Memories to me are songs that play over and over again in my head. My heart keeps the beat and notes fall from my breath. After awhile not even the physical self exists. My soul is squashed between bars and lines. Sometimes I’m running, other times I’m resting.
I see images flash by in four-four time then three-four time then six-eight timethere is no pattern. Erratic sharps lift me up and make me smile only to become flat again and drop me back into confusion. Confusion is the endless melody that carries on in my blood. The music stops only when I think of him, my lost harmony, my CheMy father would hold me on his lap and tell me that the wind whispered of change. He said the sun was beginning to light the way to a new path for Cuba. He’d tell me the water was stirring in anticipation of underground action. These things bounced off me and rolled into unswept corners of my mind.
When my father spoke to me each day I was too preoccupied chasing chickens (add more detail bit about chasing chickens). Now that I think back to those times I realise my father spoke more to reassure him self than me that the country would find its glory.My mother was less optimistic about the future improvement of Cuba. Perhaps this was due to the realities of our current standard of living. My mother’s bitterness splashed down upon us as she complained of the lack of a morsel of meat in the house. She complained of our scrawny chickens and how my father sold their eggs. Many times as a child I would hear her say to my father “How can I raise our children to be strong when you sell our eggs and bring home no meat?” My father would sigh and in a tired voice would reply “Tomorrow will be better.” But it never seemed to be.
I suppose though that no matter how destitute a child’s life is one’s imagination can serve as a comfort. I would stave off hunger by flipping through my recollections of life beyond the rural land of Mantanzas. The city of Havana, despite the crime and corruption, held me firmly fixed in fascination. The last time the city came into my sight my mother was buying a new dress. She seldom bought machine made, market quality clothes.
On this occasion however, she was to attend a wedding. I’d imagined how beautiful mama would look in her new dress. White lilies teased me from vendor stalls, begging me to buy them for mama’s hair. I envisioned the delicate petals fastened firmly throughout her long locks, tucked slightly behind tight round curls. My reverie carried me so far away from the market place that I thought for sure I’d never come back to it againbut I was wrong. A smooth, coffee-rich voice seeped into my ears, past my nose and then finally down my throat.
My feet pulled me along through the crowd past pungent-smelling sweet meats, eye-catching rhinestones, silk fans and a multitude of coloured ballpoint pens. I landed in front of a stage. Well, in actuality it was a long, overturned rectangular vegetable crate. A bit of mud-dampened lettuce clung desperately to a black travel-worn boot in front of me. I bent down and in one even motion peeled off the bit and flicked it to the ground. When I raised my eyes I found them drawn like magnets to the mesmerising speaker. I saw an old man in those eyes even though the frame and features pieced together a striking young man.
He smiled at me once before I felt fingers individually wrap themselves around my skinny arms, tearing me from comfort. What I did not realise that warm day in Havana was that I would see him again in many different ways.At fifteen I found my voice. Not just the voice that would eventually come streaming out of radio speakers into kitchens and bedrooms but the voice that argued with my mother and rose to stimulate debate amongst my fellow students.
The household name singer and the fired up student didn’t emerge until I was 18 though. At 15, my rebellious spirit gave me quite a number of slaps to the face and pinches on my skin so tight that blood oozed out. My mother would follow these punishments by telling me “Silvia, you keep this up and you will be a whore in Havana!” My father would occasionally say to my mother “Su hija es solo una nina” which was his way of saying that he felt she was too hard on me.
As my body began to change its dimensions with new curves and unfamiliar fluids, so new understandings flooded my mind. I suddenly realised how Batista’s dictatorship ravaged the land of Cuba of its richness. My ancestors had once built up the city from successful sugar fields, but now Bastista tore it down with racism, unchecked police brutality, political corruption in the governments, and foreign control of key sectors of the Cuban economy. On cold nights when rain leaked through our roof my father would tell my brother Guillermo and I of easier, more prosperous times. As I listened to his pained voice, my fingers would run through the dirt that our floor was composed of. The rush of grains would slide over the various nerve endings in my hand.
One night, for no reason in particular, my mind drifted back to the night I wrote my first song. I hadn’t thought much about the song but it struck me as extremely crucial to my life on this ordinary cold night. The song spoke of all that I desired for myself and for Cuba. It was the night of July 8th, 1955 – I would later learn that this was the day Che Guevara met Fidel Castro.
My songs would take me many places in life and I would meet many people. What matters most is that I sang because I understood. I understood that the winds of change that my father spoke of were young adults such as myself.
We were not only embarking upon important movements in our lives, but for the life of Cuba herself.