On Good Friday Pedro Castor would do no work. Is a voice filled with mock fever, he called the factory where he works and reported with much regret that he was sick. Then he spent the day in the furniture store he owns and runs in his spare time, cursing those who no longer honor the holidays but knowing that in Cuba, not far away, his family has also figured a way not to work. This comforts him.
"I do in Cuba the same thing," he says. "My father and mother in Cuba, they do the same thing. I know many here they pay no attention. A friend says to me, 'You open today?' 'No,' I say, 'I no open.' He says he open. He's a stupid man."
Down the street, the old men are playing dominoes in the park. The trees, planted by the city, shade them from the sun. They turn the tiles over emphatically when the game ends, commenting furiously on the results. A new game is begun. Then quiet returns.
Everywhere people are talking Spanish. Everywhere the signs are in Spanish. Down the street you can buy the complete works of Harold Robbins in Spanish. This is the Little Havana section of the city, home to many of the 500,000 Cubans living in the Miami area.
It is interesting to come here now that President Carter is seeking rapprochement with Cuba, now that a basketball team from South Dakota has just played in Havana, now that it seems that 18 years of Fidel Castro's rule are about to be formally recognized. Somehow all of this will have to be explained to the Pedro Castros who fled Cuba, who were photographed coming off the planes or off the boats. Freedom flights, they were called. People wept. It was moving. It was also politics.
Pedro Castro is also fasting this day. He is dressed smartly - white pants, maroon and white shoes and a black shirt with a huge red rose on the back. He says he is 40, but his body is youthful. Through the thin material of his shirt you can see nothing but muscle. He smiles when he sees you looking. He is proud of looking young. He seems always about to dance.
When asked about his family, though, he turns suddenly serious. "I got in Cuba three sisters and four brothers. My mother and father live in Cuba. I got three brothers and four sisters in America also. I got a big family. My family is a big one. I like to go to Cuba, but I don't want to go when Castro is there. I was a soldier. I work in the Presidential Palace. I work for the President Batista."
He says that with pride. And I don't know where he says his brother was killed by Castro regime. He offers no proof, saying only that his brother, like himself was a soldier, a member of the presidential guard.
We go inside the furniture store. The merchandise is cheap, somewhat garish. Pedro Castro seems to specilize in imitation leopard skin couches. He goes into the back room and comes out with a picture of his brother and his father. His brother is dressed in a suit, his black hair combed into a wave. He is looking very serious, very proper. Castro looks at me. "They kill him," he says. "His name was Fermin Castro."
Pedro Castro has been in the United States for 14 years, but his English is not good. In Little Havana there is no need to speak Englihs, so it is difficult for him to explain how he himself followed in his brother's footsteps and went to jail in Cuba. It seems that he lost his temper one day, decided that the chickens being raised in his area were used to feed Russians, and burned the coops down.
"I make it a fire," he says. "I know I can make some trouble. I burn it down. Nobody sees me, but they know I work for Batista. They put me in jail one year. When I was in jail - 4:30, 3:30 at night - they would open the door. They would say, 'Pedro Castro, come out. We will kill you.' I say, 'Why you kill me now?' This was their terror."
So Pedro Castro does not forget and he does not forgive. If you ask him what he thinks of basketball and maybe baseball in Cuba, he turns very serious. He knows no words to say what he feels. He does not need words. His face says it all.
I have seen that face before. It was years ago when I was a kid, a teen-ager, working at a beach club. There were Spanish-speaking people around - bushboys and laborers, mostly - and it was some time before I learned that some of them were Cubans and some of them were Puerto Rican. From the Puerto Ricans, I learned about love. They told me wonderful things about a woman's body. They considered themseves to be artists.
The Cubans were a different story. It was before Castro. No one knew much about them. They lived back from the beach in a work area they did manaul labor. One day, after work, I went for a walk on the beach. I met one of the Cubans. I remember him well. Like me, he was covered with grease of the day. Like me he was cleaning his insides with the bracing air of the ocean. He was barrel-chested, with a Roman face like the kind you see on a coin. His eyes were sad.
We talked. His English was good. He told me he was a lawyer. He told me he was in exile and could not practice law in the United States. He told me that he lived in the blue shacks back from the beach and worked as a laborer. He could not go back to Cuba. He talked of Batista the way Pedro Castro, the furniture salesman, talked of Fidel Castro. The lawyer on the beach said that if he went back to Cuba he would be shot. Sometimes politics is the art of choosing between refugees.
So, on Good Friday the old men are playing dominoes and Pedro Castro is doing no business. As for the lawyer, I don't know what has become of him. Pedro Castro and the lawyer - I liked them both. But it occurs to me that I know the man the lawyer on the beach feared.
I have just left his furniture store.