by Claire M. Machado
Mireya was born into poverty, so when the time came to leave her birthplace of Regla, a municipality of Havana, she jumped at the chance. It was the summer of 1958, and Mireya had just turned eighteen. As far as she could remember, she’d always wanted to live in Havana. The many trips Mireya and her parents took on the Regla-Havana ferry to visit her grandmother had always excited her.
She loved the rhythm of the capital, its pulsating energy, and the beauty of its Malecón—a broad esplanade with a seawall stretching along the coast of Havana. She remembered the many hours she’d spent sitting on it looking out into the sea wondering what lay beyond that vast ocean.
Mireya hadn’t seen her grandmother in months. Money was scarce after her father’s illness, so her parents decided to send her with her grandmother. They hoped Mireya’s temporary stay with her would alleviate the situation. It was during this time that Mireya met George.
He was sitting on the seawall looking at the sea when a scent of perfume made him turn his head. The aroma was alluring, like the beautiful young woman wearing it. The sun shimmered on her smooth and tanned olive-skin. Her long, curly dark brown hair cascaded down her back bouncing to her rhythmic sensual sway. Her high heels tapping out the tempo of her rhythm. George was mesmerized.
George’s family had relocated to Havana from New York in 1957. His father was commissioned to assist in the construction of the Havana Tunnel, which would connect Old Havana to the eastern side of the city across Havana Bay. George was almost twenty and mature for his age. He’d melded well with the island’s culture and learned the language.
He had an athletic physique with wide shoulders and a broad chest. His slicked back, jet-black hair made his sky-blue eyes stand out. This feature made him popular with the girls at the university, but he’d never shown any interest in them—except now.
Shielding his eyes from the sun with his hand, he swung around to get a better look. Catching this movement out of the corner of her eye, Mireya turned her head unaware of the crack on the sidewalk. Her right high-heel got caught and broke causing her to fall. George jumped and rushed to her side.
“Are you OK?” He asked, furrowing his brow. Mireya’s face was a few inches from the floor. She turned her head in his direction. Her green almond-shaped eyes met his blue ones. Time seemed to have stopped until George reacted and grabbed her arms. In one fell swoop, Mireya was on her feet again. They stood facing each other while George ensured her steadiness.
“Are you hurt?” He asked, looking down at her.
She shook her head. “Come and sit. Get your bearings,” George said, leading her to the seawall.
Mireya hobbled the distance and sat. She removed her left shoe as George retrieved the broken one. He sat next to her getting the full effect of the liquid memory that still lingered in his nostrils while his eyes drank up her beauty.
“Thanks for helping me,” Mireya said, breaking his thought process.
“It’s my pleasure. I’m George,” he said, smiling.
Mireya smiled back. “George? That’s an unusual name for a Cuban.”
“Your Spanish is good,” Mireya said in amazement.
“Gracias. That means I could pass for a Cuban, right?”
“Yes, but you must be called Jorge,” said Mireya.
“Jorge…I like that…and what do I call you?”
“Beautiful name…” he said, leaning into her.
“I need to get to my grandmother’s house. May I have my shoe back?”
“You can’t go barefooted on this hot pavement,” he said, standing in front of her.
Mireya started to open her mouth, but George interjected, “No. I’ll hail a taxi.”
Mireya tried to refuse, but ended up with George in the backseat of the taxi. George narrated the story of why he lived on the island, and the long ride resulting from a traffic jam seemed shorter by his interesting recount. Arriving at their destination, George opened the door and extended his right hand while holding the high heel shoes in the other.
Her tight-fitting blue skirt inched up her thighs as she slid from the backseat of the taxi. Once out, Mireya straightened it. George lifted the back of his guayabera, reaching into his khaki’s back pocket. He took out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his brow and neck.
The gesture was sensual in Mireya’s eyes. “I don’t know how to thank you,” she said.
“Introduce me to your grandmother.”
“Maybe another time, Jorge.”
“OK. I won’t insist, but in turn, I’ll take your shoes for repair. I’ll bring them back ‘cause they’re not my size,” he said, smiling.
“You don’t need an excuse to return, Jorge.”
“That obvious, huh?”
“I must go now. I should’ve been back an hour ago.”
They parted ways and as George walked away, he stopped to look back. Mireya and her grandmother stood in the balcony; both had a smile on their face. Mireya and George fell in love that day. They were always seen in each other’s company until the winds of political discord started blowing their way.
A few years before they met, a revolution incited by a paramilitary organization had ensued on the island. Their new idealism was against the U.S.-backed authoritarian government of the Cuban president. These rebels fought many battles inching their way from the West coast of the island to Havana. The guerillas’ constant victories over the Cuban army panicked the Cuban president, and he fled under the cloak of darkness on New Year’s Day, 1959.
That New Year’s Eve, Mireya and George were together in the company of his parents. She asked to be back at her grandmother’s apartment shortly after midnight to spend time with her, and George complied. When George returned, his father was descending the stairs into the living room with a suitcase.
“What going on, Dad?”
“I just heard a special bulletin on the radio, son. The Cuban president’s been ousted, and the city’s in total chaos. They’re requesting everyone stay put tonight under threat of arrest.”
“What’s the suitcase for?”
“We have to leave the island as soon as possible. The American ambassador has been recalled, and things are very unstable. I’ll try to get a PanAm flight out within a couple of days, so I suggest you start gathering your things, son.”
That night, George paced his room trying to think of how to reach Mireya. She had no phone, and he needed to know she was safe. He wasn’t able to sleep, and dawn arrived way after he was up and dressed ready to sneak out in his father’s Chrysler De Soto. He’d deal with the consequences later.
Mireya didn’t take the news well. “I’ll return soon, Mireya, and I’ll write to you every day,” George said. “This situation won’t last long, you’ll see.” He hugged her tight and kissed the tears from her eyes. That was 57 years ago.
Cuba’s government was replaced with a revolutionary socialist state, which later reformed into a communist one. Communication between George and Mireya flourished at first; it dwindled after a few years and ceased as correspondence from the United States began to be intercepted by the Cuban government.
George was now a widower in the autumn of his years. He still thought of Mireya and hoped to return one day. The opportunity arose when the United States lifted the embargo imposed on the island more than half a century before.
Weeks later, George stood in front of Mireya’s grandmother’s apartment; no answer when he knocked on the door. A tenant peeking from across the hallway informed him Mireya lived there, but her grandmother had passed away years ago. Sitting on the stairwell, he wrote a note and slipped it underneath her door.
The next day, George sat on the same spot of the seawall where he’d seen Mireya. He faced the boulevard observing the deterioration all around. His guayabera stuck to his back. The sweat wasn’t from the heat, but from the anticipation of their meeting. He’d waited an hour past the appointed time. He stepped off from the seawall and headed toward the hotel, head down, hands in his pockets.
George straightened and turned his head in the direction of the voice. There she was, waving from the other side of the boulevard. Her hair was now in a bun and, much like him, the snows of time had whitened her temples. She started crossing not taking her eyes off George, oblivious to the heavy traffic on the boulevard. He lifted his arms waving at her to go back. Cars were honking, and she swerved avoiding them, not seeing the one coming full speed toward her.
“Mireya!” His desperate scream came just before the car hit her and continued.
~ END ~