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Death of the Caudillo

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Death of the Caudillo

Enrique Flores

Fifty-seven years ago, in Havana, a white dove swooped out of the clouds, circled a packed plaza, and then landed on the green shoulder of a young revolutionary. There were many green clad revolutionaries on that stage that day but this dove picked him, not Camillo, Che or Raul. Yes, the dove landed on his shoulder and the crowd gasped as one and then erupted into wild cheering. They hoisted their anointed leader up on their shoulders and from that day on, from that privileged vantage point, he began to whisper promises in their ears, weaving stories that explained the world as he saw it. At first they believed his promises, they needed to believe, but as the revolution and the revolutionary grew old and gray, his stories about the world became darker and the promises turned to threats. In time the tyrant, no longer the wind beneath their wings, became an oppressive weight, a chiseled granite memory that the people carried around like a man sized, penitent’s stone.

The day the bearded caudillo lay dying, for the fourth and final time, a storm was raging north of the island, it hurtled over the Gulf Stream, and then dipped low over the churning sea to comb a vast school of bait fish out of a rising wave and then continued on it’s merry southern rambles.

When the storm arrived in Havana big waves crashed over the sea wall at the Malecon. The wind blew into the maze of streets, prying open windows and doors, sweeping out courtyards, racing up graceful, crumbling staircases, scrubbing empty kitchens and cooling dark bedrooms, gathering fifty years of dust into a funeral gray, whirling spout that howled above the brittle city announcing the death of a brother, father, son, teacher, and tormentor.

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They were laying pennies on the shuttered eyelids of the old man when the storm clouds relinquished their load and it began raining sardines. The silver deluge squirmed in gutters, wriggled down collars, splashed around flooded hat brims, and slithered, sensuously into cotton dresses. Hungry, wide eyed woman, men and children stumbled out into the streets to shamelessly gather up the fishy blessings raining down from the skies. They ran home to cook, dance and eat until bursting, at last satiated, and marveling over “leftovers” after a fifty year fast. They furtively rejoiced in their hearts, joyful, illicit colors blooming in their dark rooms.

 The next morning, in the unfiltered light of a new day, they dutifully marched behind the dust of his memory, mimicking sorrow and wondering just how long they would have to wait, wait for the wind to sweep away the fifty-seven years of hollow promises, and the cloying fragrance of rotting fish.