It was a hot and humid August Sunday. Grant had been to Havana before, but this time the heat was almost unbearable. As soon as he stepped out of the plane and onto the asphalt he began to feel the sweat drops rapidly rolling down the sides of his body underneath his shirt. Tall and handsome, the warm summer breeze flowed through his short brown hair. At 25 years old, he was a journalist, a writer, he was there a on a mission to document the day to day activities of a Cuban family for two weeks. He would then return to Canada where he would document another two weeks of other members of the same family who lived as immigrants in the North American country.
Grant had a passion for expression and investigation, he had a love for learning and discovery; little did he know this particular journey would take him to discover so many different things on so many different levels. A 1957 red and white Chevrolet Taxi drove him to his destination. He checked in the Terral Hotel, in front of El Malecón; a modern building unlike so many other more colonial and Spanish-influenced structures. He got to his room, looked out the giant window to see the ocean waves break against the contention wall, and took a deep breath. What am I doing here? He murmured. His career path was heading in a different direction than the one he originally had planned, here he was doing a cultural piece for a magazine, when he really wanted to do more hard core investigative journalism. His assignment would not officially commence until Monday morning, so Grant decided he would take a walk, get a bite to eat, and maybe indulge by drinking some rum and a cigar, the ultimate Cuban experience.
He walked along the old streets, so deteriorated, so frozen in time, yet so rich and enchanted, with so much to say.
The sun was setting, and he sat in front of the ocean to photograph the scenery with his hand held camera. People walked by, less and less as the minutes passed. The city suddenly became an orange tone casting sharp shadows, and in minutes it was dark. A few lights shone here and there, but overall a sad dark. Grant decided to stay there, after all his hotel was just across the street. He wanted to think, and no one ever did better thinking than in front of a massive and untamed body of water illuminated by the moonlight. He was at a point in his life where everything was safe, a stable job, a stable girlfriend, his parents still married, a set routine, everything seemed hurt proof. That is not what he imagined when he became a journalist, he wanted to live on the edge of excitement, he wanted to work for a global news network investigating crimes and unsolved mysteries. Cuba was still in his comfort zone and although he was okay with it, he longed for more.
An hour passed and it was time to return to his room. He turned to face the hotel, and noticed up and down the block, scattered, the glimmer of sequin that caught the light of the cars that drove by. It was now that the gals came out to play, they say prostitution isn’t legal on the island, but it happens and everyone seems to look the other way. They are called “jineteras” or “jockeys”, I’ll leave it to you and your imagination to arrive at the conclusion as of why they were appointed that name. Grant had never been with a prostitute before, casual sex with a stranger was something that frightened a man like him and caution won over curiosity every time.
He stood up, stretched, and decided to cross the street toward the hotel, when suddenly he heard a loud argument coming from a nearby building. Not wanting to be obvious he glanced, but quickly went about his business. He noticed a man pushing a young woman out to the street, she was reluctant, but after being slapped a couple of times by this individual she stopped fighting. She was wearing a micro mini red sequin dress, it was obvious what her line of work was. Grant entered the hotel and went straight to his room. He looked out the window to see the girl sitting on the border wall facing the ocean; she seemed devastated, so lonely; but he had a long day waiting ahead of him so he closed the curtain, removed his clothes and jumped in the shower. He felt refreshed, but the image of the girl in the red dress didn’t free him. He went over to the window and pulled back the curtain to take a peek, she was still there, the wind blowing through her long brown hair made her look like one of those enchanted mermaids singing to bring sailors to wreck their ships. He was curious to know what happened to her, something about her was attractive and not in a sexual manner. Although she was obviously beautiful, there was a story about her that he was itching to discover. But he didn’t know the language, and he really wasn’t there for that, so he decided once again to play it safe and go to bed.
Thirty minutes passed, he tossed and turned and could not fall asleep. He hoped the ocean sound would rock him to sleep, but contrary to that, it just kept him wondering about her. He walked toward the window and looked for her but she was no longer sitting there, he felt discouraged, but as he was about to close the curtain he saw her walking down the street followed by the same man that had slapped her before. They argued, and the man signaled her to make money. Grant put a t-shirt on and quickly slipped into a pair of jeans, he grabbed his wallet and walked out the door. He stepped out on the sidewalk and crossed the street following the girl in the red dress and the man that was making her life a living hell. Grant’s heart was pounding so hard he could feel it in his throat, he wasn’t sure about what he was doing but he knew he had to do something.
“Hey!” He yelled out. Immediately the young woman and the individual turned around.
Grant wasn’t sure just what to say. So he reached for his wallet and said: How much? As he pointed to the girl with a nod. The man grinned and grabbing the young woman’s arm he handed her to Grant.
“Enjoy!” Said the man to grant tipping his hat.
“Portate bien” (be good) he said to the young woman.
She stood there and looked at Grant from top to bottom, he sure didn’t fit her typical unattractive and perverted client profile.
“Cigarette?” She said
“I don’t smoke”, Grant replied.
She rolled her eyes.
Grant began to walk towards the hotel but she wasn’t following so he stopped. He didn’t turn around, just looked off to the side.
“Come on”, he said in a soft voice.
After a few seconds she began to walk. She followed him to the hotel and into his room.
Grant turned on the light and signaled her to take a seat, she looked around and sat. He was obviously nervous, and the moment was definitely awkward. He didn’t know what to do or say, he wasn’t sure why he had even brought this girl to his room.
“So you speak English or what?” She asked with an attitude.
Grant turned to her in total surprise. “You speak English?”
“The basics, I learn with the tourists. You seriously don’t have any cigarettes?”
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t. You look way too young to be smoking anyway. How old are you?”
“That shouldn’t matter to a man that is willing to pay me to have sex with him.”
Grant stuttered. – “Sex? Oh, um, no, that’s not, I mean, no.”
She looked perplexed.
“Oh, so you are one of the sick weird ones. Well what do want me to do?” she said crossing her legs and leaning back on the seat.
“I don’t know. Do you want some water?”
She was confused beyond belief at that point. She thought Grant was just a weirdo with a sick pre-game routine that would end up in the same selfish sex act as all the other ones; but then he handed her a glass of water and smiled, and she got a glimpse of his deep blue eyes, he was different.
Grant rubbed his hands together and sat in front of her.
“What is your name?” he asked.
She looked in his eyes for a few seconds and then said: “Merida”.
“You are lying” he said with certainty.
“Why would you care”, she said as she leaned forward and placed her face in front of his. Grant smiled and leaned back.
“I really don’t, but it would be nice to call you something other than chica or girl.”
She drank some water, walked up to the window and pulled back the curtain.
“You don’t need to know my name”, she said as she turned to look outside as if searching for someone.
“You are right”, Grant replied as he walked toward the bathroom.
He was a couple of minutes, when he walked out there she was naked laying on his bed. He didn’t say anything, he was speechless. He’d never seen such raw beauty before, and though he felt tempted to get lost in the moment with her, he took a deep breath and sat on the edge of the bed looking straight into her eyes.
“Let’s get this over with”, she said.
“Okay”, he replied as reached out for her hand. He pulled her close and held her tight, her chest pressing against him as he embraced her for what seemed like forever to both. They were both silent as tears rolled down her face and on to his shoulder. He grabbed the bed sheet and wrapped it around her. He covered her nude body and placed her on the edge of the bed with her head on a pillow. He moved the hair from her face, and dried her tears. He whispered in her ear: “I’m not here for what you think, I just saw him beating you and you looked so sad. This was the only way to get you away from him; now you look like you could use a nap.” She was silent, closed her eyes and fell asleep; so did he, on the other side of the bed.
The sun filtered through a small opening in the curtain, the young woman opened her eyes and was surprised to find herself sleeping on this bed. She immediately got up and got dressed, she looked around for Grant but he was gone. She used the bathroom, drank some water, and sat on the bed trying to make sense of what had happened just hours before. She opened her purse to look for her lipstick, but the first thing she noticed was a note from Grant. It read:
I hope you had a good night, I’m here to work so I had to leave early and did not want to bother you; stay as long as you like. I don’t want you to get in trouble with him so I left you two $50 bills in the front pocket. No one will ever believe you if you told them a man in his right mind had you nude in front of him and did not attempt to have sex with you. So let him assume we did. Maybe I’m not in my right mind, but I hope to see you again because I believe we both need a friend. I will be here tomorrow, but if you don’t come back, my name is Grant and it was pleasure to watch you sleep.”
It was a long day for Grant, he arrived back at the hotel when the sun was almost setting. All day he had been thinking about her, and hoping that she would be there when he returned, but she wasn’t. What he did find was the two $50 bill on his bed with a small note that said: “Thank you”. He looked out the window to see his favorite spot, the one in front of the ocean illuminated by the moon where he could feel the heavy breeze and smell the sea. He went there and sat with a notebook to write random notes about his first day at work. When he was finished, he closed his book and turned around to head to his room, and there she was sitting there looking at him. Grant was pleasantly surprised, she didn’t have much of an expression, and she had scratch marks on her face and her arms.
“Hi!” he said standing up. She walked over and sat on the border, he sat next to her. She looked straight at the ocean, her hair blowing in the wind and not making any eye contact with Grant. “My name is Yesenia, and I just turned 19 two months ago. You asked last night and I figure after what you did for me I owe it to you to at least answer your questions.”
“Yesenia, that’s pretty”, he said looking at her but she didn’t look back at him. “You should have taken the money, I only wanted to help you”.
“Its fine, I covered it. I appreciate what you did.”
They talked for hours, and it was like that for the next five nights. She told him she had been a prostitute since she was 15 years old. Her high school teacher was friends with a pimp and sold his students for money. He would excuse them from class so they could go meet with clients. Her mother was dead, her father was a drunk, and she felt responsible for supporting her 12 year old twin brother and sister. She told him about her dream of being a ballerina, how she had taken ballet lessons since she was 3 and how that dream had been crushed by her harsh reality. Every night Grant would take her back to his room and they would both fall asleep on opposite sides of the bed; he would give her $25, which was to cover her pimp’s commission and keep her out of trouble.
The last night before Grant left she cried inconsolably. She knew that after he was gone she would need to go back to her routine. As they sat there in front of the ocean he said: “Dance for me”.
“Like a lap dance?”
Grant chuckled. “No, you are a ballerina, show me.”
“Why not? Come on.”
“Oh come on, it’s my last night here.”
She stood there in front of him, a bit surprised, a bit hesitant; but she danced for him.
As he admired her incredible poise and silhouette he realized just how much talent she really had. Her passion came across clearly through her dance. He was speechless. He became saddened by the situation. This goddess who was obviously designed for every move she was making was condemned to live this alternate reality instead of freely pursuing her dream. He asked her to stop.
“You are incredible”, he said
“It’s a shame you have to live like this, you were obviously born to dance”
She did not say anything, her facial expression was enough. She sat back next to Grant, both were looking at the ocean and did not dare look at each other. Without taking his eyes off the water and with difficulty due to nerves, Grant decided to break the awkward silence.
“I have an incredible urge to kiss you”, he said.
“So why don’t you”, she replied without taking her eyes off the water.
Grant turned to her surprised. “Well I don’t know”, he replied.
“It’s because whores are not supposed to kiss, at least that is what they say”
Yesenia turned to him and placed her right hand over his eyes, she bit his lips softly and Grant could not resist, he had to kiss her.
That night she did not stay with him. She explained that a man like him had to be the last one in her life and her body, not just another one. She did not want to taste making love to then go back to the frivolous sex with any man.
“Good bye Grant”, she said to him with tears in her eyes. Then she crossed the avenue in her sparkly heels and faded into the darkness.
A devastated Grant returned to Canada, his mind however was for her, his thoughts had stayed sitting there looking at the ocean; and that one kiss continued to bite his lips and hold his heart in the form of memories.
Five years passed. One day in an auditorium in the city of Toronto, Grant sat at the ballet as he used to do since he had met her. Suddenly in the shadows a silhouette appeared. Undoubtedly the silhouette of the woman he dreamed of every single day of his life, the woman that represented all the risks he was willing to take and the one that exteriorized his fears. He could not believe it. He thought it was a product of his imagination, after all, he had been to Cuba to find her several times without any luck. He did not care about her past, he just cared about having her in front of him one more time. This time without the fear that invaded him the first time and this time willing to be the last one. Could it be her? His heart beat with great strength, his sweaty hands held on to the rails as he ran down the stairs on his way back to the dressing rooms.
It was the end of the presentation as he caught a glance of the back of a ballerina that was letting her hair lose. He had no doubt, it was her. Almost without strength in his voice he said her name.
She immediately turned around.
“I can’t believe it”, she said without being able to move.
“You made it”
Grant came close and hugged her. He took her waist in his arms and held her tight against him. He kissed her forehead, her cheeks, and bit her lips. And he whispered in her ears: “I want to be the last one”.