'Luca's Trip to Havana' looks at the complex dynamics of lust, power and economic need that drive sexual liaisons between foreigners and Cubans. Luca, an Italian businessman, is visiting Cuba to negotiate a management contract between his company and a local hotel. He has made several trips to the Island with his business partner Fabio in the run-up to signing, but this time he is alone, after Fabio's sudden death on their last visit. Luca is married to Ilene and has a teenage daughter, Paola, but Luca and Fabio had always enjoyed 'playing away' with Cuban women, whilst their wives remained at home. In this extract, Luca is in the hotel bar after a day's work. There he spots a young Cuban woman - a hotel employee, relaxing on her night off. She is a woman he has seen around the hotel, in a yellow top - a woman he has been watching, and desires.
The following day he went from Vedado to Miramar and back again, talking with stone masons, painters, electrical suppliers and telecoms engineers, working out how far the firm could deliver on plans for the hotel refurbishment using local trade. By the time evening came Luca was glad to shower and crash in his room. He plugged in his mobile and found there were several messages from the office—and two from Ilene, his wife, whom he would call later. The heat here was worse than Rome.
He decided to have a quiet night in the balcony bar. The girl in the yellow top wasn’t there and he couldn’t work out if he was glad.
The next night he went to a salsa club with Leosbel and some Cubans from the hotel management group.
The night after that he was back in the balcony bar.
She was there by the door with a glass in her hand. She was not alone, though—she was talking to the head porter, Alexei. When Alexei saw Luca, a flash of irritation crossed his face, but Luca couldn’t work out why. Alexei had a wife, who was beautiful, and a kid. He couldn’t be jealous. They sat with him sometimes in the bar during the day.
Luca picked a table and pretended to study the menu. He studied her from behind it.
She saw him and said something to Alexei, who looked over at Luca and shook his head, then she came and perched on the chair next to his.
“You are alone?” she said.
“—here on business.”
She touched the cuff of his Canali shirt. “This is the Italian style?”
“This? Yes.” He was glad he’d had it laundered.
“Alexei told me you are from Rome. But I guessed it anyway—because you are so elegante.”
Luca lowered his voice. “Why was Alexei looking at me like that? Is he jealous?”
“He sees many estranjeros here, dipping in and out of our hearts—”
“—but you Cubans are all heart.”
“For someone decente, sí—una relacion decente. But… the foreign men, you know, sometimes they take our hearts too soon.”
He wondered if he was the first visitor she’d got caught up with. She didn’t seem the jinetera type.
He found that her name was Ella and she had worked in the hotel for two months. This was her first job after leaving university where she had studied maths.
“What do you think about Cuba?” she said.
“I like it. Especially the pretty girls.”
“But Italian girls they are beautiful! Like the Vogue magazine.”
“Yes—but”—he reached forward and touched her knee—“they’re not caliente like the Cuban ladies.”
She stayed completely still, neither moving from his touch nor responding to it. “It is true—we are muy intenso. But we are women too. I think not so different? We need also to be loved.” She smoothed a curl at his temple with her fingers, so delicately it was almost not a come-on.
“Your skin is like silk,” he said.
Alexei was eyeing them—he and a bunch of hip young Cubans by the bar.
“They are just boys,” she said, following Luca’s gaze, “with nothing to do. In your country it takes time, because you have where to go in your life. It takes time to grow into something that is strong—like a big rooted tree.”
He found that he could not look at her. You’re worrying again, he heard Fabio’s voice say. Why don’t you let yourself have some fun? What harm can it do?
“Here, everything is por interes,” she said. “One day you meet, the next day you are married, and the next one divorced.”
“I’d marry you in a heartbeat.” He enclosed her hand with his. “Sei bellissima.”
She pulled her hand away. “Not here.”
“Why not?” He knew why, but said it anyway.
“We are not supposed to—hotel workers with the guests.”
“But I can’t help myself. You make me want you—” For some reason he thought of his first girlfriend, Alba. He leaned in: “—my little Alba.”
“What are you saying?”
“She is the heroine of a very famous story—infatti, the novel I’m reading—a beautiful woman like you, who wanted to be free.” He did not think of looking away. “Let’s go somewhere else.”
“I can’t—not tonight; my little brother is alone.”
“Call him.” Luca held out his mobile.
“We do not have a telephone in the house—but tomorrow also I am here.”
“Tomorrow I leave for Rome.”
She sighed and touched something at her neck. “Qué pena!” When she moved her hand away, Luca saw that it was a crucifix.
“Till next time, then.” He stood. She seemed to be waiting for something. She held her face up and then Luca remembered—the polite way to say goodbye to a woman here was with a peck on the cheek. He turned without kissing her and walked to the door.
Read the full version of 'Luca's Trip to Havana' in 'Breathe: 2', available in Kindle edition on Amazon.