I am or how to get back to my hotel.
I was relieved that we didn’t wander off very far before we reached our destination. I am in Havana, Cuba, home of Che, Fidel, Cienfeugos and La Revolucion ....nobody told me there would be a Chinatown! Amidst the worn Spanish facades and the specter of revolution everywhere....there is a Chinatown. I have found the one thing every nation has in common.
Chinatown, where fifty year old men share ice cream sundaes with fifteen year old girls. Chinatown, where Cuban food is sold by Spanish women in Chinese gowns under paper lanterns made in Taiwan. Even the cats lying in the windowsills look happy.
We take a seat inside the first bar we come to and my companion starts to shimmy in her seat and starts to sing “Mojito, Mojito.” What the hell is this mojito? I ask myself. I ask the waiter, who speaks little English but immediately fills with delight when he hears the magic word. “Ah the mojito. The mojito is the sun, the water of life, the fruit from the trees. The mojito is strong like man and sweet like a woman. The mojito is Cuba my friend.”
The waiter brings the drinks and seems as happy to serve them as my companion is to finally imbibe the much anticipated elixir. She takes a long sumptuous swallow as I take a cautious curious sip. After a minute or so “Two more mojitos!” I pronounce to the waiter. I would continue to sing this chorus in between our talking and singing and laughing for the next two hours. As the music fills the avenue outside, I pay the bill and we stagger into the streets and dance our way towards the Malecon.
We wobble along the Malecon, until I see my new friend the cabdriver Jose. “Amigo, I see you find chica” he says. “Jose I think chica find me” I tell him. “I see you find Mojito too” Yes I had found mojito after mojito after mojito. Jose awakend me as he reached the hotel. Apparently my date had already exited the taxi along the way.
A few days later I make my way back to the Malecon to sit on the seawall and gaze at the purple sunset and watch the moon in apogee approach its position over the old fort in the distance. A young woman stands and stretches her arms toward the sky after an evening of sunbathing. She shrugs off my glance at her bikini clad perfection without a care. I wonder if she likes mojitos?