I'm slouching back at my favourite table in the shaded elegance of the Casagrande Hotel. Leisurely enjoying a fat Cuban cigar. Rolling it around between my fingers. Listlessly stare off into space. We're seated at the terrace bar. Our empty glasses lined up before us. Quite frankly I wish I'd gone to the market with Mati. Or visited the Toronto Friendship school. Oh well, its not often that I make the Santiago tourist scene.
I look over studying Mike and Jim. I arrived today to find them already here at my jam packed bar perch with their Cuban amigas. Two typical Santiago mulattas. Tight spandex. Tan skin. They casually light their cigarettes. Check us out. Wink at me. Ho boy.
Growing annoyed, trying to make the best of the situation, I wave to the waiters. One looks up. Recognizes me. Smiles. Wanders off into the crowd. So much for that.
Mike rolls his eyes with a bored shrug. He smiles. Lights a cigar, “A few days. How about you?”
Absently, I gaze at Cespedes Park watching the steady parade of tour buses arrive and depart. I'm always amused by the Cuban carnival of life. The all too familiar hustlers. Jinetera. Bored amigos y amigas. Tired shoppers. Teenagers skipping school idly rest on the benches under the sprawling palm trees. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. Sizing up the tourists. Peering at the hotel terrace. Watching us watch them. A Cuban theatre of the mind. Trying to catch our eye.
Sluggishly the police leaning against the Cathedral across from the park, seek refuge among the cool, dark shadows. Keeping the peace from behind mirrored shades. An ominous presence, probably lost on most of the visitors here. Too hot to wade into the melee, they chat up the chicas ambling over hoping to join us at the Casagrande hotel.
“Since Friday.” Mike flicks his match into the ashtray. Stares distractedly at the crowded steps. At all the young chicas. Smiling demurely at us. Hoping to get invited in. “I’m getting married.”
He pauses, gallantly puffing on his cigar, tapping the ashes into the huge glass ashtray on our table. “They don’t speak English very well. I don’t speak Spanish either but .... er .... David, meet um .... I think these are Yamile ...... and Maria, or something like that. Jeez these Cuban names!”
Undaunted, Mike pulls out his pocket dictionary. Waves it at me with a grin. I wag my head in dismay, ”But how will you know if you’re right for each other?”
Staring at me intently, determined to make his point, he begins to count off their Cubanas' qualities on his finger tips, "No chip on their shoulder. Traditional. Very feminine. Sexy as hell. That’s all I need to know. Why, just check these two out!“
“How old do you think Maria and Yamille are?”
"Bet it wouldn't have been the first time!" snickers Mike.
“You fucking idiot!” Sick to my gut, clenching my fists, I jump up. Angrily push back my chair, "That’s because $10 is a month wages. They desperately need the cash.”
To be continued .....