Postcards from Miami (I)

I’m going to the Target on 36th to buy olives. Abstinence, electricity in the body. Reality reaches me second hand. Someone used it first, then lends it to me. It smells as if someone has wear it. I wear it anyway. My hairs stick out of my cap. I walk slowly in the afternoon light. There are graffiti on the walls of the buildings, misshapen graffiti. A skinny brunette, long legs, afro hair, a sign that reads there’s no place like the 305. That’s the phone code for Miami. I see Jimmy Butler in a pink and blue Heat jersey.

I like Butler. He sold coffee to his NBA buddies when they gather together to play in a bubble in Orlando. He came from nothing. His mom kicked him out of the house, didn’t know the dad, the family of a friend picked him up. Something like that, the typical. There doesn’t seem to be anyone successful who hasn’t been screwed up before, but the truth is there’s also no one unsuccessful who hasn’t been screwed up too.

Halfway down the block a guy jumps out the window of a restaurant. The guy is poor, the restaurant is poor. The guy throws himself in front of a car. The impact throws him against the asphalt, he bounces off the pavement. I think that says something about bodies, or about something in general. The guy looks sideways, eyes wide, doesn’t know where he is. He probably didn’t expect to find himself one day in a situation like this. Hit by a car, sitting in the middle of the street, with people around him. Horns honking and people murmuring.

That always happens to someone else. Was it me, he wonders, is it me? Yes, it was you, it’s you, a voice tells him. He must have seen something in that second that no one else saw. The face of the voice speaking to him, perhaps. How strange when things happen to you, when the world falls on you. He looks like an emigrant, an illegal one. Maybe he was born in Miami and his legal situation is in order. I probably made the association because illegal immigrants permanently wear the face of someone who has just been run over by a car. That stealth, that fear, also that knowledge.

His hair falls over his shoulders, backpack on his back, worn-out jeans. He pushes himself with his hands and crawls. In front of the restaurant there is a repair shop. Grease, air nozzles, the smell of gasoline, tires placed as dishes in a dishrack, burnt plastic. Outside the shop there is a group of expectant people. I am among them. Beards several days old, unkempt. We speak Spanish, different accents. Someone painted us like misshapen graffiti. Silhouetted, fixed against a wall. What I mean is, it looks like this is a spray-painted scene.

The guy doesn’t want anyone to touch him. He stands up, leans against the side of a pickup truck and his right foot bents as if it’s melting. He can’t step on it. The ground rejects him. There are fractures under his clothes. Two women get out of their car and come to his aid. They ask me if I know who he is. Everyone knows who he is, I think. We all know. I don’t know, I say. They say something else in English and I don’t understand it. I want to look, not talk to anyone or worry. Everything I ask I ask out of cruelty or sadness. I can’t do anything for that man.

Minutes before, the guy had walked into the restaurant and grabbed a knife from the kitchen. The cook ran out. The guy now says they were coming to kill him. With a gun. The crowd, lots of people looking, cars stopped, police on the way. The ruckus is protecting him. Whoever was going to blow his brains out will have to postpone it.

I know that other guy is among us, watching too. It could be me, but my life has followed such a trajectory that, at this point, at this moment, I’m not going anywhere but to the Target on 36th to buy olives. At the corner of Fifth Avenue at North West, the police intercept the injured guy. He crawls like a snail, leaving no trace.

There are homeless at the bus stop. I see their lack of interest. At Target I spend forty dollars. I buy more than olives and think things over. The guy’s right leg looked like plasticine, I find the image tiring. The world begins to retreat little by little, the burden lessens.

Buying olives, for instance, is something that happens outside the world. Most actions do not happen in the world, but in a place that is meaningless and nameless. To live by the edge of it, to walk around the pool. The afternoon light shimmers on the water. Something one should know is that the world is the place where death happens, and this characteristic is precisely what makes it so.

Carlos Manuel Álvarez (Matanzas, 1989). He studied Journalism at the University of Havana. In 2016 he founded the independent Cuban magazine El Estornudo, and his texts and opinion columns have been published in media such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, BBC World, Al Jazeera, Internazionale, El Malpensante or Letras Libres. In 2013 he won the Calendar Award in Cuba for his book of short stories La tarde de los sucesos definitivos. In 2017 he was selected by the Hay Festival for the Bogotá 39 list, and published his first collection of journalistic chronicles, La tribu. Portraits of Cuba (Sexto Piso). Los Caídos is his first novel. He is winner of the Don Quijote and Granta 25 awards.


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