Along the Docks of Havana


Havana and Carlos

It seems Havana has what I call a luring spell upon people; it surely does have a lively spirit. The architecture remains at the pre-Cuban Revolution form. The Tropicana, where I stayed, an 1951 nightclub has its ‘if,’ like flies, but then so does all of Havana, or what they call Old Havana, along with its pock-marked buildings from the salt and wind coming in from the sea. One thing that stands out among many, is its glorious seafront, built by the Miami mobsters, I have heard; and rebuild I would imagine for the tourist of the new contemporary generation and scene; here I spent a lot of my time, and where the story I’m about to tell you takes place. But we must not forget the old cars, they are everywhere, and the Cuban owners are quite proud of them: that is, their vintage Chevy’s, Buick’s, etc., they are all here.

As I was about to say, my wife and I went to Havana, and became fumilure with most of its seafront, and fabulous ’50s houses, and aging Spanish architecture; the Plaza de Armas, and all the paintings and pictures of ‘Che,’ as if he was the one and only hero in Cuba. Also, I should mention in passing, there are the remnants of Havana’s sin city, being renovated.

–As we combed the seafront daily and nightly, the dock area that is, with its mounted canons, and heavy cemented walkways, we noticed three young boys, Carlos being the oldest of them, possible he was thirteen years old. It was a hot summer’s day, in 2002. Carlos was slim, but muscular, a nice looking lad, we had talked to him a few times previously to this gathering, threw in a few dimes in the water for him today and his friends to dived in for them along with him; over the railing they jumped and brought them back up; thus, becoming the owners of them. He was quite good at it, with puffed out biceps, and long solid triceps. He could stay under water almost three minutes should someone time him, looking for the hand-full of change a person may have thrown in, and I saw this happen more than once. Possible twenty-five coins he’d gather up bring them to the surface at times, but mostly three or four was the norm; I myself threw in at least seven or eight coins at a time. His two young friends, possible ten and eleven, gathered up one or two of the coins each time, and him the rest; I would guess about ten feet from the dock was where he was diving, and possible fifteen to seventeen feet deep was the water, or so he claimed it was.

I myself was a good swimmer at the YMCA growing up in the late 50s and 60s and possible could stay underwater for one and a half minutes, but never could I reach two. Along with his good lungs, Carlos could dive quite well, from the dock, which was possible fifteen feet up, and had a good smooth figure to pierce the water with. He arched his hands liken to a diamond, protecting his head just before he touched the water, superbly executed dives. I have missed a few dives, and ended up with a belly flop, red and sore for a week thereafter, and one time I almost busted the bridge of my nose, so it can be dangerous, should you twist or mess up on the dive.

He had a nice Spanish bronze-ness to his youthful skin, dark hair, and dazzling black peal eyes. Full of life he was. He brought me back to my youth, where I had to take out old memories kept in mothballs to recall those far off days swimming in the Minnesota lakes.


The Dive

Came a suited gentleman, a gringo, cigar held tight by his lips, sun glasses on, about five foot ten, perhaps a good weight for his size; he stopped by me and my wife, by Carlos, watched him splash in the water as he came back up for the umpteenth time with the dimes and now even quarters I had thrown into the water.

The gentleman-gringo pulled out several silver dollars as if for this very occasion, and an old 1800’s $20-dollar gold piece, possible worth $300 or $400, or even $500-dollars. Carlos had now come back with the change in his hands I had thrown. His friends, one of them had been waiting above on the dock, the other came up with him, he also had a quarter in his hands. As far as I had figured my day was over throwing money into the Caribbean. But the stranger, or visitor, kept looking out into the waters where the boys had been swimming and beyond, while playing with the hand full of silver dollars and the gold piece; I did not make much of it at the time–his observations beyond the boys diving into the spot where I had thrown most of my coins, not far from the dock; Carlos looking at him, wondering–as I suppose we all were–what was on his mind. At the moment none of us took any notice–notice that is, beyond the fifteen feet he was jumping into the water to get my quarters. Said the gentleman with an air of indifference, smugness to his lips as he pulled the cigar out of his mouth to speak:

“I’ll throw all these in, but only one of you boys can go for it?” It was a question I suppose, rhetorical or not, again I couldn’t say–no one answered him back though. No sooner had he said that that he threw the silver and gold into the water, and Carlos jumped in after them, the man who threw them diligently walked away, had been walking away, continued to walk away and never looked back, I ended up watching him for a moment, peculiar I thought, then turned to see how Carlos was doing, and I saw the back fin of a White Shark about one-hundred feet from the dock, and Carlos was now under the water, how far under I could not tell, but I could not see his body moving about the surface or his body shadow in the water; the coins were heavy and so I assumed he had to go deep to catch and draw together all of them; hence, he had been for about a minute in the cool of the deep. Then it was two minutes, then I could not see the fin any longer, and then his legs appeared, emerged, nothing else. I turned about, and couldn’t see the stranger anymore, either…