Last Blog I discussed the value of friends in one’s life. I believe in the importance of friendship so much that I devoted an entire book to the subject. My novel CONTESSA is a book about friends. The main character, Clyde Dillard, would not have achieved any of his successes in life if it had not been for a dozen very close friends. Here is an extract from CONTESSA which shows the start of one of his most solid friendships. In its initial stage, the meeting is anything but friendly. Clyde has just arrived in Havana, Cuba, in 1957 looking for a new life. (Featured Photo: The Malecon in Havana.)
Extract from Contessa
By the evening, I was walked out and depressed as I had no idea how I would be able to meet this one basic need of a human being—to have a roof over the head. I didn’t return to the hotel. Instead I went for a stroll on the Malecón. The sun had already gone down and the night people had taken over. There was a lazy atmosphere which meant the traffic on the oceanfront promenade was no longer fast and zippy. All sorts of people were out walking, strolling, talking and in some places singing and dancing. Always there was an abundance of sellers of everything imaginable.
I was tired of walking and took a seat at the Café Montmartre, a place I chose because of its economical prices. Many places I found had French names. Spanish cultures are absolutely dazzled by anything French.
I ordered a beer—a Hatuey—which I paid for immediately. I figured I should at least try one out—even though it was a little steep at fifty centavos—but so what—the price mainly was paying rent to watch the passing parade.
I drank the Hatuey and watched the world go by. All of a sudden a voice from another table in a heavily accented voice said to me, “Have you got a light, Señor?”
I looked around and there was a heavily made up but pretty young woman in her early thirties leaning toward me with a cigarette in her mouth. At that time, as I have mentioned before, I smoked and so I gave her a light.
“Gracias,” she said. “You are all alone, I notice, Señor. Perhaps you want some company.”
Before I could say a word, she was sitting at my table. Even closer, I could tell she was a prostitute and probably had been at her trade for at least ten years. To say she had a tired look was putting it mildly—but she was still able to cover it up with exaggerated mannerisms and her half-exposed big tits. Before I could say anything, she had lifted her finger to the waiter and he was on the way to get her a drink. I was sure it was a set up deal and I didn’t like it at all.
The alien in me came forth and stated very clearly in Spanish to her, “I’m not going to pay for your drink, so you had best cancel it.”
As though she had heard nothing, she continued in English, “Darling, you speak our language. How very cute.”
The waiter was back with what was supposed to be champagne and asked me for two dollars. I told him in Spanish, “I don’t know this woman, and I did not invite her for a drink.”
He looked at her and she looked at me and with a harsh look she said loudly, “Cheapskate! You are a cheapskate!”
“Yes, I am,” I said, “and you want to know why? I’m not a man who is looking for girls.”
The waiter said to her dejectedly as though she had hit tilt, “Maricón.” This is the word for “queer”. She then told him in Spanish to take the drink away and bring her a beer and she’d pay. She didn’t get up. She looked much more tired than I did. All the mascara, the paint and the powder made her look desperate.
Still speaking English, she said, “Maybe you look for a boy. I know boys—big dicks. You want me to get one for you?”
Quickly I replied, “I’m not interested in boys either.”
She looked at me as though I were a total enigma and said, “No like girls—no like boys. Then why you come to La Habana?”
The waiter came with her beer and she opened her purse and looked around for some change. Quickly, out of not wanting to prolong things, I gave him the fifty cents. He left and she kept looking in her purse until she came up with fifty centavos. She held them out to me and I said, “No, that’s okay. Really.”
She dumped the coins back into her purse and took a big swig of the beer as though she really needed it. Then she relaxed and looked at me. “You here in La Habana all by yourself?”
I got a bit indignant and didn’t want to tell her anything more but she quickly added, “You don’t like sex and you come here by yourself. What’s wrong with you?”
I thought the best thing was not to answer and just look away. She got the message. Then she held out her hand and said, “My name is Yolanda Facinata—that’s not my real name of course. What’s your name?”
I told her and she said, “I never hear such a name before. What does it mean?”
“Nothing that I know of,” I said as I looked out at the people on the street.
She then lit up another cigarette with her own matches and said to me in Spanish, “Everybody’s got problems—me—you—even that waiter. He’s only twenty and already got three little mouths to feed. And that’s not easy for poor people like us. At least we’re not as poor as some people in this country though.”
I finished my beer quickly and was ready to get up and leave. She stopped me with her hand, “Take it easy, amigo. It’s good for me to spend a few minutes with somebody like you. I won’t make any money but at least we can talk. So, maybe now you order another beer and tell Yolanda what the truth is—why you are in Cuba?”
She lifted her finger and the waiter came and she ordered a beer for me. Then before I knew it she had the coins back out of her purse and insisted on paying. I thanked her and really didn’t know where to go in this conversation.
The waiter came back with the beer, she gave him the coins for it and even dug in to find a five centavo piece for a tip. He looked at me, then her and then walked away shaking his head at both of us.
“Okay, Mr. No-Sex. Tell me something. How long have you been in Cuba?”
“I arrived yesterday afternoon.”
“And what have you been doing? What sights have you seen?”
“Hotels, rooming houses and apartment buildings.”
She smiled, “Oh, you’re planning to stay in Cuba?”
“For maybe a year. I’m hoping to get a job teaching English.”
She was very impressed and then said with a very pleasant smile, “A professor? No wonder you don’t like sex.”
She asked me where I was staying and I told her the Packard. She told me that was a lousy place and I agreed with her. Suddenly she looked at me as though an idea had popped into her head. “How would you like to stay where I live?”
I hope you’ll read the whole book and see how deep Clyde’s friendship with Yolanda ultimately gets. Best to you.