Zvi E. Sella completed his studies in Physics, Mathematics, and Computer Sciences in The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He earned his MBA at the University of Chicago, and then continued in advanced studies in Economics and Sciences at Harvard, Stanford, and the Universities of Pennsylvania and La Havana, Cuba. He served as president and CEO of various high-tech companies, specializing in turnaround and development of rapid growth, and he is now working on his Ph.D. thesis in Philosophy.
She had never called me in the morning before.
“Look baby, I’m cooking paella for lunch; it’s coming out real spicy – can you come around noontime?”
I could already feel the heat of the city outside, brewing quietly all around. But Rocio’s chicken was the best in Havana, and I wasn’t going to miss it.
“I’ll bring the beer,” I said, but I knew right then something had happened.
That trip I rented an apartment across the Malecón, almost at the very end of the promenade, in front of the bay. It wasn’t too far from the Hotel Riviera and its rooftop restaurant which I liked; the one that used to be Lansky’s place in the good old days. They say he ran a pretty organized operation back then; but in hindsight, they all seem like a bunch of amateurs compared to the local gang that followed.
By the time I got out to catch a ride to Cerro, where Rocio lived by herself in those days, the sun was already burning everything outside, as if this was payday for all of last night’s sins. The tortured streets of Havana were winding helplessly in the heat and the dried-up yards were choking for air. I passed the sea on my way– it had saved me once or twice before – breathing the blue again and watching it spread over the horizon. I think I liked the sea the most when it got totally out of control, charging at the city as though it couldn’t take any more, hitting the Malecón with huge, wild waves that covered the sky before crashing from above onto the old stone wall and flooding the wide, cracked road which ran alongside the coast. But that day, the sea was just lying there quietly, enormous and innocent, letting the city breathe its invisible, hot Caribbean mist.
The unmistakable scent of Rocio’s stew was already in the streets as I approached her place. She had on her long blue dress, which was as formal as she could get, and the dishes were already on the table. Preparing paella is one of the most delicate undertakings there is. Not last among the many unforgivable sins of the Cuban government was the way they cooked paella for foreigners in the big hotels – all dry and bitter and totally soulless. Rocio’s paella was true Latin poetry, something that reminded you why we were all gathered here on earth in the first place. The spicier she cooked it; the more seductive it came out. But pure delight it always was, soft and warm and juicy like she was – you just wanted it to last forever.
She didn’t say much until we were done, and she hardly touched her beer. Then it came.
“Look,” she said, “these past three weeks have been the best I have ever had, you already know that. But I have been thinking about it, about us, and it’s clear to me now that we have no chance, no future.”
She paused to breathe, but I didn’t say a word. I was just watching the way she held her glass, with that bent of her palm.
“I decided to go back to my husband,” she continued. “I want you and me to always be close, as we are now. But we can’t make love again, and I need you to understand this.”
So that was it.
“Not only do I understand,” I assured her, “I really respect it. But just to be absolutely clear, does this mean no more blow jobs?”
I think I had never heard her yell before. “You see, this is exactly what I mean; you never take me seriously! You never take anything seriously!”
For a little while afterwards, we ate cool mango for dessert; or rather, I did. And then I got up to thank her for lunch before I was finally thrown out of paradise, the only one there was.
“Wait,” she said, still trying hard to cling to her anger. But it wasn’t nearly enough. "I have an appointment now with a spiritual woman. You should come too, once and for all; it won’t hurt you, descarado, to know what will become of you.”
“Spiritual woman” was a Santería fortuneteller, and Rocio had tried this with me before. More than once.
Just a week earlier, I couldn’t help asking her. “How can a bright bio-geneticist like you waste time on such crap?”
She used to be one of Fidel’s dream-team recruits who were going to save the island by way of science after the crash and desertion of the USSR. This was also the formal reason – the few years she had worked in that clandestine institute – that the same glorious revolution she abhorred so much and could do nothing about, didn’t let her leave the country.
“What I don’t understand,” she said, “is how a physicist can’t see that the future is all predetermined? Don’t you know that it is all a play of atoms and photons which must always follow strict natural laws, whether we entirely know them or not? Every state in the universe already contains the next one. From the moment it all started, it has been set, all the way to the end.”
I knew it would make her happy so I told her a little about Bento de Espinoza’s endless chain of cause and effect, which were always intertwined as well. But I had to tell her also that his pristine world did not include time, that time, according to my excommunicated Marrano guide, was just the name we gave the poor misconceptions of our limited senses. There were really no beginnings in time, nor endings. Like reading a story - each part hides the next, and you move along unknowingly step by step, but actually the whole story has been there right in front of you all along.
It did make her happy, especially the part about death being therefore just another meaningless human fabrication.
“Exactly!” she exulted. “If we could just get rid of the misconceptions which we ourselves invent – like spiritual women probably do – we would be able to see everything!”
“It doesn’t matter anyway,” I said; “I still wouldn’t have him as my savior.” But deep down I knew it did matter; it made the whole difference. Not knowing, regardless of anything else, was what left us the choice, the responsibility, everything.
“Why wouldn’t you have him?” the new Spinozist had to know. “He did tell the truth.”
“Because of the children. You see, in his blameless universe – the one that is all God – killing the one million children was simply supposed to happen, like everything else that just happens, and that was that. He, at least, would never brush that little slaughter aside like the rest of us do; he couldn’t brush anything aside. In his timeless reality, it is still happening, as we speak, in front of our own eyes. But for him, all this wouldn’t be something to get too emotional about. Nothing would.”
She already knew where this was leading.
“So here again,” I said, just to cut to the chase, “it’s either God or the children - take your pick. Because Spinoza’s offer, logic itself, is a package deal – take it all or leave it all. Those murderers, like all their eager collaborators, were merely playing their part in the grand script, and so were the children. So why indeed should there be any problem there?”
But actually there was a problem there. This was the problem. And that much she knew.
“Would you have me as your savior?”
“Anytime,” I said. “This is the only salvation left – just you and your gorgeous ass. But then again, who would save you from me, Rocio?”
But all that was mumblings of the past. This time was somehow different. Maybe it was the despair in her eyes, but I just said, “O.K, my day is already ruined anyway. Let’s just get it over with.”
The spiritual woman apparently lived in the next barrio, in a big, old colonial house, surrounded by all kinds of wild tropical bushes and tall palm trees. There was a large half-empty room inside, dark as a cave, and at the very end, sitting on the bare floor, was a huge black woman, with some suspicious-looking boxes in front of her.
“He will go first,” Rocio said to her very fast, pointing at me, “and I will stay here with him, in case he needs help with the translation.”
“This man doesn’t need help with any translation,” the woman told her, “but you can stay anyways, because you are so beautiful.”
I was trying my best to keep a straight face while the woman began playing with some odd-looking bones, quietly chanting and scattering them around, then collecting them quickly all over again. I didn’t want to give away too many clues, so I kept very still, but the woman hardly looked at me anyway; she was just watching her little flying bones with much interest, while telling me in detail the usual tales fortunetellers all across the world tell the fools they lure in.
She did look at me though when she said, “I know you don’t believe in God right now, but you will, chico, you will.” I still didn’t say anything. But I did believe in him. Only, my God did play with dice; we were the dice.
Then, probably for my good behavior, the woman was ready to grant me a special treat.
“You may ask me two questions now, anything you wish; but don’t ask them out loud, only in your heart.”
The first question I asked had always troubled me, and I still wonder about it from time to time.
Does 2 plus 2 equal 4?
“At this very moment, no,” answered the Oracle from the barrio, “but in the future, who knows? It’s possible.”
Her second answer sounded a little more decisive: “Absolutely yes! It is certain!”
As I got up to thank her, I heard myself asking – risking not only my life, but more importantly, the good impression I had been working so hard to make –
“How do you know all of this?”
“For me, chico, the future is like the past – all I need to do is remember it.”
“And you see it all in these little bones?”
“I see nothing in them bones. They just help me not think about anything else, and it’s fun.”
I thought I’d heard just enough nonsense for one day, so I left behind my true believer, and went out onto the shaded patio, where Andino – Rocio’s neighbor who had driven us there in his old wreck – was patiently smoking. Andino was the ultimate Cuban street cat, doing it for a living, and a good old friend, who was always trying to hook me up with new girls and sometimes managed to. We talked about the trouble his girlfriend, Soledad, had been giving him lately. He himself happened to think it was the summer heat. And then we just sat and listened to the playful Regeatón music coming from the nearby house. There were voices of some girls laughing. This is the beauty of this place, I thought; wherever you go, day or night, you can never get away from the music here, not even for a single moment. Forget control. God bless dancing! God bless sex!! The only sober ways around here to touch freedom, to rebel and win. The only solace left in this magical, godforsaken land, where time has frozen in the endless wait for the death of the nation’s Father. I couldn’t wait for night to fall.
When Rocio eventually came out of the temple, she was all glowing, like a happy bride fresh from her holy wedding rites. She too could not wait any longer – all in great astonishment like an excited little child – to share with our thrilled driver the incredible things which had just happened to her inside. She told him of things the woman had no way of knowing beforehand, even things about her childhood in Oriente – the mountainous eastern edge of the island – and all about her husband, José. But what blew my mind the most, was Andino’s genuine amazement.
What’s wrong with this crazed country, I wondered, and its hopeless obsession with the future, with its desperate yearning for some sense of certainty, of clarity, of hope, any sense at all? As if the future could give them their lives back, could bring them justice, and logic, and the forgotten taste of truth. My friend Andino was a professional tourist poacher, whom no one could ever con; he could smell bullshit a mile away. Rocio was a rare free thinker who knew by then that obedience to logic might be as blind as submission to religion, and the irrational didn’t have to be the road to evil. And yet, neither of them had any doubts whatsoever about the qualifications of these shady characters who claimed to see into their future. I came to Cuba for the present – fuck the future! I didn’t ask for any redemption; God was in denial anyway. And on top of everything else was the heat, the hellish heat through which we drove back along the dusty, crumbling roads. The sun just wouldn’t let go, mercilessly exposing everything in its path, banishing all dreams and illusions, and my brain was slowly melting.
“Listen, Roc,” I said when we arrived at her place. “I have that Salsa practice with Gilberto and the band in Havana Vieja. I am dying to rest here for an hour - would you wake me up at five, so I can make it there on time.” She made up her bed for me, and I got right under the cool sheets, quickly sinking into the tranquility of her little bedroom.
She was already closing the door behind her when she turned her head back and asked: “By the way, what were the two questions you asked the woman?”
“Oh, that? Well, the first one was just something about mathematics, nothing really interesting. And the second one - if you must know – was whether or not you were going to blow me this afternoon.”
For a split second there, she seemed like a pillar of salt; as if she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. And then she turned wild, like raging thunder, desperately stamping her foot in fury.
“How dare you? Even if this whole building were to fall on my head, I wouldn’t do it!” (This was, mind you, a seven-story apartment building; we were up on the sixth floor). “Never in my life!!!”
“But why are you mad at me? You know I don’t believe in that stuff.” She slammed the door behind her and I finally shut my eyes.
I wasn’t counting, but I could swear no more than seven minutes had passed before she opened the door quietly and sat by me. She began to talk about all sorts of little things, which I always liked so much. Those were the priceless moments. She told me about Zunaiki, the cute mulatta next door, who was planning her upcoming wedding, together with the whole building, all day long. She said she was thinking of wearing her white dress to church on that day, and she asked me what I thought. I thought she looked lovely in that dress and I told her so.
“You know how the heart sometimes wants something badly,” she said, “things that might not make any sense at all, even the most destructive things; and yet, we follow it to the end as if we must?”
I did know something about this.
“Maybe it’s the part of us that somehow senses the future,” she said. “And illogical as that fate might be for us, it takes us there simply because it has to.”
I had come to Cuba to find Alejo Carpentier’s "savage woman" from the jungle, and instead I got myself a Madam Curie.
“I for one used to think it was just our endless stupidity,” I said.
“Yes, that too, especially yours. I have never met an idiot like you.”
“Neither have I,” I confessed.
But all that time, the cool palms of the sweet philosopher by my side were traveling slowly under the sheets, playing secretly with my thirsty thighs below. The tender fingers wouldn’t touch my rising rod, which was already shivering underneath in a
silent plea, only rubbing it a little unintentionally as her hands where passing by, which only made it even more intolerable.
“I will suck you now,” she said, “but you cannot come in me.”
“Whatever you say.”
I was already on fire, but she was in no hurry, as if that was her little revenge, for everything. The lips which already knew every bit of my body were seeking something else. Her tongue was gently flying over each place she chose to tease, but it was only when it became totally unbearable that she at last took it deep into her warm mouth. I felt her trying to suck out and possess everything I had in me, everything I was, but I was not anything then but my inflamed manhood, rising strong and unbeatable inside her. I didn't only feel the warmth of her lips, but that I was taking her all, the whole woman, again and again, for good. But indeed, she was the only one moving, with all her beautiful body, moaning and melting into the sheer pleasure that was already consuming all of me, until I knew it was time.
I sank in between the supple, restless thighs, and then we moved together as close as we had ever been. There was nothing else I wanted but to see her happy. Her scream was almost unheard, but her thighs were still trembling a little, when I felt the wave within me coming, rolling throughout my entire body, and then gushing out inside her, taking away all I had left.
The roar that came out of my throat like a wild battle cry had the dogs down in the streets and yards howling back like crazy. I just burst into that silly liberating laugh which always comes over me when it’s good. She was laughing too, especially at all that noise I was making. And then time vanished. There was no death, no evil; only joy, nothing else. We were lying in each other’s arms, two halves, and the sea of our hidden dreams carried us away. It took Spinoza 259 proven propositions to drive out time, to beat death, and fear, and anger – all that with just his Intellectual Love of God. But then again, what did Spinoza know about blow jobs?
It was a while before she spoke, and then time caught up with us again. “You have to get up now, mi amor, if you don’t want to be late for the Salsa.”
But she was still amused. “So, do you believe in Santeras now?”
“Actually, I am beginning to think there might be something to it,” I admitted. “But you know, that wasn’t really the second question I asked the woman.”
She was already getting up when she turned back to me in an instant, sparks burning in her amazing black eyes, as if a venomous serpent had suddenly struck her from behind. For a long moment there, I was sure that this time she was bound to kill me, and I knew I deserved it. Then she crashed backward on the bed in an uncontrollable laughter which she just couldn’t stop.
“Come back afterwards,” she said as we kissed on my way out. “I have some chicken left; maybe I’ll fry it with bananas.” She was straightening my stupid Bolshevik hat.
“But what about that husband of yours?” I wondered.
The light in her eyes dimmed a little. “Forget aboutJosé,” she sighed. “The truth is I couldn’t stand him anyway. Maybe the woman doesn’t know everything after all.”
There she was, all alone at her doorstep, lost in the future – the good wife I would never marry. I kissed her smile again, and off I went, back into the raging fire outside.
It was day 37 since Nileisy left.
I had already lost any hope she would return before my trip was over.
But three days later, just like the black old witch had answered me in absolute certainty, she got on the morning bus from Ciego de Avila, and showed up at my door. She was carrying three red apples in her hands, as if she had just gone out for a minute to the market.
Then she wrecked my life.