Danger In Havana – Episode 24

THE next morning, Bryony heard voices in the dining room and quickly got washed and dressed. When she went down, Mark and Carlos were in earnest conversation over a steaming coffee. Bowls of fruit salad, yoghurt and freshly baked rolls with butter and jam were laid out.

“You have a superb country here,” Mark was saying. “It was really lovely last night to see all the generations enjoying themselves together. There’s a lot we could learn from that back home in the UK.”

“Yes, our land is superb,” Carlos nodded his head, “but sadly still a little behind the times. It pains me when I watch the rest of the world surging forward and leaving us behind.

“You see over the road there? You cannot have failed to notice that my neighbour keeps a lovely big fat pig in his front garden!

“We have to use every scrap of land we have. I grow much of my own food, my own tomatoes and salads. We have to live a semi-rural life even in this busy little tourist town.

“It is not because we have a hankering for the old country ways. It is because supplies of everything are so fitful.”

“I noticed,” Bryony said as she sat down and buttered a roll, “that you use these tiny packets of butter, but they come from Europe. I noticed the same thing in the hotel.

“Why would you ship them half the way across the world when you have this lush green countryside which would be perfect for cows?”

Carlos nodded.

“Ah, yes, that is sad, is it not? We do not produce many of our own goods but have to import things we could easily grow and make here. The trouble is, we have no entrepreneurs.

“This is because the ordinary people have not much money to spend and there is almost zero competition. With no-one apart from the tourists to buy goods, nobody bothers to make them. We are all living the life we might have lived one hundred years ago.”

He shrugged.

“Take soap. You cannot get good soap for love nor money. Yet it is not a difficult thing to make. We just do not have your Body Shop or your Jo Malone or any of these amazing brands I see all over the internet. I have tried them. Sometimes, when guests stay who have been to Cuba before and know how few things there are here of high quality, they will leave things they no longer need.

“Then I think, why do we not produce such lovely things? Yet who would buy it? We are locked into a system which keeps us a backward country, even though we can see the shores of America and the rest of the world on a clear day.” He shrugged.

“One day it will all change. One day soon. I already see it changing now. My children will live in a very different Cuba when they are my age.”

“The big question will be,” Mark replied, “whether with that newfound prosperity, you will lose some of the tight bonds of family and whether grandchildren will dance together in the streets with their grandparents. It would be a shame to see that go.”

As they sat in thought and finished off their breakfast by the open window, there was the sound of hooves and then a shout from below.

Carlos got up to look over the balcony. There followed an animated conversation in Spanish.

“My friend has arrived with your horses, and Norelvis has come to accompany you into the hills. Let me go and get them some coffee and fill the water bottles for you while you finish your breakfast. Then you can be off.”

* * * *

Mark could see Bryony had concerns about the journey ahead. At this moment, she was peering out with a worried expression, watching the horses snorting and scuffing their hooves in the dirt.

He went and stood next to her to reassure her. As he did so, he noticed her curls lifting in the breeze. Last night, as they had danced, he had desperately wanted to stroke those curls, to feel their softness running through his fingers, to tell her everything would be OK.

He had seen people involved in investigations like this – disappeared children, absent brothers and sisters. He wanted to tell her that often people just desired to go off on their own. The idea of running away was a very attractive one.

Who hadn’t thought about doing that when they were a child?

Might Anna just have become worn down with all her obligations, perhaps what she saw as the responsibility of looking after a distraught mother?

Mark couldn’t possibly say that to Bryony, though; it would destroy her. He knew as a policeman that many people with fewer problems than Anna had been attracted to taking off somewhere where no-one knew them.

The draw of disappearing, even for a short time, could be strong enough to take people away from a loving family. Often people had done exactly that, then they were found and all was well.

But this was different. The thought had crossed his mind, and he was sure it must also have crossed Bryony’s, that Anna had willingly gone off with someone.

Had she found coping with her grief, and her mother’s grief too difficult?

She was very young to have such a burden to carry. If someone had offered her some kind of respite might she not take it – an older man, perhaps offering a trip to somewhere a bit more exotic than her mother would contemplate, the chance to see some real Cuban life?

The chance to have her first experience as an adult might have appealed to a girl who felt trapped.

Dark shadows underneath Bryony’s eyes betrayed a night spent tossing and turning and the way she kept checking and rechecking her rucksack made him want to reassure her.


Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!