I can only imagine how carefully you applied make-up on your bruise. How long it took you to work around the edges of your battered eye. I can only imagine it. For I never saw you doing it. By the time I had come back from school, got changed into plain clothes and sprinted up to the third floor of my bloc of flats, you had mutated. The damage had been done and you had “moved on”. By the time the dominoes table had been set and you, your mother-in-law, one of your brothers-in-law and his wife had perched up together, you had put on the other face. “Nothing to see here. Shit happens. I caused the shit to happen. It was my fault. I’m the shit that makes the shit happen”. He was not there. He had already left for his beat, starched copper’s uniform, duty weapon in holster, probably whistling on his way down the stairs, José José or Emanuel (he was a romantic, after all); feeling like a man.
You, left behind.
You, x-months pregnant. You, sitting around the dominoes table, smiling, laughing
even, the corners of your mouth rising like the temperature outside in the
sultry Havana heat. The others, reassuringly seeing calm after the storm.
I saw rictus.
Even at that young
age, I could tell the truth behind the acting. It was a slow process, though.
You set the stage for your one-act, one-actress play, but I never believed your
silence-enforcing monologue. It was a performance-within-a-performance. I knew
you had no choice but join this bruise-concealing farce, this
confidence-destroying mise en scène. You
were on your own, family-less, home-less, friend-less, a Cuban Easterner, palestina,
looked down upon by habaneros. Habaneros like me.
We were the spectators.
On the third floor, we were the audience during all the years you stayed in
that house. That third floor was the observatory. To the outside world, never
to the inside. The inside world was off-limits. It was known what was going on
but… well, “shit happens.” That third
floor was the balcony, the perfect site for the telescope that was missing but
not needed. Around us the houses and apartments whose white-sheet-decked derelict
rooftops cried out surrender. Surrender to the inevitability and the
inevitable. Did anyone else see him raising
his hand? Did anyone guess what was going to happen straight after? Did anyone
notice the ever-growing bump, imperceptible still but noticeable once they came
close to you? Did anyone care?
Every time you
threatened to leave, every time, he
laughed. I know, not because I saw him
but because I heard him. The sarcasm-filled
adverb. Destination? I did not need to see your face to know that in your head
you saw a future of endless make-up-applying hours. The barrel of his duty weapon rammed down your throat
as your pregnancy bulge kept him at
arm’s length was evidence. The twelve-year-old secondary school girl he chased, groomed and started a
relationship with was evidence. His own
mother’s bruised arms the only time she very mildly dared to defend you were
You did not seek
help. In fact, you stood up for him. Some people said you had it coming. After all,
you came from Oriente. What were you
doing here? They asked. Correction: we asked. Also, why did you not leave him? Some
others pointed at his outstanding attitude
and behaviour in the community. Of course, sometimes he went a bit over the top.
I never asked you. I
do not know if I would, were I to run into you now. After all, even you were
aware that no matter how carefully you applied your make-up, we could still see
your battered eye.
Next Post: “Saturday
Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 30th
January at 6pm (GMT)