“May I take your dishes, senor?”
Aedan looked up from the tourist guide he was reading to the friendly smile of the waitress.
“Yes….si!” He corrected himself, leaned back and held the flyer against his chest as he endeavored to stay out of her way. She asked about refilling his glass of tea but he declined. He had finished his meal some time ago and then leisurely sipped his glass while looking for places to visit. The little ice she had scraped up to put in his glass had melted some time ago and he was now ready to start exploring again.
He gazed curiously at the woman in the booth adjacent to him. She too had wrapped herself up reading while she ate and never looked at him again. A glance from here would have been enough for him to try to engage in small talk with her but it never came. Even as he gathered his tourist fliers and stood, she remained engrossed in what she was reading.
He observed the man sitting near the door looking his way a couple times. Each time Aedan caught him looking, the man looked away and turned back to the paper he held before him.
While paying his bill at a vintage cash register at the end of the bar, Aedan asked the waitress about things to see that might not be so popular for tourists. He was interested in getting off the beaten trail and seeing more of the authentic side of Havana, the less crowded beaches. She happily pointed out a few places and marked their location on the map that he was carrying.
Closing the door behind him, Aedan quickly realized that though it wasn’t especially cool inside the diner, it was much more pleasant than the heat and humidity that pounced upon him now. He wasted no time in donning the straw hat he had purchased earlier that day, looked to his map then, with his goal in mind set out to find it.
He planned to be in Havana for a week so there was no need to see everything today. What he really wanted today was to feel the sand between his toes, hear the crashing of waves on the beach and to feel the ocean breeze. The waitress had told him that the beach near where he was staying was indeed a popular place for tourists but it would also leave him but a few steps away from his room and the long day was catching up with him.
Aedan stopped at a couple stores along his path. There were a few things that interested him but not enough to buy anything…nothing beyond a new shirt which seemed much more fitting for the weather. The shirt also better matched the hat which he was quickly becoming fond of.
Thirty minutes later Aedan felt the caress of the warm carribean water on his feet. The breaking of waves drowned out the traffic noise on the street above the beach. It mostly drowned out the yelling and laughing of children and teenagers. Aedan was again alone with his thoughts and it felt good.
He walked along the edge of the water for thirty minutes before turning around. The sun was well into its decline by now and the hottest part of the day was past making the return trip even more enjoyable.
Between watching the small birds staying ahead of him while simultaneously zig-zagging and forth to stay at the edge of breaking waves and watching hermit crabs run for cover as he approached, Aedan found himself thinking about the events of the last couple days again. He had now become quite comfortable in his younger body but he knew there would be explanations needed when he returned home.The notion that this was all a dream had faded away. It was much easier to not think about the return home for now and so he didn’t. To take his mind off of that as he walked, he gave some time thinking about Louise and if he should follow up to learn more about her story and what he should do if he was right about his suspicions. Surely they were just coincidences but then he was certain about nothing anymore.
“Senor, senor!” Aedan hadn’t even heard the voice until he felt someone tugging on his hand. Bringing himself back to the present, he looked down to see a young boy walking beside him. The boy was holding in his other hand a photograph. Around his neck was an old polaroid instamatic camera.
The boy held the photo up for Aedan to see. It was of him walking the beach, alone. From his cursory glance, Aedan saw nothing special about the photograph and he attempted to wave the boy off. In previous trips, Aedan had experienced the onslaught of merchants attempting to sell their wares to tourists. He had a distinct memory of being surrounded by half a dozen boys of similar age trying to sell him something. When he refused to buy it, the boys moved in and began reaching for his pockets and tugging at his clothes. Bewildered and outnumbered, he tried to defend himself by pushing them away but there were too many. Fortunately for him, Aedan spotted a policeman on a corner and moved directly toward him. The officer did nothing but watch but as Aedan got closer the boys did break up and leave.
Aedan looked around and saw no other kids paying attention. He saw no police. Giving in to the unavoidable with the hope that the boy would go his own way, Aedan took the picture from him and reaching into his pocket, retrieved a couple pesos that he handed to the boy who seemed more than please. With a huge smile and intense brown eyes the boy thanked Aedan and disappeared as fast as he had appeared.
Aedan continued walking as he looked at the picture, trying to determine from where it was taken. While studying the photo, he felt something attached to the back. He flipped it over to find a white post-it note stuck to it. In english, the note simply said “Tomorrow at 9pm “ and went on to provide an address. Nothing else.
Immediately, Aedan stopped and looked back for the boy. He was gone. He scanned in all directions around him but found nobody that grabbed his attention. Nobody was staring back at him.
The sun had just set when Aedan knocked on the door of the house that he was staying at. He heard several voices inside including that of the woman that had led him to his room earlier that day. She opened the door with a friendly smile. “Mr. Charron, please come in. There is still some food left if you’re hungry..”
Aedan politely turned down the offer but did accept the invitation to join them for a drink before heading to his room.
Though the conversation was entirely in spanish and Aedan struggled to follow along, he was able to keep up enough to join the others in laughter. On the occasion that he was totally lost somebody would do their best to explain it to him. There is much to be said for the closeness and comradery displayed in cultures that are lacking in monetary wealth. Of course, there are similar situations in the US but there is something unique about experiencing that in cultures other than our own.
An hour turned into two. When Aedan finally said goodnight and headed to his room, he was extremely relaxed. He hadn’t had a rum and coke for years…tonight he had two cubatas and he was feeling it.