From the street below, Aedan heard the sounds of glass bottles crashing upon each other. It had grown from a barely discernible ringing and clanging up until now when it seemed to be directly below him. From the rhythmic repetition he guessed it was trash pickup day though he hadn’t heard the telltale stops and starts of a large truck as he might in Seattle. In fact he had heard no vehicle what must have been three stops prior to now.
Aedan had been laying there for at least thirty minutes now. Perhaps closer to an hour He had always been a morning person and a few late drinks with the family that put him up wasn’t going to change that. Nor did the previous evening’s gathering seem to hold anybody else back. From the comfort of his bed, Aedan listened to the banter around breakfast and subsequent opening and closing of the front door as a new day set in.
Today would be Aedan’s first full day in Havana and the day was completely unscripted until 9pm. At 9pm he was expected to be at the address on the note that was handed to him. He was filled with anticipation because the real purpose of his stay in Havana was to gather more information about a case he was in charge of back in Seattle. However, the circumstances of this evening’s meeting were concerning. He didn’t know the person he was supposed to meet. He hadn’t been on the radar and the stranger made the first move by contacting him a month ago, promising to have important information while dropping just enough bread crumbs to get Aedan on the plane. The man insisted that he would meet only with Aedan.
Of course, Aedan couldn’t know for certain that the note given to him came from his contact. He didn’t know the man. He didn’t know why he insisted on meeting Aedan. He did know that the circumstances around the hat, though unlikely, seemed to go as planned and that he had worn it nearly every moment he had been outside. To get the answers he was seeking, he would be there though with an abundance of caution.
No longer hearing voices and the clanging of glass on glass, Aedan swung his feet to the floor, stood and stretched then headed for the shower.
With only a towel wrapped around him, Aedan stepped out of the bathroom with a toothbrush busy in his mouth. More than once had he been told that he would wear the enamel off his teeth because he brushed for too long. Little did it deter him from following a set pattern of brushing that he had done since he was a kid. Then he couldn’t brush enough and with each cavity filled he was told he needed to brush more. Now it was just an old habit that he would walk around for an easy 5 minutes brushing.
Seeing a note that had apparently been pushed under the door, he retrieved it. It was from Ms. Fernandez letting him know that she had to leave but there was fruit on the cabinet and food in the refrigerator for his picking. The fruit might come in handy as he was contemplating taking a Guagas, or bus to a beach away from Havana. His evening plans were set but he had a full day to explore and walking the streets of Havana once again today wasn’t high on his list.
Thirty minutes later, Aedan was floating down the stairs, dressed for the beach. Passing through the kitchen he happily grabbed a couple pieces of fruit and put them in his bag for later, added a short note of gratitude to the back of Ms. Fernandez’s note and mentioned that he expected to be out late that evening then set it on the counter. He was headed to one of the beaches that she had recommended, some place off the beaten trail and away from the tourist rush.
The two hour bus ride along the northern coast out of Havana reminded him of how surreal this entire trip had been. Nearing the bus ride he had heard not a single word of English since an older couple stepped off the bus in Matanzas 30 minutes ago. He might have been more anxious had Ms. not been so helpful with suggestions and detailed directions. When the bus driver called out “Veradaro” Aedan knew this was the end of the line for this route and gathered his bag and hat.
As the bus pulled into the terminal Aedan glanced at the map Ms. Fernandez had marked up for him and plotted his path to the rental shop less than three blocks away. Thirty minutes later, he was on the bike and headed toward the Reserva Ecológica Varahicacos. There were shuttles and taxis that would have taken him there faster but they would go right past the spot recommended to him and even then he would need to walk another 25 minutes. The bicycle was a perfect answer and would leave his options open.
The ride to the beach took a bit longer than expected. Not because Ms. had given him bad directions but because Aedan was engrossed in the sights all the way to the beach. He stopped several times to more fully appreciate what he was seeing. He had all afternoon and no reason to rush as long as he was back to catch the 6pm bus back to Havana. It was barely after noon when he found the head of the trail to the beach and dismounted the bike.
From the trail, Aedan could hear the waves breaking on the shore and nothing else beside the occasional traffic on the highway nearly one half mile away.. As he pushed the bike down the trail toward the roar of breaking waves, they grew louder and drowned out all other sounds. It was exactly what he had asked for.
Once he had reached the beach, Aedan used the cable provided with the bike and locked it to a palm tree. With the sun so bright, he removed his shirt and tossed it into the bag he brought with him which also contained water, towels, fruit and a book he had been toting around for months but had not yet started. He looked both directions up the near empty beach then opted to go east, away from the city with the hope that he would be less likely to find large crowds.
For thirty minutes Aedan walked the beach, inspecting interesting shells in the sand, trying to not disturb wading birds following the water line in and out, looking for anything interesting to photograph on his phone…simply enjoying the solitude and wonder around him. Once he decided he had gone far enough, it didn’t take long to find a spot that appealed to him. The sand was white and the water had taken on more of a blue tint as he neared the river that fed into the ocean.
Aedan opened his bag and pulled the folded towel from the top of it. It was a huge beach towel that he laid down on the sand and then sat on the edge to wipe the sand from his feet before moving up. This would be the perfect spot to contemplate the upcoming evening or read or just close his eyes and again consider all that had happened to him since leaving on this trip though the latter he tried to avoid because it left him in an odd state of mind which he had no time for with the planned meeting with whom he hoped to be a valuable informant.
Over the next hour, Aedan actually managed to read the first chapter of the book he had brought, had called his assistant Cathy to let her know of his planned meeting that evening and went into the water several times to cool off. He had turned back to his book and had become lost in the plot when he detected motion in his periphery.
The number of people on the beach was sparse enough that nearly every person that crossed his field of view got his attention momentarily. Now approaching from the east came a woman wearing a black sun hat and matching sorang. The long blonde hair beneath the hat was the first thing that struck him. She seemed oblivious to the hair in her face as she walked slowly with her head down and stopping frequently to dig shells out of the sand. She seemed to be in her own world and gave no indication that she even saw Aedan as she walked past him. Her hair and demeanor were similar to the woman from the diner but he couldn’t see her face and he reasoned that the chance of running into the same person at this remote location was slim and yet he had to know.
“It’s a lovely afternoon, isn’t it?” Aedan spoke up before she got out of range to hear him.
She looked up from the sand and back over her shoulder at him. Aedan could now see that in fact it was the same woman. She looked at him puzzled at first but slowly an expression of recognition spread across her face.
“Hey there. Didn’t I see you in Havana?“ she responded with a smile.
In the thirty minutes that followed, Aedan and Noel had a relaxed and friendly conversation. He learned that Noel had come from California to Cuba to explore the possibility of a business partnership with the friend of a family member. She had also come to Matanzas to find a quiet place that was still easily accessible to tourists and was looking at a place later that evening after dinner with her friend. He learned enough to know that he’d like to talk to her again but she was guarded with her phone number and where she was staying. She did however take his number and indicated that she would contact him when she got back to Havana in a couple of days. Perhaps they could meet again then.