Our host has booked us into a mates accommodation in Havana and an air conditioned car to take us there. The car costs us just $5 more than to travel on the bus and will take us four hours instead of six. Awesome! We see several police check points and while our driver slows ready to stop, he is waved on until we are almost there. He waits in the car until the Policeman comes to his window and the officer extends his hand to shake first as we have seen happen everywhere. The driver offers several cards of identification which we assume gives him permission to drive in different areas. The officer asks to see in the boot which contains just our bags. I watch as he presses down on each bag. Tells the driver to shut the boot, asks him a few more questions and tells him he may go. It’s not super friendly but not unfriendly either. We are reminded of how restricted life is here still.
We are taken right to the door and our new host is lovely with a very cute little eleven month old boy. Ren phones a friend of a friend who is happy to show us around and she tells Ren she will meet us here at 9pm. Yeah, I know. Next job is the bank and it takes several attempts but we manage to extract some cash before heading to a late lunch. We decide to go to the hotel that’s right there rather than hunt for a clean food place and Ren and I share meals. The whole place is filled with Asians. Gee we could be in China. “How’s it feel Mum, Ren asks, to be the only European in the place?” Once we have eaten we are sitting with our drinks when a woman on the table away from us turns and starts taking photos of us. There’s no one behind us, just the back wall and she’s snapping away. What the hell, we start to laugh. “We’re tourists too!”Ren calls out but she ignores us and then gets her husband to stand up and take a photo so she’s in the front of the photo and we are behind. It’s quite hilarious really. Ren’s chosen Veg cannoli and I’ve chosen garlic shrimps simmered in rum. Mine tastes like a very cheap liquor has been poured neat over the shrimps and it’s completely spoiled it. Ren’s is little more than two rolls of pasta covered in a processed cheese with barely any recognisable vegetable. Ren decides it’s the worst meal we have had in Cuba and she’s probably right. Gilbert however, who eats meat at almost every meal, says his is fine, but once we walk out he’s suddenly not feeling so well and decides to head back early.
Sounds of drums, shakers and singing waft around us as Ren and I walk amongst crowds in almost a carnival atmosphere. We find a place along the way that we definitely could have eaten in that looks fine for the next day. Old cars are everywhere and we come across this line up of convertibles waiting for tourists. I’m surveying the line up trying to find a Ford Fairlane but ours wasn’t a convertible. $30 for one hour tour around the city.
I tell Ren we had one when I was about ten. I remember it so well. With long bench seats we could fit five kids across the back easily. So Maree, Michael, Tony, me and Lindy in the back and little Johnny would sit with Mum in the front seat. Maricá the surprise was still to come. Sunday Mass was at 8am in Pukekohe, 9am in Patumahoe and 10am back in Pukekohe. Mum preferred the 8am so it didn’t eat into the day too much but Dad was a bugger to get up, so we sometimes made the 9am and this was definitely the kids favourite. The church was much smaller and we’d often be late and not get a seat but the best part was getting there. If no one was in the way Dad would put his foot down and there were three small rises in the straight. If he got enough speed up, we would sail over these and the butterflies in our tummy as the car rose, feeling like it lifted off the ground, would make us squeal with delight. We would arrive at church flushed and bright eyed. It was a creamy white with pink and grey stretching down the sides rising into large fins either side. I wish now I knew what year it was and maybe had a photo with me. I will put one on here when we get home. My brothers would love this place for the old cars I’m sure, but maybe not the heat!
We get back to our Cassa and Gilbert has the aircon on, fan going and it sounds like we are in the seaplane again it’s so loud but at least it is cool. We all nod off very fast, however I wake, suddenly not feeling very well and am glad of the bathroom two steps from my bed. Gilbert and I decide not to go out with Ren tonight. I’m not sure how long this is going to last, even though by 9pm I’m feeling OK. I wave out our window to Andrés and Rossetta who are taking her salsa dancing and hope like hell they will return her home. The thought of her wandering these city streets alone is not comforting. We never talked about a time, but in my head I’m thinking she’ll probably be home by 3am as I doze off at about midnight. It turns out we are opposite a night club of sorts and the noise is pretty deafening. I turned off the light by the door hoping I’d find my way back to the bed in the dark but needn’t have worried. Across from us is a huge orange globe like a big mangoe that shines straight in and I could probably cook dinner in this light.
I check the time, 2am. Still loud, light and partying. No Ren. I’m thinking if they’re in a night club, it’s easy to lose track of time and while I expect her at 3 am, I decide its possible she won’t be home until 6am. If she’s not home by 6am I will start to worry.
I check the time, 3am. Still loud, light and partying. No Ren. I’m thinking parties here probably go longer anyway. If she’s not home by 6 am I will wake the daughter of the house and ask her to help me phone Rosetta.
I check the time, 4am. Still loud, light and partying. No Ren. They’re young, what do they have to rush home for anyway? If she’s not home by 6 am I will phone Rosetta who has good English and if they say they left Ren earlier she will help me.
I check the time, 5am. Still light with that freaken mangoe light shining right on in, even tho the night club seems closed. Just the odd noise. Still no Ren. I’m listening hard. Was that a door click downstairs? I’m sure to hear her high pitched laugh she cannot contain. Was that someone? If she’s not home by 6 am Rosetta will know what to do. She will know which way she might have walked, taxied. My mind walks through the scenarios. I feel Gilbert awake beside me but neither of us want to verbalise what we are thinking which will make our fears more real. I think of all the nights she’s not home till morning when she’s in another country to me and I don’t know. I think she will never understand a Mother’s fears until she has children of her own.
Later still, I hear some talking downstairs. I listen hard for her voice but it’s not there. The bell rings. More talking. I’m wondering if she’s lost her key. Perhaps I should go down? Was that her sandals on the stairs? I wait but our door doesn’t open, then finally I hear her laugh. Soft so as not to disturb the night, but I know it. Then her footfalls on the stair and our door opens. I turn and it’s her. She comes in quietly and goes to the bathroom. I check the time. 5.42am. What time did the dogs start barking? 5.50am. Little shit keeping me up all bloody night, I think to myself as I start to fall into a deep sleep.