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Chapter Three: Bienvenidos a Cuba!
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Marshall stepped out of the airport and into the warm, fresh air. It was not immediately clear which way to go. Frank had given him a slip of paper with the contact’s phone number on it. He looked forward and could see jungle trees cut back to accommodate spots of grey concrete and shredded in between by gradually twisting roads. He collected his surroundings and faced a large parking lot rimmed by a freeway, with a small city neighborhood beyond. He reasoned there would be a telephone of some kind in one of those distant buildings and began to make his way there.
He might have used a payphone in the small airport, but something propelled him out of the building and into the bright day. It was late afternoon and several taxi drivers seemed to offer their services in rapid phrases peppered with inscrutable English as he walked past. After scurrying across the busy freeway, Marshall found himself in a tight clutch of concrete buildings. He was wearing khaki shorts and a dark blue NCBL t-shirt, brown sunglasses and track sneakers. He carried a small backpack which held his now useless phone, extra clothes and traveler’s cheques. It was pushing 90 degrees with humidity that could choke a frog.
The grass around him was vital green, the buildings were chipped and flaking concrete with brown orange roofing. There were the classic Cadillacs and Chevys he had seen in photographs, and bikes, trucks and buses. The crumbling colonial walls around him sported fading pastel murals and spray-painted Spanish slogans with inverted exclamation marks. The whole scene struck Marshall as bright and intense compared to the dreary start of autumn he had left. He roamed the streets and was covered by the rich island air. The apprehension he felt as he scrambled across the unknown highway remained.
He found a small bar with a propped open door and entered timidly. There were three quiet locals sitting at a shallow counter spanning the length of the room. A shriveled barkeep acknowledged Marshall’s presence with a brief look, then returned to wiping down a glass. Marshall got the sense that he and his patrons were used to the occasional tourist stumbling into their presence. Marshall took the single necessary step to reach the counter from the bar’s entrance, pulled out an American five dollar bill and asked for the telephone. The man behind the counter produced a heavy, green rotary phone from his lower shelves and placed it down hard in front of Marshall. He scooped up the bill, deftly landed a double sized shot glass next to the phone, unscrewed the cap of a clear plastic jug and gurgled a colorless liquid slightly over the rim.
Marshall began carefully twisting the phone’s plastic disc to correspond with the number scrawled on his slip of paper.
“Oigo?” came a deep, feminine voice several rings later.
“This is Marshall,” he said.
“Frank told me to call this number. I’m looking for a baseball player?”
“Ah, Frank. Yes. I got his letter just this morning. You can come anytime and I will take us to the player.”
“Come where? I’m just outside the airport... I don’t know where exactly.”
Marshall looked nervously around the bar, the patrons were silently meditating over their drinks. The bartender was pouring one of them a shot from the big jug. Marshall looked over his shoulder and out the open door. The street was non-descript, cobblestoned and ended abruptly at the side of a building across.
“Okay, okay, I understand,” said the voice on the phone. “We will meet at the golf course. Club De Habana, the only one. Frank loves golf. You drive? Or you walk?”
“Ah, okay. I will see you there tonight then.”
“Tonight? How far is it?”
“It is quite far from you. It is far for me too, but of course I have the machine. This is a fair way and a good place to meet. I will see you tonight.”
The line went dead and Marshall absently put down the receiver. He gulped his double shot of rum and tasted only warmth of alcohol with no flavor. It scalded his throat and settled harshly low in his gut. He looked up at the bartender.
“The golf club?” he asked.
“Habana,” said the skinny rum-pourer. “Through the park.”
The man pointed over the counter and into the bar’s wall to indicate the direction. Marshall picked up his backpack and began to walk.
He walked through the neighborhood and sweat came quickly to the palms of his hands and forehead under the late afternoon sun. He stopped several times as he came across open doors and shops, asking for directions to the golf club. He was met with understanding, bored expressions and pointed index fingers. After an hour, he found himself at the end of the neighborhood and the beginning of a dark green field. A row of trees in the distance blocked his view ahead. He looked back and the buildings and streets were just as unwelcoming and anonymous as before.
Without thinking, he pulled his phone out of his bag. It was not connected, it was of no use and he put it away. He tried not to think that he was completely alone with no clear path. If he did not turn around now and find his way to the airport, he would no longer be able to. The panic that had been held slightly at bay announced itself in the front of his mind and quickly took over his thoughts. Every fantasy he had about returning with the next Roberto Clemente seemed absurd and childish. The brightly shining promise of his imagination was suddenly extinguished. In that moment it was revealed to be a vivid illusion, a shallow hope that gave nothing to the dreamer but confidence in things he had never accomplished and were not real. Through the panic and fear he searched his mind for the future that had propelled him that far. Between the small neighborhood and dense forest, the gilded promise of riches and fame did nothing for him. He decided to head back home, to exchange his cheques for a flight back to Maine.
As Marshall turned to face the buildings and airport beyond, he heard something call behind him. He searched his thoughts for a long time under the empty, cloudless sky and it grew dark. As he thought back to his first game, to the old tapes, to the words from Frank, the panic slowly melted and gave way to a low shimmer inside of him. In the moment of terror, Marshall could not count on the silvery, fluttering beacon. What he found now in its place was something dimmer that burned deep and slowly. He did not know what it was but it was enough to push him forward and towards the trees and was his guide when he was lost.
Marshall cut through the park and the sun set and the evening turned to a heavy and very dark night. He saw lights in the far distance and followed those. He found a road and walked along it. After a few hours, the golf club emerged before him.
He entered through large double doors of dark glass and found a crowded dining room. It was spacious and wood panelled, with a thick maroon carpet and tables draped in long white cloths. Waiters in tuxedos walked briskly about. A bar on one side of the room was appointed with top-shelf bottles. A small, bright hostess spoke to him without accent from behind a podium.
“Will you be dining with us tonight sir?”
“Oh no, no. I’m just here to meet someone.”
Her face sprang instantly from cheery to frustrated and she glanced him up and down. She saw his shorts and t-shirt, small backpack, he was sweaty and disheveled and she realized he was not the type of tourist she had thought.
“Well, are they dining with us? Do you have their name?”
“Sabria, I think.”
The look on the hostess’ face lost its puzzlement, the furrowed brows relaxed and became bored.
“Ah, I see. You better go around back of the dining room. She’ll be out there.”
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