Marta here: I'm celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Cuban-Style with a series of stories about Cuban American families: Cuando Sali de Cuba, stories of courage and hope.
This is a short story by Theresa Cecilia Garcia Trilla (Theresa C. Newbill) submitted by Isabelle Ann Newbill.
El Gallito (The Rooster)
"El Gallito" is a story of a particular cultural/socio-political structure, the movement in the history of a people, and the behavior of its characters through time. It implements a comedic element with a strong sense of irony and a poweful undertone of sadness and sense of complacency. Told in a conversational style, this is a story about love, loss, friendship, community, and family. As a Cuban-American, I see it as a story of my people.
My father owned the store El Gallito -Billetes De Loteria y Boletos De Beneficencia . It was located in Habana- Mercado De Tacon- Galino y Dragones. This story is a tribute to him, Luis Garcia Trilla, his father, Jose Suarez, my mother, Elvira Margarita Alonso, and all the people of Cuba who were friends, family and acquaintances that they never saw again.
A short story
by Theresa Cecilia Garcia Trilla (Theresa C. Newbill)
Simon, bajate de ese campanario antes de que mates a alguien! (Simon, come down from that bell tower before you kill someone!)
Life was pretty easy in Cuba before the revolutionaries took over. Every afternoon, Simon Del Valle, the local Roman Catholic priest, would get drunk on communion wine and climb up on the church bell tower, rifle in hand. He would take pot shots at anything that moved in his vicinity, often revealing all the secrets told to him in the sanctity of confession. And every afternoon, his brother Lucio, the local Babalawo or Santeria high priest, called out to him, avoiding the flying bullets, begging him to come down from the bell tower before he kills someone. You could set your watch by Simon's responses. He would continue shooting, ringing the bell, and yelling back at his brother that he was a demon sent by the devil himself to corrupt his pure soul.
Grandpap would sit in his rickety rocking chair outside Dad's store, named El Gallito (The Rooster), laughing and smoking his Cuban cigars. The smell permeated the surrounding area, and I remember thinking that this scenario would stay forever registered in my mind. On a slow day, which was most of the time, my father would often stand by Grandpap to watch the events unfold.
"He just called Sra. Adeliada a prostitute, says she's sleeping with Jose Martinez," Grandpap would tell Dad as he smiled big, exposing some gold teeth before taking another drag of his cigar.
Dad would just stand there and smile, keeping Grandpap company before he scolded Simon down from the bell tower. Simon always listened to my dad, when he didn't fall asleep up there after exhausting himself with threats and gunfire.
My dad was one of those iconic figures everyone looked up to, straight-laced and decent, with a genuine caring for each of the town's people. He was known to all as Luicito. Many would come and ask for monetary help, and my father would happily comply. He purchased a huge house in El Vedado for his childhood friend Miguel Angel, and he kept Mom in movie-star style, both in terms of clothes and credit cards. She used to frequent the biggest department stores, often requesting that her purchases be delivered to her home. Everyone at El Encanto more than graciously accommodated her; all she had to do was mention she was Luicito's wife.
Old Cuba at sunset brought pachangas, festive gatherings at Auntie Sofia's house. Conga and merengue rhythms, strung-up chili pepper lights that illuminated door frames and darkened rooms, Cuban cigars, meat patties, Coca-Cola, sandwiches made with deviled ham and cream cheese, and even some gambling on the side. Everyone always had a wonderful time, and bonds of close friendships were established, never to be broken. Even Simon would dance and be somewhat civil at Auntie Sofia's.
The highlight of these evenings was when the American tourists arrived. Lucio brought out his tarot cards and gave them spiritual readings, warning them about each other, giving each one signs of betrayals, gossip, often pretending that the spirit of the trickster god Elegua had entered his body. The blue-haired Americans, as he often referred to them, would turn on each other with each one of his revelations, and when the arguments got heated enough, Lucio would pretend to faint. Others ushered the unsuspecting Americans out of the home, with tons of the tourists' money in hand.
They say that a vulture of silence will eat away at your gut. After Grandpap and Daddy came to the United States, Cuba was never again uttered in the new household. Auntie Sofia stayed behind, as did Miguel Angel, Lucio, and Simon. We never saw them again, yet sometimes when I close my eyes, I'm there. I'm at Daddy's store, watching Simon on his bell tower; I'm at Auntie Sofia's, dancing and eating, surrounded by love, and feeling oh so safe and protected. I once asked Dad why he kept so silent about the past.
"You're turning your back on reality," I said.
"It's the times that have changed, my Teresita, and we must look forward with clear conscious," he replied.
I want to remember. I want to talk about it and remember, I want to write about it and remember when Grandpap and Dad were still alive in the country they loved and that loved them back.
Times changed, and I have a clear conscience.
copyright 2006 by Theresa Cecelia Garcia