La Habana

I.  Mercado 19-IA

I squeeze through the crowded neighborhood farmers market, by a woman shaking a bundle of greens. Another lifts a bunch of spotted bananas over the produce mounds to be weighed. I stop to choose a double handful of mandarins, passing it to the young woman at the scale. She shifts the weights with quick fingers. Three pesos, she says. The coins jingle as my friend reaches over the orange-colored pile & gives her the money.

I turn & see the butchers cutting slabs of pork, their knife blades flashing. The cacophony of voices ordering. People stand patiently, their bags held open for the paper-wrapped meat.

A father cradles his daughter on his hip. Holding her tiny hands, looking into her eyes, he sings her a song.

Celia & Yuraisy pose for a photo, standing tall in the midst of the bustle. Clove & cinnamon, their skins gleam in the patches of sunlight penetrating the roof eaves.

Outside, on the side street, Yuniel & Jesús sit along the sidewalk. Their toy trucks scoop dirt in the shade of a thin tree. In his frustration at my inability to say his unfamiliar name, he puts his small hands on his hips, boyish legs splayed to either side. Then, carefully writing each letter in the fine tan dirt & looking up at me after each to see if I understand, he finishes & says proudly, firmly, YUNIEL.

II. Vedado

In a small triangular park at the base of Julio A. Mella’s statue, a man sweeps debris with a leaf broom & scoops it into a wooden handcart.

Across the street, Estela leans in her second-floor window open to the mid-morning city. Her aged sun-darkened hand rests on the balcony railing. Her gazing eyes are placid.

Below a younger woman comes, sandals flapping against her soles. Yellow & orange bags hang in her maple-colored hands. ¿Quieres comprar una bolsita de naranjada       o de piña?, she calls up to Estela, stopping below the balcony. No, mi amor, the old woman calls down, leaning over the worn stone.

In the distance of this street, as it leads straight to the center of the city, the laced spire of a church rises above the blockish buildings.

III. El Malecón

It wraps along the blue-grey sea. From the cragged rocks below, young boys swim in sagging undershorts. Their wet skins shine in multi-browns under the warm winter sun.

Bicycles whizz by along either side of the avenue. Sometimes a second person rides a-back, clutching a bag of food to her chest. The bike wobbles with the rhythmic pumping.

Three pensionados sit on the greyed wall. Their hands lay loosely on cottoned laps, then wave with their impassioned words.

Further down a mulata nestles her head on the shoulder of her lover. His lightly tanned hand strokes her smoothened hair.

A double-humped camel bus chugs by pulled by a semi-tractor. Through the streaked windows, among the crowded passengers I see …
       A man resting his chin upon a woman’s head, his arms wrapped around her waist …
       Another man’s expressive face speaking with a friend …
       A young woman, head on upraised hand staring out the window at

The two boys looking skyward, watching their yellow & red kites dance in the sea breeze.

IV. La Habana Vieja

I stroll among the artisan stalls in the cathedral plaza. Vibrant colors spring from the canvasses, paintings of Afro-Cuban orishas, of El Che, landscapes of this tropical isle. Hand-carved statues gracefully reach for the azure sky.

On the corner of a street radiating out from this plaza, a young boy waits at a window. His short white legs kick the noon air, his sandals hang loose as he reaches over the sill for his hunk of bread spread with a bit of mayonnaise & shuffles his coins across it. The woman picks them up with age-spotted hands, her greying hair pulled up into a bun.

V. Plaza de la Revolución

Sunshine fills the open plaza. The giant José Martí looks with his intent poet eyes upon the small food stalls, a few tables & chairs set before each one. The smell of grilling sandwiches drifts on the afternoon. At the far end, a man whacks the stem end off coconuts. The machete blade catches the sun with each thud. Tilting her head back, a young woman lifts one above her pink mouth & lets the milk soothe her throat. Other men pick up the discarded shells & throw them one-handed onto the bed of a truck. A sound stage slowly builds to the rhythm of a throbbing son.

On the other side of this plaza, across from José, Che’s metal-outlined face stares into the future with eyes still full of life.

As I leave the Plaza & begin walking down Rancho Boyeros Avenue, my eye catches a father sitting on the steps of a building. His laughing son & daughter play next to him. On his lap the man changes his infant’s diaper. A safety pin hangs loosely between his lips.

Lorraine Caputo