First, never say the word gun.
Or pistolero or buy.
Talk instead about platanos. And smile.
You’ll know the bodega;
it’s the one in Los Sitios with the wooden
parrot clipped to the wire on
the left side of the door. When the wind
springs up off the sidewalk,
the parrot bobs slightly, banging its crimson
head against the building’s wooden slats.
Go inside. On the far wall above the shelves
of candles and tilty stacks of shirts,
you’ll see the blackboard. It’s the
same in every store: an inventory
of frijoles negros, arroz, and leche de coco,
menued in chalk. You will
scan the inventory for platanos, hoping
they are in stock. You never know.
You will have brought with you
a pouch of powdered milk. Inside
will be powdered milk and eight hundred
fifty Euros. No dollars. No sterling.
The pouch will be glued shut. No tape. No
staples. You will, as you do with
your wife, your children, your boss, barter.
There is no baby formula in Cuba;
no cow’s milk. You will hand over
the pouch and ask for platanos.
It is said that at a similar bodega in Vedado,
you look the man behind the counter
in the eye. But here, you are supposed to settle on
the framed photo of the Catedral
de San Cristobal nailed to the wall above
the shirts. The woman will place the
platanos in a plastic bag. You will take them.
You will not say thank you.
No one knows the precise chain of events,
not even you, because, as you are told,
you turn away. You walk over to the shelves
next to the old Coke cooler and ruffle
through Frisbees, pantyhose, and postcards of
Che playing golf in army fatigues.
By the time you are finished, your bag of
platanos will feel heavy. At that point,
you walk out of the store, and out
of Los Sitios, and make your way to
the Malecón, and you gaze at the lovers lounging
on the wall and you stop
for mango ice, and you ask yourself,
as you have done with everything
meaningful in your life, what happens now?
(from his book Works and Days, Truman State University Press, 2011)
Works and Days is a finalist for the Texas Institute of Letters First Book Prize.