Monday, January 25, 2010

One Tiny Speck

It was a sea of people. I'd never seen so many bodies gathered in one place. Tens of thousands, for sure. Some were curious, like me. Some were there because they were genuine believers in the Revolution. Some were like my father, who was there because it was required of him, in the section assigned to the judges. There were thousands of Cubans in the same situation, in their own assigned sections. The guardians of the Revolution took attendance. If you didn't attend, there would be unpleasant repercussions: they reminded you constantly that it was their goal to make it tough for anyone who didn't show true Revolutionary spirit.

And Radio Havana proudly broadcast its programs announcing that Cuba was the only free nation in the Western hemisphere.

The crowd frightened me. It spoke in unison and seemed to think in unison, too. It roared and chanted slogans like
Cuba si, Yanquis no! at the appropriate moments. Other slogans too. It was a lot like church, I thought. It was a ritual, a liturgy of correct thinking, punctuated by responses from the congregation.

And the high priest was the Maximum Leader.

I saw him. My grandfather saw him, too. He was a pinpoint, off in the distance. A tiny moving speck. Even from far away we could see his tiny little body bouncing up and down as he spoke. He couldn't talk without moving. He jumped and waved his arms as if he were a basketball player or a demoniac. We could hear him very clearly, of course, thanks to all the loudspeakers that dotted the vast space of the Plaza.

You couldn't get away from his voice. Even if you plugged up your ears with your fingers, the sound of his voice was loud enough to find its way to your brain. You could shut out the words, but you couldn't shut out the noise.

He was bombing us.

He was telling us what was good. Telling us how we should think. He was telling us what to choose and how to choose it. He was telling us we had no choice. And he was telling us we were free. Free at last.

That one tiny, insignificant, erasable smudge under the giant stone exclamation point, that speck of nothingness controlled everyone in that Plaza, and everyone on the island. That one little nothing that my cousin Fernando had planned to erase at that very same spot, two years earlier. Being at that Plaza, that day, was one of the scariest moments of my life. Scarier than any nightmare I'd ever had.

"Let's go
abuelo, can we go now, please?"

"Yes, damn it, let's go."

We carefully wended our way out of the crowd that had gathered behind us. It wasn't easy. People were still streaming in as we tried to leave. Some of the latecomers were in groups, and were being herded like sheep.

My grandfather spoke over the din: "Hold my hand. I don't want you to get lost."

I was too old to hold hands, but I did it anyway.

Good thing, too, for it would be the last time I'd ever get the chance. I held my grandfather's hand for the last time in my life, there, as Fidel's words fell upon us like hail, or fire and brimstone. We were just two drops in a nearly boundless ocean. But we were two drops who knew what was going on, two drops struggling to free ourselves from the sea around us. An old man torn from his homeland by forbidden love years ago, a boy about to be torn from his by a Revolution.

Two specks moving in the wrong direction.

Two specks about to part from each other forever, thanks to one tiny speck.

One speck bathed in sunlight that day, just like everyone else.

One tiny speck.

Too bad.

--Carlos Eire, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy

No comments: