El Viajero

Alone, the traveler walked the streets of Havana Viejo – Old Havana. The winter night was dry but warm and the sea breathed a gentle breeze. 

   

He wandered along the cobbled roads, weaving between tourists and locals alike. Aimless amongst the crowd, he observed this foreign world. Buildings were lined in colorful and colonial styles. The atmosphere was vibrant, buzzing with the spirit of life. Couples strolled with linked arms, and young lovers by the park kissed passionately with disregard for everything but the embrace. The traveler smiled as he passed.

   

His journey was without destination, and his meandering brought him down Calle de Obispo. Cafe tables cluttered the sides of the road, and happy tourists laughed amongst friends as he walked by. Bars were open, the shops closed, and music sung out into the street. 

      

Feeling a need to arrive, somewhere, the traveler let himself be pulled by a piano. He stopped in front of a building painted bright pink – the Hotel Ambos Mundos. Once a famed writer wrote, drank, lived and loved here.

 

Inside the floor was a polished marble and the walls were adorned by photos of the hotel’s most famous guest. A bar stood in the center. Across the small plaza, the pianist played. The traveler ordered a mojito, and took a seat near the back.

   

He watched while he listened. The piano player was an older gentleman with slim glasses, whose skin was as black as the baby grand. With eyes closed, his fingers glided along the keys, striking each with precision and clarity. As he started a jaunty samba, two lovers jumped up to dance.

   

Enchanting the audience, the couple danced in unison, moving with perfect motion to the music. The man was handsome and held a serious posture. He was clean shaven, with neatly trimmed hair and expensive clothes. The woman was younger, but graceful, wearing an elegant blue dress. Her hair curled around her shoulders and swayed with each step. Fingers interwoven, they held each other close. The two danced with practiced confidence, in time with the tune. Their eyes remained fixed only on one another. A passion radiated between them, that told of years spent together and many years ahead.

   

The song finished, and the audience applauded. The couple bowed to the piano player, who nodded in return. After the dancers returned to their seats, the pianist began a gentle jazz. The traveler recognized the song, The Girl from Ipanema, but it was played with such sincerity that the traveler felt as if he was hearing it for the first time. The gentleman instilled a deep melancholy into the melody, and the traveler listened with a distant gaze. 

   

The music ended. The pianist paused, sipping his water. While the traveler considered another drink, the manager appeared. He asked, “is everything alright, sir?” He became conscious that all the other lobby tables were seated by even pairs of two or four. His was the only one of one. The traveler understood the manger’s tone, and the message implied. He got his check, leaving a generous tip on the piano, and stepped back out on to the street.

   

The evening was colder, and the traveler lit a cigarette to warm up. He looked to the sky and admired the clear night. As he started to wander once more, he saw another traveler. She was pretty, with green eyes and blond hair. She held a cigarette in one hand and searched her purse with the other. He said a friendly hello, and offered a light. 

   

She cupped her hands against his to protect the small flame. They talked quietly for a moment, the smoke dancing around them. She smiled and he smiled too. But she looked past him and he turned to see a different man. She thanked the traveler and left him to join the other. The other man kissed her, and glared at the traveler.

   

Alone, the traveler ventured off down a different street. Most of the people were now gone, and Old Havana felt empty. From out of the darkness, a women approached him.

 

     

 

 

 

Her hair was dyed blond, and her skin a golden brown, eyes obscured by heavy make-up. Her lips were full and red. The woman grabbed the traveler by his arm, pulling herself close. She whispered sweet Spanish words of desire and promised a passionate night. The traveler hesitated, and sensing his weakness, the woman smiled, coming nearer, cupping his rugged cheek with her soft hands. She was warm and welcoming.

   

The traveler wavered, before politely resisting. In a heartbeat, the woman turned hot and angry, and began to yell curses at him. As he escaped her grip, she slapped him, continuing her barrage obscenities. The traveler left, calm but sad. Lonelier.

    

The night grew darker, and the streets were empty – the people gone, the bars closed. Havana Viejo now slept, all but one small shop. The traveler stopped at the kiosk for food and water. He sat down on the corner to eat, listening to the quiet night.

   

From behind an overturned dumpster, a stray kitten walked came toward the traveler. The cat was sickly thin, its head too big to fit the frail body. Its fur was black with patches of white. He noticed it had an extra toe. 

 

The stray watched the traveler with quick, suspicious eyes. Slowly, as not to scare it away, the traveler offered a few bits of food. Cautiously, the kitten came closer and nibbled at his fingers.

   

After the cat had finished eating, the traveler cupped his hand and poured some water. The stray’s tongue lapped with greedy thirst. The meal finished, he patted his knee, and the kitten climbed up and nestled into his lap. He scratched the kitten’s ear gently. The stray began a soft purr.

   

Under the dark night sky, the traveler smiled as he sat on the quiet streets of Old Havana. He was happy to share the moment together. Happy to find a friend.

 

by T.K. Mills      |    Photography by  Sebastian Davenport-Handley +    Alicia Krawchuk   +  Mayuri Paranthahan  | Feature image by Kristin Soh 

 

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T.K. Mills

T.K. Mills is a writer based in Bushwick, Brooklyn. His work focuses on travel, literature, and art. He runs the art column for OpenLetr and is a regular contributor to The Smart Set and Sold Mag. His full portfolio can be found at tkmills.com. Alongside his freelance projects, T.K. is currently writing his debut novel.