I‘m walking alone in the streets of this Caribbean city. I got out of the hotel and began walking, without a place to go.
It’s hot and humid in the city. You are in a constant state of perspiration. It reminds me of the American South. No, it’s even worse. The white cotton shirt is soaked and sticks to my body.
I’m now in a place called La Cochimba, Barrio La CoChimba, to be precise. I see railroad tracks crisscrossing at a distance with idle train cars sitting on the tracks and rusting away. The cobble stone streets are old and worn out, with brightly colored old buildings about to crumble. Every now and again, you see a very old American car clunking by.
I see an old man there sitting on a wooden box next to a fire hydrant. He has half a cigar stuck between his fingers, but it has long gone out, and the ash, still clinging precariously to the tip of the cigar, is but a flicker away from breaking into a thousand pieces, dissipating into the humid air.
I stop and squat down next to him. He gives me a quick glance and as quickly turns his head away. He is African, his hair completely white. His name is Ibrahim.
He tells me that a long, long time ago he was a fireman, riding in a red fire engine with bells and sirens, putting out fires across the city. His friends and fellow firemen, Carlo and Marco, have long since died. He says “I’m the only one left.”
He points to a window at a building not far away.
“That’s where Tula lived. That‘s her bedroom window. She’s dead too. I’m the only one left.”
He talks about a night, many years ago. After the dance at the Buena Vista Social Club had ended, Tula, who had danced all night and drunk rum straight from the bottle, went back to her bedroom, lit two candles and waited for him.
Ibrahim, with Marco and Carlo lingered at the social club a bit longer, drinking and smoking cigars.
Tula, drunk from the rum and tired from all the dancing, finally succumbed and fell asleep. Before too long, a sudden gust of wind came through the open window, knocked the candles over and set her window curtain on fire. The fire soon engulfed the entire room and Tula, passed out on the bed, didn’t even wake up.
By the time Ibrahim and his comrades reached the building with their fire engine, it was too late.
Ibrahim points to the window at a building not far away.