Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
I come back to my poor apartment in Queens after a whole white week in Alaska. It took me six almost intercontinental flights to arrive and return from New York to Fairbanks to New York. Fairbanks, which is spelled as Fahrenheit. Below zero, below any civil climate, below my own memories of what a country is supposed to be. The sun at noon scarcely showing on the horizon. My shadows longer than ever. A silhouette frozenly free and lovingly lost.
Because I have the feeling that I am going to fall in love up there, under those barbaric aurora borealis of the last frontier. My only daughter will be born up there. And her name will be Orlando. Not after me, of course, but after Virginia Woolf.
Walking down the super noisy streets of Corona, Queens, I realize that I´m in the middle of my first Halloween. Here, trains run all over their trick-or-treat above the adult avenues, each howling like a virgin wolf. I wonder why we don´t have Halloweens in Cuba. Maybe because of an idiot ideology. Maybe because of an idle idiosyncrasy. Maybe because we Cubans are always wearing our best disguise.
I always it find sad that people behave so happy. It must be a trauma derived of decades exposed to socialist TV. Then I recalled how my father in Cuba bent over my cradle every Friday morning, with an old ragged piece of paper, clandestinely printed with the Prayer of Saint Luis Beltrán.
And I recalled how my mother in Cuba bent over my father bent over my cradle, with a hot smoking jar of black market milk. And she cooled it down with her own breath, making a sound I´ve never heard again until I was awaken by the wild whisper of the Alaskan wind. It was a tintinnabulation of saliva and saccharose. Sweet miracles of scarcity, only once a week. I guess that´s why Fridays are still the freest days of the universe for me.
My childhood spans over those two gestures, or those two ghettos. When my parents ceased to bend over my cradle, I became spontaneously orphan and then I was forced for life to sleep on bed.
Halloween in Manhattan had a lot to do with that childhood city that in the late seventies of Cuba was lost. The same illusions of what. The same urge of finding whom. The same crowds emptied of destiny the more they fake an identity. The same parades felt as parody. The same allegorical allergies provoked by the same Art Deco dust of Manhattabana.
Too much New York to believe in those tales of Havana. Too much Havana to believe that I´m now walking down in New York. Recurrent nightmares. Autistic autumns. Radical uprooting. America, you´ve given me all and yet I´m nothing. Cuba, I long for you but I promise that I won´t belong any longer to where I belong.
As a child I was hallucinated by some secret substance in that motherly milk. History, heroes, horror. I used to see me in dreams, wandering in remote future, surrounded by voices shrieking in an alien argot that turned out to be español. But I couldn´t grasp a single syllable then.
Queens is the limitless frontier of Latinoamérica. And I always woke up crying, because growing up was definitely the worst (of course, I still ignored the existence of dictionaries to self-translate the untranslatable). A boy born amid a fossil future that has turned out to be today. Where milk is too much milk as it corresponds to the first economy of the world, a place where boiling my liquid Friday miracles in the microwave now converts the white mystery into just denatured protein content (I´m a biochemist, I´m sorry, such molecular metaphors are beyond my control).
I open the democratic door of my poor apartment in Queens after a whole life in Alaska and I fall down dead on the couch. No need to unpack. No baggage claim. My laptop is enough portable homeland. But I’m starving. I got a sore throat and I´m coughing droplets of blood. A brilliant drizzling, vital hemoglobin oversaturated with oxygen in my traveling lungs.
But there’s danger. If I get sick in the United States I will have to heal myself here without spending a Cuban cent. Even if I´m sick of the United States, to return to the Island would really mean to be committing exile. The physicians of Fidel should be there waiting for me to restore for free my health. And I´m not quite interested in eternity. Not yet.
So I go out again and get some Caribbean roast beef with rice and red beans. A colorful dish. Rainbowlution for 19,59 bucks. As surplus value, they add a slice of avocado on top of it. Nothing tastes like everything used to taste when there was nothing at all to taste. I´m hungry, but the smell revolts me. I think I´m gonna puke (I learned this vulgar expression in my first no-captions American film).
Actually, I don’t like buying from the Latinos in the neighborhood. They don´t like Cubans in return, and they look at me like uneasy iguanas, with toothpicks like knives between their teeth. I buy their stuff and I take it away with me. I eat a little standing in the kitchen of my poor apartment in Queens after hardly an intense instant in Alaska. Then, I toss most of the food into the trash. Or not so. I try to toss it, but I don’t fully reach the trash container under the sink. It happens that in this point I just notice that I´m alone but not by myself.
There it is, there he or she is. So tiny, almost invisible. So all-of-a-sudden, almost scary. So stern, almost sweet. So curious, almost human. It´s a little mouse in the way between the trash container and me with the Latin food ready to toss it away. What a perfect trio. Hunger, garbage and loneliness, almost indistinguishable.
It’s gray. It’s obviously starving too. It’s clear now that he lives here before me, and that my trip to the edge of the world left him or her locked in the place without nothing to eat. I keep no food home. I keep no home indeed. Buying every day what I am supposed to eat. Not even so.
He or she must be quite young. Enough to beg shamelessly with his or her eyes to me, like a dear pet watching the intentions of my hand. I wonder what his or her name is. It would be so easy to smash his or her head with a shoe or a snow shovel or a flying Halloween pumpkin. That’s how we react on my little Island in a situation like this. Death begets death, which sooner than later will beget death once again. Deadly decadence dance.
I put the leftovers over a newspaper for him or her. It´s her, I guess. And her name will be also Orlando. Not after me or my daughter to be born yet, of course, but after Virginia Woolf.
I move the Caribbean roast beef with rice and red beans plus avocado close to her minimal mouth. She comes closer and starts to chew, gladly gnawing, while every now and then taking a grateful look at me. And every then and now I return that lively look back to her. We end up staring at each other, like in ecstasy. O my darling, my darling, my mouse and my bride. We’re o fucked up, dear. Our Halloween hearts deserve a little better, don’t you agree. Or maybe a little worse to make things really clear, girl. Are you under age, sweetie? Would marry or at least make love to me for food worth 19,59 bucks? Hey, would you please remember my name if I just die one of these nightless nights? Or if I manage to imagine that I´ve never been born at all in Corona, Queens.
I lay back on the couch. I close my eyes only for a moment and the moment is gone. My hunger vanishes as I hear how she feeds, turning the pages of The New York Times. Cuba is in every headline. Cuba is ubiquitous, leaves no space for escaping Cubans. And that´s cruel of her (Cuba, not Orlando). Maybe she’s pregnant (Orlando, not Cuba). Who could ever dissever my soul from the soul of the beautiful Orlando in Queens?
Exile is nothing but this abrupt lack and excess of love. Exile is the place where mice and men can talk mercifully about what in Cuba would have been a bloody battle between your misery and my own misery.
We should both go back to Alaska as soon as impossible, maiden of mine. So there’s absolutely no need to unpack any baggage tonight in noisy New York. Trains are terribly approaching through the walls. Airplanes however are mute from within. Silence is a question of style. Orlando, listen, for example, the invisible words of Orlando now.