Stranger in Havana

Julia Gomez/Staff Writer

This short story was originally published in 2018, in volume XXVII of Miamibiance

Dedicated to my Abo, te quiero mucho.

The hopeful faces of desperate men and women lined up outside the US Embassy in Havana. The long row of makeshift beds and dirty, starving bodies went on for miles. Pablo Marino Gomez sat on a paint chipped bench, a blank look in his eyes. He fidgeted with the frayed edges of the hat he found in the gutter, then placed it down next to him. Slowly, he raised his scarred and blistered hands to hide his tear-streaked face. He knew weeks would pass before he even came close to obtaining what he needed. He knew by then he’d go missing. 

He had nothing left here. He thought about the mother he couldn’t remember and the father he didn’t know still lived. He knew his brother – nicknamed Cavesa – now led a rebel army in the mountains of Cuba. He imagined his raided home sitting alone, broken, and violated by government spies. He tried to think of anyone, a family member, a friend, or even an acquaintance who could aid him, but then reminded himself of the consequences they’d face. He refused to allow his friends to sacrifice their integrity for him. His presence only put them in danger of being jailed, questioned and tortured. He refused to let anyone he loved relive his experience. He had nothing here; at least not anymore. He felt helpless.

He sat alone for a while, lost in abysmal thoughts. In his absent-minded state Pablo never noticed him approach the bench. The man combed back his short blond hair with clean fingernails as his tired, blue eyes swept across the never-ending sea of people.

“Is someone sitting here?” He inquired pointing to Pablo’s hat. His gringo accent giving away his American identity.

“Oh! No, Sir.” He wiped his eyes and straightened up. Although the sun rose higher and the day grew hotter, the crowd never changed, never diminished. 

“Crazy, isn’t it?” The man stated as he withdrew a sandwich from a brown paper bag and ripped it in half.

“It is. I wanted to try to get a visa, but the line is… it’s just-” The stranger nodded chewing in silence. He looked at Pablo’s cheek bones jutting out sharply below the blue and black skin accenting his hollow eye and offered the other half of his sandwich. “No Señor, Gracia. Please, enjoy your lunch.” Pablo said, to the man’s surprise, ignoring his mouth as it began to water, and his stomach began to protest his refusal. He tried to remember the last time he ate.

Pablo and the stranger spoke for a while – about the weather, sports, simple small talk. A nice distraction from the gnawing in his stomach, and the anxiety rising in his chest. He needed a way to get to the United States. He debated making a raft while the stranger spoke about the Chicago Cubs. Pablo needed some materials. He looked at his wrist and saw the scars that vined around them from the chains that forced him to stand for days at a time. When his legs and feet grew numb he felt the strain in his shoulders. When his body went limp, the guards would toss a bucket full of freezing cold water on to his face. 

Through the shock, he still managed to lick his lips attempting to moisten his scaly, dry tongue.  They resorted to ripping off the nails from his fingertips and toes, but he still refused to speak. Every second he spent awake he begged for God to take him home, take him to see his mom.

“Where’s your brother?”  was the only sentence he ever heard. The guards demanded the answer to the question and would get it by any means necessary. He didn’t speak for three months.

They let him go, but still watched his every move. Hoping he’d lead them to Cavesa’s hiding spot, when the government no longer needed his help, they’d have him executed.

He didn’t know what to do next. In desperation, he began to form a plot to steal the first boat he found. The stranger noticed Pablo’s silence. He pensively rolled the wrapper of the sandwich into a ball and tossed it into the brown bag. He swiped the crumbs off his suit’s pants and onto the ground. 

“Well, follow me.” The stranger stood and stared nonchalantly at Pablo.

“Oh… Ehh… Excuse me?” He stammered. His words tripped over one another as his mind raced. 

“Well, you want a Visa, right? Come, follow me.”

“But the line?”

“I didn’t think you wanted to wait that long.”

“No, Sir!” Pablo shot up, grabbing his hat and frayed beige coat. He followed the man to his office in the embassy with his head held high.

Within seven hours, Pablo Marino Gomez, my grandfather, sat on a plane headed to Chicago.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

Featured image submitted by Julia Gomez

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