This is another one of my fiction threads. It’s an extract of the story set in Cuba mentioned on my MPSIMS thread. As I said it’s a kind of social commentary on national heroes, national myths and politics through a deconstruction of *Evita * told from the perspective of a fourteen year-old boy whose genes were synthesised from Che Guevara’s.
Che Guevara Serna
Bayate, Guantánamo, Oriente, Cuba
Part 1. Dice Are Rolling
Monday May 6 2145
The news on Radio Rebelde this morning was about the battles in the city near the yanqui military base over immigration and the drug business. They say there’ll be a war if this goes on the way it’s going. Or at least a lockdown “of all capital cities.” “A civil war.” Fidel says. “Like when my abuelo was alive. He lost half his leg from a landmine.” He used to wear boots to keep it hidden and Fidel only saw it once. It was withered.
It’s the first thing I hear about when Celia or Fidel wants to hear the news from the radio just above the sink on the kitchen counter in the apartment. The radio’s contrabrand. Fidel got it just last month off a smuggler in town who’s a friend of a friend. They always listen to the news about the riots. Celia listens because her cousin Miguelito lives in town and Fidel because his other job’s in the city. He sells bolita tickets part-time at a bodega near the docks next to the base. Next to the radio there’s a red box where Fidel puts his earnings. It’s a small one with a brown lock.
“Elena Belasco on Oriente Rebelde. A struggle which began last week over payments for shipments and arrests due to trafficking of cocaine to the U.S. from República de Florida has become a battle extending from the capital to over the Floridian border. Today 24 000 people were killed. American police are also planning on crossing over to the Floridian border on 24-hour patrolling duty at the docks. This unfortunate decision was made with careful discussion and planning. Please be reassured that I feel as badly about this as most of the nation, the president and government as a whole. “ Her voice sounded as if there were rocks at the bottom of her throat and she slurred her words. I really wish there was a dial to make the radio slower. Then I could understand what they said.
“In Guantánamo, the Oriente Syndicate is working to prevent illegal immigrants from Haiti, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic crossing the bay. In the last four months, the number of illegal immigrants has increased. The government plans to house more of them in Guantánamo Bay detention camp. On that note, Tomás García, the PAU’s presidential candidate, plans to run on an increased border control and anti-illegal immigration platform. He believes that this will help crack down on the unrest, and lead to a long period of stability for this country. The president is also continuing his call for aid from provincial militias. If you have not enlisted and wish to prove your loyalty remember you …”
That means we have to stay here for a while. Which is great. I need to be as unnoticeable as possible. I’ll also be invisible. There won’t be a bracelet on my left arm when I go out. It’s a tracking bracelet with red and white beads and a blue tag with a white star on it, the same colors as the flag. “This clone is the property of Juan Domingo Valverde Lopez and María Eva Milagros Salazar y Ibarguren Valverde. 938670-5790.” She’s got another name too; Rosa Verde but she never uses that except in some of her movies. I’ve seen old pictures of her when she was a bit older than me with that written under them. R*osa Verde. La Joya de Caimanera. *The Jewel of Caimanera. Her hair’s still brown in the pictures and she’s got red lipstick on. She’s got a face and lips like Celia’s with lighter skin and dark brown eyes. She looks almost white.
The tag has a chip that gets hot so they can track me down and find me. No-one’ll notice the tattoo on my chest, which says Patent#31456 Made in Cuba. Product of Habana Corporacion Nacional.
I didn’t understand what it really meant until I found out I was a clone and realised it was to tell me apart. Actually I ain’t really a clone. I’m a biosynth but my genes are so much like Che’s that I’m pretty much the same with a few small changes. Practically the only difference’s I have a club foot and my skin’s darker. Celia says the club foot’s because I didn’t come out right when I was being born. I should’ve crawled out of the goat, but instead they needed to cut me out. “And that’s why your foot was twisted.” She said they gave me a bath after I came out and I screamed when the nurse put me in and washed me.
The broadcaster’s voice trailed. The last thing I heard was something about volunteer work before Celia’s big brown hand shot out and turned the radio off. She and Fidel both have dark brown skin and thick black curls. She’s big and has hazel eyes while Fidel’s are dark brown. Fidel’s short for a man and his hair’s cut close to his head. He’s much darker than Celia. I look a little like them. I’ve got dark eyes and hair like Fidel but my skin’s a lot lighter and my hair’s wavy. He’s azul and I’m pardo. He doesn’t always look blue. I’m just plain brown.
The TV was switched on to NNRC (Neuva Noticia Revolucionario Cubano, or New Revolutionary National Cuban News). So I got to hear it twice. “Contracted enforcers working for casino owners and city police officers have been deployed to La Habana’s Vedado district in order to deal with the escalation of last week’s street disturbance. The president and the Commissioner for Narcotics Trafficking want to assure you that everything will be under control and that a presidential address is planned for later this month to discuss this issue, a move which could lead to reforms in immigration and trafficking.” The reporter’s ls sounded like rs and the other way around in his Habana accent.
When I was small I thought everyone else including Celia and Fidel didn’t wear one because everyone could find them. The only bracelets I saw on them were the gold name bracelets and the azabache. I have the name bracelet and too except mine’s a necklace. Mi abuelita (kind of) Fidel’s mother, gave it to me when I was born. She also gave me something else. A gold azabache necklace with red coral beads and a black stone. Celia made me wear it when she had to take me out. When I got older she got me another one “just in case.” I asked Fidel why I had to wear the other bracelet once. He said “It makes it easier to find you. Keeps you from getting lost.”
I’m writing in this journal because I haven’t been able to practice my pitching. It’s still raining. Celia and I’ve finished cleaning up the leftover food. She’s making congrí for lunch and arroz con pollo for dinner. Fidel’s gone out. He said he was going to collect the tips waiting for him in a portable safe. Celia and Fidel will talk about the broadcast tonight or tomorrow, along with everything else, like the latest episode of La Sierra Maestra. It’s difficult not to talk about it because so many people are dead.
Can’t stop thinking about it. How many of them were like us? Just walking on the streets when suddenly they were shot? Could’ve been us. Lucky we weren’t there. Fidel says they used to use tear gas too. That was a long time before he was born. His grandparents’ time.
Tuesday May 7
This morning I was yelled at until I got up. I hate doing this. My asthma makes me tired enough to want to collapse on the couch. But I’m used to it.
Celia called me. “Ay, muchacho, I need you in the kitchen.” I pulled the blanket up over my head and shut my eyes, trying to ignore the dawn chorus of tocororos and parakeets and waiting for her to leave. Sometimes she does that. No luck for me. “Neto. ¿Me escuchas? Did you hear me?”
“Che. Come on, mi negrito.” Her voice got louder. “Che Guevara Serna!” My full name. It sounded like bullets being fired one by one. Crack. Crack. Crack. “Get dressed now and get out of there!”
I put on my shirt, overalls and bracelet and followed her out to her and Fidel’s room. Her skirt swishes around her ankles when she walks. The floor makes your footsteps echo. Their room’s got a bed, closet, table and shelves crammed in. The closet has a kerosene lamp on it. “Go get your pills.” She adjusted the red mantón around her apron, pushing its edges down towards her neck. Her clothes are always the same. A red dress under a red apron.
I walked towards the bed. The medicine cupboard is right next to the window. It has a glass door and two shelves inside. The first one is filled with bottles and boxes of pills, cough syrup, allergy medicine, morphine, laudanum, paregoric and my inhaler and more pills. Celia gives me paregoric when my attacks are bad. It tastes like shit-- I can’t say nothing else.
The second shelf is filled with toothbrushes, mouthwash and toothpaste. I sorted through the bottles to find the ones with my name on them and picked up one filled with circular orange pills. “Got 'em.” I walked out of the door and followed her into the main kitchen, trying to walk as fast as I can, even though I have a club foot. My right foot’s half the size of my left and not as fast. She squeezed my shoulder. "Slow down a little. You’ll fall.”
I moved more slowly without dragging my feet. Everyone says dragging your feet gives you calluses. Even Socorro who used to work here and looked after me for a bit. That was one of the two things she said to me for three months.
We made pastelitos with chicken fillings. She made me measure the flour and water for the pastry crust while she chopped the chicken into pieces for the fillings. The sight of the food made my stomach rumble.
There’s a wet spot on my shirt now.
I wiped my hands on a towel. Finally after a few hours we went back to our apartment with the food.
There’s five rooms in our apartment, like the bohío in the batey, or workers’ village in the fields that we lived in until I was six. Everyone there has a vegetable patch and a yard where they keep their animals.
When we first came here, the first thing I noticed was the iron bars on the windows and how big this house is. The roof wasn’t made of palm leaves either. That was the first time I saw a house bigger than our bohío in real life. I knew it was there but I’d never been in front of it before. It’s as big as some of the houses that the smugglers have. I’ve seen them on TV and the streets and heard about them from Fidel. He says they are “hijos de puta”. His favorite insult.
When he joined us at the table in the kitchen, Fidel was singing that song from the tourist ad under his breath. “Not so far from here, there’s a very lively atmosphere. Everybody’s going there this year, and there’s a reason… “ He stopped and exclaimed “Damn it, if I hear I’ll See You In C-U-B-A one more fucking time, I’ll go crazy! Does the tourism commission have to keep showing that commercial? I’m sick of hearing about dark-eyed Stellas, panatellas and trips to Havana. And seeing footage of shows at The Tropicana. They don’t have to convince me to stay. Why leave? Mi love mi patria, mi Cuba!” His accent got a bit thicker. He sounds a bit Jamaican sometimes.
“Ah, they were right about that, at least.” Celia muttered under her breath. I could only just hear her.
We walked over to the shrine at the front of the room. It’s a table with old photos and other things belonging to Celia and Fidel’s ancestors. We each put a plate of pastelitos in front of the pictures. Then we sat down. He reached across the table for a pastry and bit into it as if nothing had happened. “Celia, these pastries are some of the best you’ve made.” Then he picked up a mug of coffee and drank.
“Muchas gracias, Fidel.“ Celia said.
Fidel kissed her. She complained about his beard. “Why don’t you shave it off? It scratches. You look like an old comandante. A picture in a history book. Are you thinking of joining the army? Or the militia?” She grinned as she said it.
“Because I like it, mi negra. You don’t really want it to happen, do you?”
“Well I don’t know. Maybe you need a change. Speaking of that you might try helping out more often. I slave in these rooms every day. Do you ever think I might need a break from work?”
He looked straight at her. “I grew that because it makes me look tough. You’ve got to be tough when you grow up like me. I thought you of all people would know that.”
“Don’t you have any sense of humor after fifteen years?”
“Guess not.” he said grinning.
She burst into laughter. I saw her grab a towel and cover her mouth in it. Her shoulders shook. Finally she dropped it on the table. Her eyes watered and she wiped them .
They talked about the broadcast yesterday. And today’s broadcast. “How long will this go on? The president’s talking about declaring martial law.” Celia’s voice dropped.
He must be desperate. “Well, I ain’t telling those pendejos my name and my address over and over again.” Fidel sighed then raised his voice. His face hardened. “Or the curfews. They don’t realize how some of us need to be on the streets at night. Do they think we choose to do it? We need to earn our livings too. Not everyone gets paid the same amount of pesos. They’ll arrest us just for that?” His voice rose and he clenched his fist.
Celia gave him a long look. “Don’t look at me like that. You know what I mean.”
“Fidel,” she said in a low voice.
“I need to say it. And I’ve been too scared. I won’t put up with it no more. I have a job to do and I won’t be here for a couple of weeks. One of the boliteros needs a guy.”
She stared at him. “For what?”
“Ball shipments. Numbers. Basically anything.” He looked away. “I’ll be out at night. Just say it’s for work.”
I want constructive criticism on these first seven pages. In particular is there a good sense of tension? Do I give a good sense of a near-future Cuba resembling the old Batista era (but clearly futuristic?) or even of Cuba generally? Just from these entries would any Dopers want to read more?
(As a note this story’s working title is “Cuba Libre” but it will be changed.)