A Virgin for Cachita

From The Astral Plane: Stories of Cuba, The Southwest, and Beyond


“Coffee is a great procurer of witchcraft and one shouldn’t drink it in strangers’ homes.”
Lydia Cabrera, El Monte.


Martin poured milk in his cup of coffee and kept adding it until the mix became the color of Cachita’s skin, a light brown hue. The Chimayó Café where he and his friend Joe C. de Baca had stopped for tamales vanished and he saw instead Cachita’s room in Old Havana and her round, smooth face. Her voice also came back, bringing her last request: “I want a statuette of the Virgin Mary, the prettiest you can find.”
Martin had honestly tried to fulfill the girl’s wishes. Upon returning from Havana, he had looked over an assortment of Virgin Mary statuettes. He had visited the tienditas in Old Town Plaza, the Jackalope store and even San Felipe de Neri church, the oldest parish in Albuquerque. But all the images he had seen seemed to him too tacky, ordinary or simply amateurish. He was determined to get the best, only the best, for Cachita. She deserved it.
“What’s going on?” Joe asked when the silence became too dense.
“Nothing. I was just thinking of Cachita.”
“Is there is a moment when you aren’t thinking of Casheeta?”
“Cachita. I thought you spoke Spanish.”
“Bueno, sort of. I don’t speak muncho… You know what, man? You should just bring that gal here.”
“But I barely know her!”
The smell of the piñón coffee reminded Martin of the first cup of café Cubano he had drank at Cachita’s home. The memory of the curly hairs floating in the dark surface made a foolish grin spread across his face. Joe shook his head and ordered a couple of beers.
The Chimayó sanctuary was the perfect place to get a decent looking statuette of Virgin Mary, Joe had said. He lived nearby and volunteered to buy one, but Martin didn’t trust his buddy’s taste in art. Joe was a retired car mechanic and now worked as a part-time baseball coach at the local high school. What would he know about virgins? Martin preferred to choose one himself.
The tamales arrived, smothered in red chile and accompanied by a bowl of soup and two Coronas. Joe started flirting with the perky Mexican waitress and Martin sulked. A UNM literature professor, Martin often felt intimidated by his female students, more so when they were young and pretty. He didn’t know how to dance. Unlike most of his Spanish-speaking colleagues, he had never visited The Cooperage, the best-known Latino nightclub and restaurant in Albuquerque. Shrouded in yellowish book pages, hiding behind his computer screen, he lived a quiet, safe and boring life.
And yet he had won the heart of a beautiful Cubanita. He wasn’t as bashful as other people thought. Dipping a chunk of bread into the soup, Martin evoked again his recent trip to Havana. Like tamales in chile, his memories were covered in a piquant red sauce.

It all started when Martin heard about The Saints’ Book of Advice, a manuscript about Afro-Cuban deities allegedly written by the deceased scholar Fernando Ortiz and never published. The idea of traveling to Cuba in search of the lost book sounded like a Da Vinci Code plot set in the tropics and he embraced it enthusiastically. There was still another reason for Martin’s excitement—he had always admired from afar both the Caribbean island and its bearded leader, though he knew little about any of them. The Cuba he was familiar with lived under the rule of a Spanish Captain General, not Fidel Castro. However, he had adopted a few common contemporary Cuban terms, like compañero, which he used to address students and colleagues.
“Be careful with what you do in that God-forgotten place,” Ellen Cox, an English Literature professor, warned him when she heard of his plans. “Above all, don’t get involved with the natives.”
Ellen had been married for over two years to a Cuban guy who had recently died in a freakish accident. As a result, she had become depressed and somewhat eccentric, everybody knew that. Martin thanked her and paid no attention to her words, though, at that moment, he had no intentions of getting involved with anybody, much less a Cuban native.
He requested a special travel permit from the Department of Treasury, then called the University of Havana and got in touch with a Cuban professor, Compañero Gerardo Juan, who offered his help to locate the lost manuscript. Gerardo Juan had never heard of The Saints’ Book of Advice until Martin happened to mention it, but he didn’t disclose that fact.
Martin devised a tight schedule for his seven-day stay. He would visit the rural boroughs portrayed in the nineteenth-century Cuban novels Cecilia Valdez and Sab, the primary texts of a literature class that he had taught for years. He would tour the old sugarcane plantations, meet co-op peasants and discuss revolutionary politics with them and their leaders. He would stroll around Jesús del Monte Avenue, a Havana street celebrated in verses by a renowned Cuban poet. The Colonial Art Museum, the Taíno Town and the National Library were also necessary spots in his itinerary, as well as Revolution Square, where, if he was lucky, he could even see Castro delivering one of his three-hour speeches. Martin longed to experience life in the island. Cubans were probably less selfish and consumerist than his mall-crowding, crap-buying, popcorn-ingesting fellow citizens.

The trip from Miami to Havana was short and uneventful. An airport cab took Martin to the Meliá-Cohiba Hotel for fifty dollars, which was only ten dollars over the regular rate. The following day, when Martin ventured outside the hotel, the hot and humid air wrapped him up like vaginal secretions. Gerardo Juan was already waiting for him in a nearby park.
“The security guards will ask for my ID card as soon as I set foot in the lobby,” he explained. “It would take the whole afternoon to convince them that I am not a jinetero.”
“A what?”
“Jineteros are Cubans who do illegal business with tourists. They sell cigars, rum, Che Guevara posters, CDs… you name it. Not to be confused with jineteras, hookers.”
Gerardo escorted Martin to Jesús del Monte Avenue, a dilapidated and smoke-filled street where big buses called “camels” and a few old Mustangs and Fords terrorized the pedestrians by their utter disrespect for traffic lights. Strolling on the cracked, dirty sidewalks was out of the question. All museums were closed because it was a Monday. They would have to wait until the following day to book a tour of the ingenios, if there was one available, but Gerardo advised Martin to refrain from discussing “revolutionary politics” with the peasants, their leaders or anybody else.
“You don’t want to get people in trouble,” he said. “And you don’t want to get yourself in trouble. Remember that you are an American. Here, you’re the enemy.”
Martin protested indignantly. He had always had a high regard for Cubans, he told Gerardo. He even belonged to a Santa Fe-based Amistad de Cuba group, an organization that defied the embargo by sending money, medicines and food to the island. How could he be considered an enemy of its people?
“And how would you prove that to the political police?” Gerardo retorted. “For all they know, you may as well be a CIA agent.”
A CIA agent! Martin tried to laugh it off, but Gerardo remained deadly serious.
“Well, fine,” he said at last. “I’ll be careful.”
Gerardo also pointed out that Jesús del Monte Avenue was located in a rough neighborhood and that Martin looked just like the befuddled foreigner he was. Kids of all ages and races ran after him repeating “Oye, Yuma!” and asking for money, soap and chewing gum. Martin wondered if Yuma was a common Cuban greeting or a bizarre allusion to the Arizona desert.
“What about the Book of Saints?” he asked Gerardo. “When do we start looking for it?”
“Tomorrow, si Dios quiere.”
As it turned out, Dios had different plans.

As the day wore on Gerardo suggested they visit Café Havana. Martin remembered seeing it advertised because the nightclub was part of the Meliá-Cohiba complex. The lobby posters showed scantily-clad dancers, trumpet players in red shirts and sweaty drummers. Clubs weren’t Martin’s favorite spots and these people certainly didn’t look like compañeros, but, wanting to please his new friend, he agreed to go. Once there, while sipping his mojito, he suffered through Gerardo’s litany of complaints, which ranged from high food prices to the impossibility of obtaining permission to visit his niece in Miami. Martin couldn’t tell if Gerardo was discreetly asking for a twenty-dollar bill or help in getting an American visa, but he didn’t offer either one.
“This is the Cuban problem,” Gerardo said from time to time. Martin nodded, though the conversation was making him uncomfortable. Weren’t people supposed to be selfless and… well… not too materialistic here?
Café Havana’s velveteen chairs and vaulted ceilings recreated a 50’s ambiance. An old Cubana de Aviación airplane was on display surrounded by even older motorcycles. Benny Moré and Ernest Hemingway posters covered the walls and the place smelled of rum, strong colognes and cigar smoke.
A salsa band began to play. The vibration of the steel drums and the shrill voice of the lead singer reverberated inside Martin’s head. Intermittently, the drummer let out an ear-splitting whistle and yelled “A gozar!” (Let’s have fun!) Next to him, a bald mulatto managed to smoke a Cohiba cigar at the same time he shook a pair of maracas and stomped his feet.
Feeling the first symptoms of a headache, Martin turned his attention to the dancers. A white-haired lady’s partner was a dark, muscular teenager who could pass for her grandson. A Nordic-looking couple moved every conceivable part of their bodies, except their hips. Three young Cuban girls (a blonde, a mulatta and a brunette) danced by themselves under flashing red and green lights. Despite her well-developed body, the brunette had a round, childish face. She wore a sequined miniskirt and a red top that sparkled like a flying flame.
Gerardo ordered a ham-and-cheese sandwich, an omelet and a daiquiri. Martin was shocked to learn that he would take care of the bill—it had to be paid in Euros or dollars and Gerardo had neither one.
“Sorry, but I can’t use my pesos here, compañero,” Gerardo said.
“You mean they won’t accept Cuba’s official currency?”
“That’s right.”
“Why not?”
Gerardo mumbled something about “the Cuban problem” again.
Martin tried to cover it up, but felt he had been taken advantage of by his companion. He didn’t mind spending the money or paying for Gerardo’s food, but the way he had been…set up. He ordered a mojito and fell silent. While Gerardo munched he followed, as if hypnotized, the contortions of the brunette’s pelvis and the continuous rocking of her hips.
Two Spanish men, over fifty and overfed, joined the girls. Looking at their beer bellies, Martin felt proud of his trimmed figure. Had he been less shy, he’d have joined the hopping crowd. No one cared about dancing skills here; the Spaniards moved like drunken Labradors on an icy pavement.
At eleven o’clock Gerardo wove his way toward the bathroom. Martin sneezed and yawned. He was bored and the headache had turned into a migraine. He couldn’t stomach another minute of the salsa, rum and smoke mix. The drummer’s invitation to have fun sounded as empty as Gerardo’s daiquiri glass.
“Want to dance, Yuma?” the shapely brunette, who had materialized at Martin’s side, addressed him in English.
“I’m sorry,” he answered, “I’m not Yuma. My name is Martin.”
She laughed. Her caramel eyes glittered like her miniskirt sequins. “You American?”
“Then you are a Yuma, chico.”
Gerardo came back and shed light on the issue. In Cuban slang, Americans were Yumas and the United States was La Yuma. It didn’t have anything to do with the Arizona desert.
“Maybe it’s a mispronunciation of the word ‘united,’” Martin said.
The girl introduced herself as Cachita and told Martin that she was a masseuse. Was he interest in a good, deep rubbing? (She didn’t bother to ask Gerardo.) She would do it in his room if he was staying at a hotel, or they could go to a nearby house, where there were rooms for rent.
“Only fifty dollars,” she purred, “for two hours. A bargain, uh?”
Martin refused civilly, recalling Ellen Cox’s advice. Besides, the mere thought of the girl’s manicured hands touching his skin made him tense. As she got ready to leave the table, he noticed two charms that hung from a thin gold chain around her neck.
“I believe this is Santa Bárbara, also known as Changó,” he said in his best Castilian Spanish. “The other one is Yemayá, the goddess of the sea.”
“You know the santos, Yuma!” Cachita smiled. “Yes, this is Santa Bárbara. The other is not Yemayá, but Oshún. I’m a daughter of Oshún, the orisha of love.”
Cachita had never read Fernando Ortiz’s books about the orishas, but she possessed an empirical knowledge of Santeria. Her mother was a santera, she explained, and her grandfather had been a babalawo, a high-ranking Santeria priest. Martin invited her to eat something and she accepted. Her order was almost as big as Gerardo’s but this time around the American didn’t resent it.
When he left Café Havana at two a.m., Martin had spent one hundred and forty dollars and changed most of his plans. He wasn’t going to tour the ingenios, which would probably be as much of a disappointment as Jesús del Monte Avenue. He wouldn’t look for the manuscript either (Gerardo sounded less enthusiastic about it in person than over the phone, anyway.) Instead, he had agreed to meet Cachita at one o’clock the next day, and accompany her to visit her mother.
He said good-by to Gerardo after handing him two ten-dollar bills—all he had left in his billfold—but avoided making another appointment with him. “Hasta la vista, compañero,” he told the Cuban, and pretended not to notice the mocking grim that cracked Gerardo’s face.
Martin returned to his room, collapsed in bed and dreamed of Cachita giving him a foot rub, her Oshún medal dancing wildly against her full breasts.

Oshún is the goddess of flirtation and love. Honey, amber and cinnamon are consecrated to her. If you want to win a man’s heart, cut off five pubic hairs, smear them with honey and boil them in the water used for his coffee.

It rained before dawn, a potent shower that unearthed pungent smells and washed the sidewalks. Martin woke up at ten and spent a few minutes trying to understand why he was in that air-conditioned room instead of his Nob Hill condo. He finally remembered and said, “Cachita.”
The streets were already dry and clean when he left the hotel, at twelve forty-five. Just as Gerardo had done the day before, Cachita had preferred to wait for him a few blocks away from the Meliá-Cohiba complex. It occurred to Martin that she could very well be a jinetera but he rejected the idea at once. She was just a pretty young woman who liked to dance and to have fun. As for her massage services… well, it seemed that everybody needed dollars to solve the “Cuban problem.” Being a masseuse was not a dishonorable choice, was it?
This morning she wore a more conservative, almost modest outfit—bluejeans and a brown loose t-shirt—and greeted him with a shy peck on the cheek. They called a turistaxi, a cab that only accepted dollars, and Cachita gave the driver an Old Havana address.
“Petra, my Mami, is so thrilled to meet you,” she told Martin. “She likes it when foreigners know about our santos and show respect for them.”
Martin did his best to show respect for Cachita, too. He didn’t stare at her breasts, at least not as much as he wanted to.
The rundown house that Cachita and her mother shared with six more families reminded Martin of a decrepit New Orleans mansion. Built in the early 1900, it was the ghost of a manor. It had long, tiled corridors and an inner courtyard where someone had managed to park a 1958 Chevrolet that lacked the passenger door.
A strong smell of fried onions and black beans floated in the air. Many doors were ajar and, as they walked by, Martin couldn’t help but peep inside the rooms. In a windowless cubicle, a woman ironed school uniforms and a man stared at a black and white TV set. In another room, a young couple exchanged insults while a kid threw a tantrum.
“Tu madre, cabrón!” the woman yelled. “I’m going to cut off your balls and boil them!”
“These people are chusmas,” Cachita said, “really vulgar and crass. Most of our neighbors aren’t like them.”
A woman who had a towel loosely wrapped around her body (and nothing else on) stopped to address Cachita, “Mija, if you want to take a bath, hurry up. No water after four, remember!”
She smiled at Martin and moved on, her wooden sandals clapping on the tile floor and the flesh of her arms quivering like homemade flan. A man dashed by carrying a chamber pot that left a stomach-turning odor on his wake.
“Water comes in only for two hours every day,” Cachita said. “And we have problems with the bathroom, too. The toilet has been clogged for a month so people throw their caca to the streets, wrapped in old pages of Granma.”
“That’s a newspaper, chico.”
“Oh, yes!”
“But you don’t need to worry; there is a urinal in my room if you want to use it.”
“Well, I…Thanks.”
“Here is my home, and yours. Mi casa es tu casa. Come in.”
Four life-size statues of santos startled Martin as soon as Cachita opened the door. Oshún, the mulatta Aphrodite, presided over an altar covered with a yellow tablecloth. Five sunflowers in a golden vase, five candles and a copper pot were in front of her. Toy ships, blue vases and pink seashells rested near Yemayá, the blue-clad goddess of the sea. Changó, god of thunder and battles, brandished a rusted sword and had a fiery countenance. Babalú-Aye, the orisha of healing, leaned on wooden crutches and had a plaster dog lying at his feet.
“Mami! Come and meet my friend.”
Petra was a dark, thin woman with tired eyes. Squeezing Martin’s hands in hers, she led him to a wicker armchair. It had been built for just one person but Cachita snuggled next to him.
“The santos are happy to have you here, Señor,” Petra said. “You may want to greet them. Cachita will tell you how.”
Martin had read dozens of articles about Santeria, but he had never been in personal contact with a practitioner or attended a ceremony. He found the six-foot tall Changó with his long, black hair and that realistic sword particularly threatening. To conceal his uneasiness he began to walk around the room, pretending to examine various knickknacks. A photo of Cachita holding hands with a sixty-something man caught his eye. The picture was next to a discolored Las Ramblas poster.
“Have you been in Barcelona?” he asked.
“I wish,” Cachita sighed, “but I haven’t traveled abroad…yet. My Papi sent me the poster last year.”
“Is he your dad?”
Cachita didn’t bear the slightest resemblance to the red-faced, chunky guy.
“Yes. He and my mother are divorced and he lives in Spain now,” she raised her voice. “Mami, why don’t you make coffee for Martin?” Petra disappeared behind a faded curtain. “And you, Yuma, sit with me.”
Martin obeyed. Sensing it was the thing to do, he put an arm around Cachita. She smiled and kissed him on the lips.
Petra came back with three small cups of coffee. So as not to embarrass his hostesses, Martin ignored the short, dark hairs that floated on the surface. Water was indeed a problem in Havana, he reasoned. In any case the Cuban coffee, sweetened with honey, was savory and strong.
He discussed the santos and their attributes with Petra, but not for long. She had to go; one of her many goddaughters had requested a spiritual cleansing, a limpieza, which needed to be done that very day.
“Don’t forget to greet the santos before you leave,” she reminded Martin. “They have brought you to our humble home.”
Once they were alone, Cachita offered Martin another massage, this time for free. His blood pressure rose. Cachita closed the door. Martin remained seated, with the empty coffee cup in his sweaty hand.
“Why don’t you take your clothes off, Yuma?”
Martin began to undress under the scrutinizing gaze of the four orishas. Changó’s dark eyes made him so nervous that he avoided looking at them.

Cachita glued herself to Martin for the rest of his stay. Ingenios and museums were forgotten and so was Fernando Ortiz’s lost manuscript. Martin didn’t get to see much of Havana, not even Revolution Square, because Cachita preferred to spend the evenings at the Meliá-Cohiba swimming pool or eating in the dollar-only restaurants, and he only wanted to please her.
She was also fond of hotel shops and had a weakness for La Maison, a pretentious boutique where Martin bought her a two-hundred dollar dress, a bottle of Carolina Herrera perfume and an exorbitant amount of sexy lingerie. His money evaporated like rain in the Havana streets. But what could he do when she murmured, “Only for you to see, my cielo,” and tongue kissed him?
The affair moved at dangerous speed. By the following Saturday, Cachita and Martin were engaged, or so she said. Martin didn’t agree, but he didn’t want to hurt the girl’s feelings. It might also be a semantic confusion, he thought. In Castilian Spanish, “comprometidos” meant “engaged” but it could have a different connotation in Cuba. She also said she had fallen in love with him the night they met at Café Havana. But there was more: in a Santeria ceremony, Oshún had confirmed her feelings. Martin was her true, her only amor.
Cachita swore she wanted to take care of her beloved Yuma, iron his clothes, clean his three-bedroom condo, and cook his favorite meals while he taught at the university. Martin, who had never received so much attention from any woman, hardly knew how to deal with it.
“Do you really want to live with me in New Mexico?”
“What? Mexico? I thought you lived in La Yuma!”
“Sweetheart, New Mexico is in the United States.”
“Ah. Okay.”
Cachita informed him that the only way she could go to La Yuma was by marrying him… and why not do it right away? He simply needed to ask someone to send his birth certificate and his single certificate (Martin didn’t know what that was) to Havana by DHL. Then they would go to a notary public and become husband and wife, just like that. The next step was to write to the American Interest Section and apply for a family reunification visa, something that Martin could do from his hometown. It would cost around four thousand dollars to complete the process, though the money for her plane ticket might be sent later on.
This was all too fast and confusing and Martin felt that Cachita’s demands were out of line. Fortunately, the week had ended and his cash had already melted in boutiques, restaurants and turistaxis. American credit cards, much to Martin’s relief, couldn’t be used in Cuba. Tears running down her cheeks, Cachita agreed to wait. Before leaving the Havana airport, Martin gave her all he had left—two hundred dollars. In return, she offered him her Virgin of La Caridad charm.
“I don’t care about your money,” she sobbed. “If I take it, it’s only because I need it to buy food for Mami and me. But I do want a statuette of the Virgin Mary, the prettiest you can find. Could you send it to me from La Yuma, amor?”

If you want the Virgin Mary to answer your prayers fast, take her baby Jesus and hide him. Keep him away from her until your wishes are fulfilled.

After lunch Martin and Joe resumed their search, but the works of most local artists made a poor impression on them.
“This one is too discolored,” Martin said about a clay statuette. “And that one looks like a fat Barbie doll.”
As the last resort they visited a small, unassuming store. Martin stumbled over a three-foot tall bulto of the virgin of Guadalupe surrounded by a floral frame. The colors were bright, but not too flashy and Mary’s face had a sly smile that reminded him of Cachita’s.
“That’s it!”
“Did you look at the price?”
It was four hundred dollars. Martin hesitated, but then the shop owner approached the two men.
“This bulto was made by one of the best-known Taos santeros,” he said. “Jesús Cortinas, el Chuy, who died only two weeks ago. Now his art will be ten times more valuable. You know, it always happens when Doña Sebastiana takes someone with her… Look, look at the virgin’s crown! It took him weeks just to complete it. Besides, the Chimayó priest blessed the bulto,” he told Martin. “I won’t mention that to every customer, but I see by your medal that you are a devotee of la virgen.”
Martin nodded.
“If I were you,” Joe whispered. “I’d send the girl three hundred bucks and a five-dollar plastic virgin.”
“But you are not me,” Martin replied. He turned to the owner, “Do you take MasterCard?”
They left the store with the bulto protected by bubble wrap.
“Now I have to think of a safe way of sending it to Cuba,” Martin said. “This isn’t a garden variety virgin.”
“You bet it isn’t.”
“The fall semester just started and I can’t go back to Cuba right now. But if I could find someone willing to take the bulto and… well, not spy on Cachita, but let me know how she is behaving, I’d be happy to pay for some travel expenses.”
“You mean the plane ticket?”
“Yes, and a couple of nights in a hotel.”
“How soon do you want her to get that overprized piece of lumber?”

Cachita’s home looked exactly as Martin had described it, except for a new Panasonic TV set that had now taken Changó’s corner. Joe stood at the threshold knocking on the open door until Petra came out.
“I’m looking for Señorita Caridad Perez,” he said. “Yo soy Martin’s friend.”
“Martin who?”
“Welcome!” Cachita came out and kissed Joe on the cheek. “Martin is my Yuma boyfriend, Mami,” she said in Spanish, “the shy one, the professor.”
Joe handed her the package, “Your virgin.”
“Gracias. Ay, it’s heavy!” she put it on the floor. “When is Martin coming back?”
“Probably around fall break.”
“Fall break?”
“In November.”
“What about the single certificate? Did he get it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did he send anything else?”
“Only this package.”
Petra and her daughter exchanged a rapid glance.
“Excuse me,” Petra said. “I have to run some errands. Come in, please. Let me offer you a cup of coffee, Señor, and then I’m on my way. You can stay here with the girl.”
After drinking a cup of coffee, Joe turned to Cachita and said, “So you’re an expert masseuse, I hear.”
“I am,” she grinned. “Would you like to have a good massage? Only fifty dollars, because you are Martin’s friend.”
“Well, hell, why not?”

Cachita and Petra had been standing in line for two hours in front of the Maisí dollar shop. The queue moved at the slow pace of a well-fed turtle but finally the women got to the door.
“Oye, Mami, these Yumas are so tight,” Cachita said. “Joe only left me eighty lousy dollars, plus twenty I took from his wallet when he was drunk. He couldn’t make it a hundred, el cochino! And he managed to stay away from restaurants and cafeterias, wouldn’t even buy me a McCastro hamburger!”
“The other Yuma was less stingy, wasn’t he?”
“But he isn’t coming back until November! Does he think I’m going to wait for him eating slices of air?” she shrugged. “Did you see what he sent? Dios mío, a piece of painted wood I could have bought here, at Cathedral Square, for ten pesos!”
“Intentions are what counts, niña.”
“Intentions, mierda! He probably bought the cheapest thing he could find. And he hasn’t yet gotten the single certificate…Forget it.”
“What about the Swedish guy?”
“Nah… he’s too young.”
“He’s ten years older than you!”
“Too young to marry me, I mean. He can find a wife in his country. The same goes for Manuel, the Mexican.”
The security guard waved them in, glancing at Cachita’s lycra shorts.
“Isn’t he the one who owns a grocery store in Morelia? You could eat anything you wanted and never be concerned about food prices. You could also send me groceries every month.”
“Manuel is a flake, Mami. He hasn’t called me in seven weeks. He’s like most foreigners: a lot of blablablá when they are here but once they go home, they don’t even remember my name. ”
“You’re right, mija. Your best bet is that old Spaniard, el Jordi. He has returned three times and bought us a new TV set. You’d better stick with him.”
“I will. That’s why I wanted a Virgin Mary. I would have hidden her baby until Jordi came back and took me to Barcelona. But what can I do with that big ugly thing? What kind of virgin is it, anyway? She doesn’t even have a baby Jesus!”
They stopped in front of the condensed milk shelf.
“Buy ten cans,” Cachita told her mother. “Jordi doesn’t care if I get fat.”
She glided gracefully toward the meat counter and began to check the prices of ground beef. A new, gleaming Virgin de la Caridad charm dangled between her breasts.

At that very moment, Joe C. de Baca was mentally balancing his checkbook to see if he could afford another trip to Havana in the near future. He decided against it.

At that very moment, Dr. Martin Sanders was welcoming his new graduate students and discussing the syllabus.
“During our semester together, we will analyze the position of women in contemporary Cuban literature,” he announced. “As a possible research topic, I suggest that you focus on the improvement of their social role after four decades of change and revolution.”