Sitting on the fifth floor balcony at night, looking down on the broad treetops and northwest to the sea where the sun set in a descending ball of reddish gold. We’re sipping on drinks of pinapple juice and rum. Occasional shouts from the street reach up to us, along with the grating, sputtering roar of dirty old engines. Birds chatter from the trees. On most balconies people can be seen, though sometimes only as silhouettes against their apartment lights. A young girl on a fourth floor balcony begins to play a violin. She plays with no lights on, pacing around the balcony as she repeats phrases of her song, her dark head cocked over the strings.
The Malecón Avenue runs along the sea, bordered by the sparkling blue waves which stretch between Cuba and the United States. A wall runs beside the street, built as protection against high tides and pounding waves. People stroll and lounge along the length of the wall, or find ways down to the pockets of dirty sand nestled among the sharp rocks below. Children play upon these rocks and dive with acrobatic grace into pools filled by the rising tide.
A little boy, with holes in his cut-off denim shorts and no t-shirt on his boney back, squats on the edge of the wall, looking down at a shallow ditch of water roughly 12 feet below him which is littered with bottles and pop cans. He wants to jump. Perhaps those are his friends down there, jumping into a square pool of water. He happens to look at me and I shake my head, but I don’t know how to say in Spanish that it would be dangerous to jump, that the water may not be deep enough to cushion his landing, that he might cut himself on something on the sand. He looks away from me, back to the other children playing on the rocks, before glancing back at my worried face. Rapidly crossing himself, he leaps, his little body falling and landing with a splash. If he hurt himself, he doesn’t show it; for in seconds he is out of the water and running to join his friends.