I had imagined how our meeting would go. He would arrive in a car and I would be under surveillance. At that point, I would have the chance to say to the Security agent standing next to two “Marianas” and a patrol car at the door of my building, “Do me a favor and keep an eye on this suitcase.” Then we would go upstairs, and after forty hours, when our ridiculous nervousness had passed, because we both suffer from the same ridiculousness and the same nervousness, we would kiss. Surely our teeth will hit while kissing, Camila had put that image in my head the night before.
After almost two years between Spain, Poland and Germany, Hamlet was returning to Cuba. Initially, to avoid losing his Cuban residency, as he anticipated they would not let him in, as had already happened to him once before. Then there was the consummation of our relationship and the plans for our life and the future. Near the end, during his last months in Berlin, this was perhaps the only thing that drove him to return. The idea of our meeting was reviving the pulse of an existence full of tedium: me under constant siege inside a double prison, on the one hand the police and on the other the pandemic; him, under the compulsion of work and loneliness.
Hamlet wanted to return to Cuba, not for lack of options, but because this destination was the only place where he could find a purpose that would make him happy, a purpose that would require will and courage. The purpose of loving.
Once, about three years ago, he told me that loving was a luxury. I thought it was indeed a luxury. At the same time, I told him to leave, that he did not belong in this country, that this country did not deserve him. Maybe that was the way to get him out of me, but the truth is that there are people who simply do not fit within a certain environment because it demeans them, degrades them, puts them out of tune. And I am not referring to the resilient, the survivors, the misfits, the misunderstood. I am referring to the misguided, the people who were born in the wrong country. Hamlet is a being from another land, a Russian soul.
Then came the 26th. I was under siege by the State Security and I thought: well, at least my dream will come true. As if this reality that I live every day were not itself almost out of a dream. But none of that happened. At half past nine in the morning of that day Hamlet called to let me know about the presence of a Security agent in the isolation center where he had been for six days since his arrival from Berlin. That was his last day there, and that was the time when he was supposed to leave the Girón prefabricated building.
Suddenly he entered the room. They told him, as they had already told me, how to behave and to sit in an armchair to my right. We were at a distance of one meter. Without being able to touch each other. I can hardly describe what happened inside my body, it was a mixture of a burning sensation and sadness. Something was pulling at me from inside like a living ulcer. I don’t know if it was the fasting, which always makes me anxious, but I could barely look at him. What could I say to him?
We spent the whole afternoon waiting for a second call. Camila would not have been in the house had it not been for the police siege, because she had decided weeks earlier to leave the moment Hamlet arrived. That morning I made fun of her unlucky fate. She was trapped and would soon be under her greatest torment: listening to Hamlet for hours. We thought it would go no further than a simple interrogation, to let him know the rules, the usual intimidation, a roll call. But the hours passed and we had no news.
Around ten o’clock at night I received a call from Hamlet’s mother: “They just called me, they have him in Villa Marista, under an investigation process, they told me that tomorrow I could come to learn about his case.” Hamlet had been transferred to the Villa Marista State Security Investigation Unit. And I wondered, aghast, as if that reality and that place had not been so close to me for some years now, what do you mean in Villa Marista, what investigation, what is going on, what is happening?
I was convinced that I would see Hamlet that very night, that he would not be stopped at the airport. That he had not been interrogated after arriving was already a great relief. What was happening now was something much more serious, something calculated, something undoubtedly premeditated for some time.
The next day his mother returned from Villa Marista with no news. The criminal investigator had finished her shift and no one could attend to her. We had no choice but to take to the streets. We had to get some information at any cost. That day was the 27th, and as usual, that number of fortune, good or bad, marker of our destiny every month of the year, meant a patrol car at the door of the building, with or without collective action. That day we had both. Many members of the N27 had decided to leave for Villa Marista. Tania, Camila and I were arrested and taken to police stations. While Camila and I went in circles inside a patrol car, looking for the difficult to find Regla station with Laura Pausini in the background, five members of the N27 arrived at the Villa Marista State Security Instruction Center to find out about Hamlet Lavastida.
My eyes betrayed the hours I had been crying and the despair I felt, and that did not help. A strange body had entered, a body I had not seen for more than two years, but I had it all in my mind, every phrase and every gesture. The Hamlet I knew was locked in my phone and in that body I couldn’t touch. I looked at his feet, I looked at the officers, I looked at the curtains, I looked at my knees, I looked back at him and I looked at his arms. My eyes would roll and my hands would clench. He wouldn’t look away from me. His eyes were two black knives and his voice sounded different. I had grown accustomed to hearing a distorted, tinny voice coming out of our audios and calls. This voice was clean, a real voice.
When we arrived at the Regla station, they demanded our personal details and collected our belongings. At first we showed our opposition to the arrest, because it is always good to let them know they are violating your rights. But after a while, you begin to get used to the absurdity and start to take part in the game. The police only know that we, the activists detained by the State Security, are CR cases (counterrevolution), and for that reason they ignore us. To demand anything from them is total nonsense.
They ordered us to take off our shoelaces. Camila turned to me and looked at me in surprise. I had already started to do it and had one untied. “So you don’t hang yourself,” I told her. Camila let out a laugh and mumbled through her teeth: “They’re already getting me there.” While the officer on duty was recording the serial numbers of the 10 and 20 peso bills that Camila was carrying, I took the opportunity to hide a pack of cigarettes in my pants pocket and, also, to weigh and measure myself on the scale they had in the room, an obsession I have whenever I arrive at a doctor’s office or polyclinic. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do it in a police station.
They had already taken Camila to a cell and they were searching my belongings, which were very few. That day we were lucky because they put us in the same cell. As I entered, I showed her the pack of cigarettes I had hidden, as if it were a great feat. I knew it would cheer her up and help us kill the hours of confinement. To top off our good fortune, that night the penal instructor arrived early. Camila was interrogated first, and in the meantime I read some pages of the Granma newspaper that the jailer had given me to wrap the sanitary napkins I had with me because I was menstruating. In that hour and a half, I only had the patience to read the sports headlines, a piece of trash by Víctor Fowler about the vaccines and the “blockade,” and an apology of “Palabras a los intelectuales” on the occasion of its upcoming anniversary. Every now and then I thought of Hamlet. I wanted to believe that he too would have something to read in his cell. Maykel had already calmed us down in a phone call, telling us that Villa Marista had luxury dungeons, with hot and cold water, and that was good material for jokes when we were feeling anguish inside our little dungeon.
“I’m fine,” Hamlet told me with hardly a question. “This is something unusual for me and for them too, they know it, not since Angelito has something like this happened.” I assumed he was talking about Ángel Delgado. “Have you been able to sleep?” I asked him, knowing beforehand that one of the forms of torture they use in these cases is to leave the lights on 24 hours a day for the prisoners. “The first night I didn’t sleep, but I’ve slept some, I’m in a room with three other prisoners,” and he spoke to me of those three other prisoners as a blessing, a kind of relief. He had taken control of that conversation so that I would not go to pieces completely, he talked to me as if I were the prisoner.
Camila came back from the interrogation. “The instructor is a kid,” she told me, “I drove him crazy.” When my turn came, the instructor was already quite sedated and I talked to him about some moral and humanist notions, about the injustice with the Obispo prisoners, about Maykel, Luis Robles, Denis Solís, and he pretended to understand and not understand at the same time, because from time to time he would launch hidden, imprecise and unmentionable accusations about these people. A usual mechanism: the science of intrigue in interrogation strategy and criminal instructors with X-Files.
I quickly finished our conversation. The great detective wanted to know if I wanted to go to Villa Marista—an intention that I had made public in the live feed of the arrest—and in a fit of sincerity I told him that yes, of course, that’s why I was there, and that he could tell his superiors that tomorrow and the day after tomorrow I would insist on going to Villa Marista to find out about Hamlet. He ended my interrogation and we were released. It was about nine o’clock at night.
On the way back to the house, the driver received a call to stop at some point in route. Almost at the entrance to Old Havana, the patrol car stopped right behind a State Security car. Agent Darío, the same one who had arrested Hamlet, wanted to talk to me. They put me in the back seat of the other car and Darío sat in the front. “Katherine, we know that your relationship with Hamlet is different, we can let you see Hamlet, but what you did today of going to Villa Marista is not going to help Hamlet’s case. If you want to see Hamlet, don’t take to the streets anymore, tell the people to stay calm.” Darío informed me that Hamlet was being investigated for having proposed in a N27 chat room the idea of marking bills with the acronyms N27 and SIM, an idea that Humberto López had publicized in the National News on TV a few days later. I replied by saying that the situation was completely absurd, since it was not only an idea that had never materialized, but also one that had not transcended the private space in which it had been generated. Or it would not have transcended it had it not been for the free publicity by Humberto López. “You know perfectly well that Hamlet came to be with me, what do you want?” Then, Darío repeated how detrimental our rebelliousness would be for Hamlet’s process: “Katherine, do you want to see Hamlet?, then stop the protests.” Through the desperation of this Security officer, I understood that we had gained a fraction of power that day, we just had to let them believe that we had allowed ourselves be defeated. “Okay, tomorrow I won’t go out, and everyone will be quiet.” And so it was. We had achieved part of our purpose, which was to have access to Hamlet.
I couldn’t stop crying, tears came out of my eyes compulsively, and I looked away to hide my shame. “They came to see you yesterday,” I said in an attempt to let him know something of what was going on outside, but that message was awkwardly cryptic, and far from confusing the officers, I confused him instead, so he asked me again. Quickly, the officers intervened, and we were only able to exchange two or three more words.
At nine o’clock in the morning I got a call from State Security to tell me that they were already waiting for me. When I came down from the building the officer in charge of the police siege was talking on his cell. This time I got into the patrol car of my own free will. I got into the back seat and a “Mariana” sat next to me. The car windows were rolled up because they had turned on the air conditioning, and I leaned my head against the window. During the trip I looked all the time towards the street, the salsa music playing on the radio was accompanying the scenery. It really seemed to be the soundtrack of Havana, an eternal carnival of queues, heat and ditches overflowing with sewage. I was at ease, absorbed in my own thoughts, as if I were really in a private cab. I watched the people walking along Monte Street, and from time to time someone would return my gaze with a look of surprise, and I suddenly remembered that I was inside a police car, and that people saw me as a detainee. A criminal.
The patrolman was ordered to drop me off at the main entrance. When I arrived, the Security officer was already waiting for me. There were some palm trees, a manicured lawn, a big house. Who did they take this property from, I thought. They took my ID card and my cell at the reception desk and left me waiting in a waiting room. The atmosphere of the room was not far removed from the coldness of a hospital ward. The same ornamental plants, some real, others plastic, a Ditú ashtray, metal bus terminal seats, and in the background, a poster of Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro touching the tips of their index fingers as in Michelangelo’s Creation. The first thing that came to my mind was the children’s game of “cut here” and I thought that, if Hamlet had seen it, he would have found it very funny. Thinking about that, far from bringing a smile to my face, left me with a dreadful feeling of desolation. I could not believe that my first meeting with Hamlet will take place in Villa Marista.
They finally came to pick me up and took me through some corridors to some buildings behind the big house at the entrance. On the way, the Security agent took pains to make me realize that what they were allowing me to do was a great exception, for which I should be very grateful, and for which I should give them something in return. He asked me to be calmed and he asked for my trust. He asked me to wait for the procedural terms. I knew then Hamlet would not get out that day.
On the way to the other building I was accompanied by a first lieutenant from Villa Marista. He led me to a room and apologized that the air conditioning was not working. Then he left me there alone for a while. The room had about three pieces of furniture and two anachronistic decorations, put there to fill the walls, to make it feel warmer, I guess. They were the same hanging plastic flowers from the waiting room and a suspiciously ghastly rope tapestry. I could accept the plastic flowers as part of the military kitsch aesthetic, but that rope tapestry imitating a folkloric object made in La Cuevita was beyond any logic. I looked around for cameras or microphones. Behind the tapestry, of course, and under the seats, but I found nothing. They must be inside the broken air conditioning, I thought later.
The same first lieutenant arrived along with the criminal investigator who was handling the case and the Security officer who had done me the great favor of letting me see Hamlet. But my eternal debt was not only with the Security agent, because the instructors of Villa Marista themselves made me see again and again that this was an exceptional and benevolent thing, a miracle in the midst of the enormous pandemic crisis that the country was going through.
I just nodded and kept thinking, while I followed the game of that charitable action, about the things one has to put up with in order not to burst with anger at such an insignificant phrase for them as it is the right to have rights. They moved me to another larger room, gave me some lessons on conceptual and physical behavior: I was to address only family and intimate issues, I was not to move from my place, I was to keep my face mask on, I was not to be impulsive, I was to do all the things I didn’t want to do. And I agreed.
They began to steer the conversation toward the good treatment he was receiving, the respect they had for each other, the importance of cooperation to finish the investigation much faster. Hamlet followed that Stockholm syndrome speech and talked about how he was indeed being treated well. Suddenly I burst into a fit of laughter, concealed by my face mask, provoked by nervousness or by that grotesque and macabre situation that bordered on the ridiculous. The hypocritical words came from all sides: ours, to have a few more seconds together; theirs, so as not to lose their human quality. As we left the room, Hamlet managed to blurt out one last sentence that echoed in my memory like déjà vu: “Remember that tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of ‘Palabras a los intelectuales.’ I love you.”
I don’t know how long lasted that conversation under their watchful eyes. I wanted to leave there with him. I wanted to keep him in my mind and go out with his body and start to adapt myself to having him close by. I had in my mind that childish feeling of being enraged for having something taken from you, something you know belongs to you and should only be yours. I had the hollowness of dissatisfaction and was under the weight of unhappiness. Why was this happening to us? Who dared to play with our love like this? Didn’t they know that this is the strongest thing that drives a person to do the most terrible things and the most beautiful things? Didn’t they know what I am capable of doing, of giving, of losing? I was crying my eyes out in the same waiting room where I had been at the beginning. My sobs could be heard throughout the reception. That day I learned of torture. Over my head fell the constant drop of others’ absolute control over my own destiny.
In the patrol car, on my way home, I leaned my head against the window again. This time Checo Acosta was playing, the same music that my neighbors in Centro Habana play every afternoon, and it seemed to me that everything was happening again and again. The Security agent next to me made a phone call and talked to his son. He tried to convince him he would come back home, late, but he would come back, but that he was working now. And I believed that yes, he would return home that night, after a hard day, after all my crying, he would return with his son, and his son would have his father, no one would stop him.
I arrived at the house with the awl of sadness piercing my neck. I lit a cigarette and opened our WhatsApp chat. I moved my finger up and down, read fragments of conversations, reread, moved my finger in the other direction, I didn’t quite know what I was looking for. I knew that if any evidence could save us, that evidence was there, but what evidence? Wasn’t evidence always the proof of guilt? My finger was already sore against the heat of the glass when I suddenly came across the letter Hamlet had sent me on a day when communication had been cut off for a few hours.
My love, it’s 2:17 a.m., I’ve just arrived and realized there’s no Internet in the studio. What am I going to do? I came in a hurry, to read your messages, to hear your voice, all to no avail. How can these things conspire against me, against my devotion, my secret and already public devotion to love you?
My Kathy, I write to you as I used to, as when analog lovers loved each other, thought of each other. I hope you see that these lines have some sense. The sense of knowing that I am more and more into this, into your love, into my love for you.
I feel desperate about this, but at the same time with a certain incredible will to overcome it all, because I know that you are there, for me, that you always were.
I love you and will always love you.
* This text was published simultaneously in the magazines El Estornudo and Rialta.