The Old Man and the Bus Trip

3 02 2011

ASHITTEDOrlando Luis Pardo Lazo

It was on a P-10 road from La Víbora to Paradero de Playa. With the night falling over Cuba, one broken under that indecisive weight of violets and depressions that remind us that there is a sky over Havana. That the world is also here and now. To add to it all, with such freezing cold, one capable of piercing bones, one that is not commonplace in Cuban literature. At the stop on Perla Street, almost at the edge of the suburban rural chord that threatens to devour our capital city block by block.

He boarded without paying. Old. Very old. An elderly man of venerable age, who should have been having dinner with his family in front of the innocuous news at this time of the night. Wearing a suit that had surely been worn for the first time way before the Revolution. He had shat on himself. The old man and his suit. Shat and scared shitless.

The stench gave him away before any glance could. I was busy writing my “Lezama Lima Explained to Children” in the Notes section of my cellphone. A very basic Nokia that works better than a machine gun (Twitter, Twitpics, Chirps, YouTube, Vimeo: the whole of the Internet almost advertises itself from my SIM card). If I didn’t go into too much of a delirium, I could surely publish the text in the Diario de Cuba web portal, now that we all have an opinion about the Fat Man from Trocadero, so pestered at the later stages of his life by the envious, the cowards and, of course, even by Security specialists (their arguments, in view of the future, are more than valid: “We were only doing our job.”).

The stench stabbed me. Damn, I thought. I stepped on shit. Or some kids threw a pile of shit through the bus window, as to appease their neighborhood boredom slightly: it is not the first time it happens to me, although, luckily, they have never managed to hit me with the dog, cow or even human shit. If it’s me, I thought, I will be dead in minutes, without time to warn anyone (Who could I ring at this hour? My mother: my last relative? A lover, second to last impossibility?) If it is I who smells like this and I have still not realized that, then it must mean my intestines have hemorrhaged. I thought of Fidel. But that didn’t make me laugh. Life is such a fragile gift. I had a sort of panic attack. But then laughter relaxed me. The coarse laughter of the Cuban people. Vulgar.

“Get off the bus, pig.” “Blow away, stinker.” “Driver, open the back door so we can throw out the old man right here.” And the P-10 route passengers began to open up a circle around the back door. They were backing up towards me. I stopped typing about Lezama Lima (in his work, curiously, there are exquisite scenes that take place inside Cuban buses, with such formidable phrases as “I am like Martí dreamed about, the succulent poetry…”) and I tried to get close to him, in my ever curious solidarity with the fallen from grace—be it the grace of the State or the grace of our own sphincter. But it was impossible. The crowd and the stench forced me to retreat into the accordion of the articulated bus. Shit had built, by simple osmosis, a material wall amid the compacted air.

The old man began to defend himself with words he could hardly enunciate and to throw out punches, like a braggart. He had probably been a fighter all his life. And now he could not even hold back his feces, voluntarily, not even for a few bus stops. Oh, but anyone who dared to come close would come out of it all messed up. Even if it was the last thing he did in his life, after such a Pantagruelian and uncivil crap.

The passengers never left him alone. Especially the male students, who kept making a racket and mocking him with cheap cabaret-like jokes to impress the girls, who laughed in their un-erotic uniforms with a terrifying lack of intelligence.

The old man resisted as much as he could until he finally jumped out from the bus, three or four stops later, still on Perla Street approaching the William Soler Children’s Hospital. I doubt that was his destination (I doubt he even had one on that late night). But he got off and started limping away. I think the shit was dripping out of his pants.

The stench stayed in the bus all the way down to La Ceguera, where I got off, now really smelling of his ancestral shit myself. More than shit, it was the postmortem molecules of biological decomposition (I witnessed such kinds of fermentation at the Faculty of Biological Science). Cadaverinas, phosphorescent gases and other such exquisite particles. I hate the scientific reproduct-ability of death (necrochemistry more than biochemistry). I hate anything that happens around my Nokia and me.

The old man lost himself into the vilified and aged Cuban night. We continued our journey between the little pale headlights of an imported bus, or those forensic light posts of a sick and tired, embarrassed Havana.

I took a deep breath of freedom. I sniffed my skin. I probed my underarms and private parts. Several times. The accumulated sweat of an insular winter. A deliciously young and human smell. Appetizing. I felt like going out hunting. I was alive. I felt like Twitting it to the world from my cellphone. Damn, what joy, what an urge to burst into tears! To be alive over the yellow line ignored by both students and buses. You get it? Alive!

Translated by T

December 22 2010

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