Danger In Havana – Episode 01

IT’S one of the safest cities in the world. You’ll love it, and I can’t wait to get back there.”

Warren had squeezed Bryony’s hand the way he always did when she was worried. Then he’d pressed the button on the computer and it was booked. Just like that.

Now she was here. And he wasn’t.

As Bryony sat in the back of the taxi, she closed her eyes to block out the chaos of Havana’s whizzing traffic. She tried to remember what that protective squeeze had felt like, tried to conjure up the comfort, the security it gave her. Tried to envisage her husband once again, to see the contours of his face, remember what it was like to run her fingers over the roughness of his unshaven chin.

But Warren was a fading memory and, try as she might, she couldn’t bring back his warmth, his strength.

A smaller, softer hand crept over hers.

“Are you all right, Mum? You’re not feeling sick, are you? These roads are so bumpy.”

Bryony Kemp opened her eyes and harsh sunlight made her blink. She was living too much in her head these days and she knew it wasn’t good for her.

The sun’s brightness and the searing heat was crazy in this month of January when she thought of how dark and freezing it had been back home in England just a flight away.

“Fine, absolutely fine. It’s exciting, isn’t it?”

She beamed a reassuring smile at her daughter. Even after 20 hours travelling her ability to act positively wasn’t dimmed.

She was the one who had to be strong now. Now it was just the two of them, herself and Anna. Now all they had was each other.

Bryony looked down at her daughter’s fingers covering hers. The nails gaily painted a holiday orange, her hands were nevertheless too thin, too delicate. She looked away. Maybe this trip would encourage Anna to eat more.

Then, as the taxi swung crazily round the corner, the Bay of Havana with its sweeping azure ocean made them both gasp as it opened out before them in a spectacular view.

The coast road with its six lanes of hurtling traffic ran as far as the eye could see, in an amazing curve. The city’s modern apartments nestled in an arc looking over the water as if a child-giant playing with yellow Lego blocks on the shore had left them, neat and upstanding.

A wide concrete wall, low enough to sit on, was the only thing separating the cars from the battering, sparkling ocean.

“The Malecón, the wall, it is famous, all tourists want to see the Malecón,” their driver announced in a thick Spanish accent.

Speeding along, taking his hand off the wheel to gesture, he was less bothered with safety than the need to point out the highlights of his home town.

“Look at the waves, Mum, splashing over the wall right across the tarmac. Isn’t it fun?”

At that very moment, one crashed in front of the wheels of the taxi, sending spray in at the open windows. It cooled and invigorated them. Anna whooped with excitement as the driver swerved to avoid the whoosh of water.

He laughed and shrugged.

De nada,” he declared. “It is nothing.”

That was the Cuban way, they just got on with it – hurricanes, being poor, shortages. The people endured all life had to throw at them because they lived in one of the most beautiful Caribbean countries.

The people were fabulously proud of their island which looked longingly and at the same time warily across the ocean towards their old adversary, the United States.

The driver had a huge grin on his face, brown as a polished coconut shell, so it showed the gaps where teeth should have been.

Bryony was delighted to see her daughter happy.

“Do you remember Dad telling us about the Malecón, Anna? He said it’s where the Cubans walk on summer evenings, where they enjoy the Caribbean breeze coming off the sea. Where they go to meet each other, sip rum and fall in love . . .”

Bryony felt a stab somewhere in her chest. It was duller now than when she had first lost Warren, less acute but still achingly painful.

Yes. She could cope without him. She would make herself.

Coming on this holiday, fulfilling her husband’s wish of seeing the world would prove that she could leave the crippling grief behind her.

The last two years had been incredibly tough. Now she was ready to look forwards not backwards. Thirty-eight was too young to carry the label of widow with her for ever. The only thing was, when you had found your one and only, how on earth could you replace him?

Could you ever replace someone who had literally meant everything to you? Someone you’d vowed to grow old with?

She’d not got around to cancelling the holiday. Warren had been such an organised man. Before his fatal heart attack, he’d booked way in advance. In all the chaos following his passing, Bryony had almost forgotten about it.

Simply surviving without him, taking over all the things which had been his role, handling the finances, learning how to fix stuff around the house, dealing with the funeral, had sucked her of every ounce of strength.

When she had finally surfaced from the mist of his untimely death, helping Anna focus on her A-levels had become the next priority. Finally, going back to work had been another hurdle for Bryony to conquer.

She often felt that dealing with his loss was like running a race she’d been forced to enter, jumping over hurdles she didn’t want to tackle.


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!