Linda

My beard is getting longer. I’m almost 34. In nine days I’ll be 34. It sounds so old. Thirty-four. Thirty. Four. Four plus thirty. Ten three times plus four. Who knows how many days, how many seconds, how many moments lived, and how many moments to be lived. Hopefully the best of my life is in front of me. You always hope this. How could you hope for anything different?

I submitted a piece today about Cuba to a magazine called Odyssa. I think it’s a magazine geared toward women. The piece is OK, it’s about the Danish girl I met in Cuba and traveling around with her. Her name was Linda and we met at the bus station for foreigners in Havana. I think I asked her for a light, or maybe just sat down next to her and started talking to her. We sat on the bus together and talked most of the way. Then when we got to Viñales we stayed in the same place, shared a beautiful room with two beds with a brand-new air conditioning unit that looked like a scud missile.

“Don’t use it during a lightning storm,” the lady told us who rented the place. “It could short out.”

The air conditioning unit cost them something like $1,000 dollars. Her husband, Pedro, kept wanting to show me his tobacco leaves. And for me to smoke cigars. He didn’t want to charge me, he just wanted me to smoke cigars.

On the second day Linda and I went to the pool and got fried to a crisp. I don’t think either of us used sunscreen. I remember Linda’s chest, it looked red before we even left, which of course meant the next day she looked like a cherry tomato. But she didn’t want to get out of the sun. I swam a bit, and then we had sandwiches, and then we lay in the sun some more. I felt comfortable around Linda. She was like a sister. She was also attractive, though, and later that night, or maybe the next day, we went out together, first we watched live music, then we went to a tiny place where we drank tray after tray of mojito. It was hot and we were drunk. There was a French guy next to us and Linda seemed interested in him, but then he floated away with his family. Eventually we went home and opened the door to our apartment, which was like opening the door to an ice cave. And then we lay in bed, not talking, just enjoying the cool air and the murmur of the machine.

The next day we traveled back to Havana and the car smelled like gas — there was a leaky gas tank in the back — and Linda was terrified we were going to hydroplane. We drove right into the heart of a storm. In Havana we shared another apartment, had dinner together at a Persian place, had cocktails at a bar I’d wanted to check out, walked down to the malecón and sat next to each other, watching the waves.

It was dark and the black expanse in front of us felt infinite.

This is the moment when you kiss her, I thought.

I looked over at her and then straight ahead. She was looking into the distance. A car drove by behind us and it’s whir mingled with the sound of the ocean.

This is where you kiss her, you jackass.

The silence became longer. Time felt momentarily slowed, looking out over The Strait of Florida, seeing the black clouds, the spray of the waves dancing at our feet.

This is where you kiss her.

****

The next morning David and Elizabeth, the Air Bnb hosts, picked me up at 4:45am to take me to the airport. I don’t remember if I said bye to Linda or not. If I did it was brief and perfunctory and then I left Cuba.

Fresh off the Boat: Lima, Peru


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“Now, the next part is very important. They are going to take you. Kim, stay focused, baby…You will have five, maybe ten seconds. Very important seconds…Shout out everything you see about them. Hair color, eye color, tall, short, scars. Anything you see. You understand?”

Thus spoke Liam Neeson in the 2008 critically acclaimed thriller Taken, right before his character’s daughter was forcibly ripped from underneath a bed by a group of nefarious Albanians. As my friend Natalie and I walk towards the exit of the Lima airport at night I’m not afraid we’re going to get kidnapped, but I do find it comical that every taxi driver we turn down says, “Be careful out there.” “Out there” means the street, beyond the confines of the airport, and they say it in such a way that makes me think of the movie Taken, as if we’re going to be abducted and beaten the minute we set foot in the street.

Eventually, one of the cab drivers decides an honest wage is better than no wage at all and agrees to take us to our destination for a reasonable price.

Natalie starts reaming him in the cab.

“I’m limeña! How do you guys do this to tourists? How would you feel if you went to another country and someone did this to you?”

She pauses for half a second.

“Bad, that’s how!”

Meanwhile, I murmur words of reassurance to her in Spanish, trying to mask my gringo accent by trying to sound slightly Colombian or slightly Mexican, at the same time noticing that our driver bears a distinct resemblance to a Doberman Pinscher. When we were looking for cabs outside the airport I distinctly remember thinking, “Most of these dudes look fine. But this dude looks sketchy.”

But of course it’s fine. After dropping Natalie off he drops me at my Air Bnb and its 7,000 degrees outside with 114% humidity. Victor, the doorman, says he’s been expecting me and promptly leads me to the wrong floor, where a woman answers the door looking slightly confused/scared. Then I finally do get to the right floor and a guy name Theo answers. Theo is Hungarian and wearing a shirt that says “Keep calm and drink and smoke.” He asks if I want to have a drink and I tell him I don’t drink and he says “Well, I guess I’ll take care of it myself.”

I leave to go eat chifa, which is Chinese food. There are lots of Chinese restaurants in Lima, and they’re good because they’re run by actual Chinese people. I ask for the most popular thing on the menu, which is a plate of fried rice and chow mein that weighs about as much as a diving bell.

I feel present while eating dinner. It’s easy when you get to a new place and everything is new and foreign. It’s harder when you get used to things. Which is probably why I’m always leaving, so I can be always be arriving. I’m addicted to the new. The uncomfortable. The adjustment.

I walk back from the chifa with my to-go bag in the Lima night. Bougainvilleas glow in the street lights. It’s sweltering hot. When I get back I lie on the bed with my shirt off, in the dark, looking out the window. This is one of my favorite times of the night. When you’re utterly alone with your thoughts. Mostly I think about how I hope I fall asleep quickly. And wonder whether or not bugs will fly in through the open window. But bugs aren’t going to fly in, because there are no bugs.

Lima is a desert.