Piratas de Tierra (Land Pirates)
They sat on the steps that led down to the living room, over the worn mahogany that housed hidden objects; those too valuable to hand over in the name of La Revolucion. Under Celia’s very legs sat the ring that her lover planned on offering her sometime this week, or sometime next week, or whenever the perfect moment arose. It was the same ring that she’d seen on abuela Alba’s elderly hand and had desired since she was a child, up until she met Victor and realized a ring didn’t matter as much as having him.
If you asked, running into Celia was as much as a surprise for Victor as it had been for her. It isn’t every day when, in 1961 Cuba, a woman rips the microphone from a man’s hand at an anti-Fidel meeting to voice her own rage for the regime they lived under. Victor had been baffled, to say the least, but as he stood next to her then he realized he’d much rather let her speak than continue the same rant that he gave every week, ever since he’d started the club out of his father’s basement. That January day, Celia had walked in with Victor’s sister, and he’d already observed how remarkable she was, if only for gathering the courage to break the law and fight against the government as someone who was oppressed even among those on the same side of the fight.
Over the course of the following weeks, they met many times, over drinks and over political discussions behind closed doors, in fear that a listening ear would have them killed. It had been six months since they started seeing each other and there had hardly been any problems in their relationship. It was serious, but not serious enough to worry about fighting, or at least that’s what Celia thought. In reality, Victor was usually too smitten to bicker when they didn’t see eye-to-eye on things, which was an anomalous occurrence.
As Victor traced his thumb over Celia’s hand, his glance shifted to the clock on the wall, noticing that the short and long hands met on the number 8. He had promised Celia’s father that he’d have her home by 9 o’clock, but he felt there never seemed to be enough time when they were together.
Victor let out a sigh he was unaware he’d been holding, and directed a look toward Celia, who was lost in thought, busy staring at Victor’s worn-down shoes. This made Victor somewhat flustered; he knew Celia was accustomed to hanging around people who worn and owned nicer things. She’d grown up in an upper middle class home in the meollo ofLa Habana, while his family had only moved to the city from rural Niquero recently, when his father had been offered a job at the central plantation. She didn’t act like he assumed a rich person would, but he was always aware of the stark differences that characterized their separate worlds.
After a few seconds, Celia felt his stare on the side of her face and shifted her eyes toward Victor’s. Today’s meeting had come so close to getting shut down by the police, up until a man had burst into the house to warn them that they’d been placed on a watch list for being against La Revolucion. Since everyone had left in fear, Celia and Victor sat in silence, both processing in their own ways what was happening in the country. Celia was determined to stay and fight for the freedom of her people, but now Victor was more focused on getting out, moving somewhere nicer, like Miami, or maybe Puerto Rico. He was in the process of getting a Visa when he had met Celia, but kept cancelling and rescheduling the meetings at the realization that she would need some convincing before leaving with him. He hoped the ring he hid would be enough to persuade her.
“We should get going, mi amor.”
Celia nodded, loosening her grip on Victor’s hand before completely pulling away.
The steps creaked as the weight of their feet fell upon them, a symphony of squeaks dominating the atmosphere of the space they walked onto. The house was nearly impossible to sneak into or out of. Time had ensured there was no part of the floor that didn’t make a sound.
As soon as they had stepped out the door, Victor turned his head toward Celia, who was busy staring at the dreamcatcher that hung from the front porch. He took a deep breath and gently grabbed her hand, imagining how much more beautiful they would look with the diamond-encrusted band on her ring finger.
“I wanted to talk to you about something” Victor began, breaking Celia’s introspective daze. With a blink, her gaze was now directed toward him.
“What is it?” She questioned.
“I have an appointment tomorrow. For my visa.” He knew this was a necessary conversation if they had even the slimmest chance of a future together.
Her face darkened. He continued,
“I want you to come with me. Figure out how to get yours.”
“What? Why would I need one?”
“Well, just in case things get too bad here.”
“You want me to run away?” she scoffed. Celia let go of Victor’s hand and stopped walking, turning to face him. Victor opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, Celia continued.
“I’m not like you, Victor. I can’t just leave my family here, without anyone. It’s selfish.”
Victor clenched his jaw and pretended that Celia hadn’t meant to insult him.
“Well, sometimes you have to be selfish.”
Celia laughed and Victor’s knuckles hardened. He needed to turn this conversation around. He needed to convince her, somehow, that they would be better off together, far away. He needed her.
“What are you going to do if you stay? You’re going to get yourself killed. You see it every morning on TV, people being killed at La Cabana for even whispering a word against him. Eso es lo que hacen esos piratas de tierra. They take everything away. They can take your family away. ”
“I’ll defend them. I’ll figure it out.”
Victor sighed, and his face softened as he stretched his arm toward Celia’s face, cupping her cheek in his worn hands.
“Listen to me, mi amor. You can’t defend them if you’re dead. You can come with me, and we can get them out once we’re already outside.”
“Victor. I’m staying. Punto, y se acabo.”
In this moment, Victor realized what, in the short months him and Celia had been together, they’d both been dancing around, avoiding at all costs. He saw clearly the crossroads that waited ahead of them, and no exit to take beforehand. Victor stared at Celia, who still stood adamantly, chest pumped forward and eyebrows furrowed. He had his weight shifted to one leg, and his shoulders slumped.
“Then what are we doing?”
There wasn’t much else he could think to say. All he did was watch as Celia’s eyes shifted from his own to the ground. It was strange for both of them to seem so small when, until then, they had felt so big, so significant, next to each other.
“I don’t know,” she whispered.
They walked in silence the rest of the way. Neither of them could muster up the courage to look up from their feet, much less to make eye contact, until they finally reached the steps that led to Celia’s front porch. Then, they both flashed only an awkward smile right before Celia walked up the small set of stairs and closed the door behind her.
Victor started walking back to his house with his hands in his pockets, going over every scenario that could have happened instead of the one he’d just experienced. He was sure that, in some alternate version of the world out there, Celia had agreed to leave with him, and he was walking back with a smile instead of an ache in his heart. He belonged in that version, Victor thought. He didn’t belong in a world where they didn’t end up together.
As Victor approached the small house, his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of sirens that sped across the street. It was a couple of police cars, and they stopped right in front of his home. He watched from a few feet away as an array of cops got out of the cars, each holding a large gun. They marched toward the front of his house and kicked in the beautiful bamboo door that his mother had handcrafted. One of the men in uniform was so tall that as he ran into the house, his helmet knocked down the dreamcatcher that Victor set up weeks before. Victor watched it fall, its feathers swaying sideways until its final arrival at the ground. More policemen walked over it without a second thought, without considering the nightmares that they carried alongside.
In that moment, he was glued to the ground.
In Victor’s head, he had ran, either far away or straight ahead. In reality, he was frozen, caught in the space between his paralyzing fear and the need to take action. He stood wide-eyed on the sidewalk when they came for him, as well.
Meanwhile, Celia sat on her bed, staring at the wall, contemplating every branch of the journey that awaited her, every option that she had. She had been so determined on staying; she thought she still was. But it was different after Victor. After him, she had a choice. So she opened the second drawer on her nightstand, and took out her passport. She examined it for a few minutes, reading the fine print, staring at the picture she had taken years ago, when her family had wanted to travel to the United States. Her eyes opened and closed, until she finally gave in to the exhaustion and fell asleep.
Celia was awakened by a loud yell coming from the living room. Her eyes opened suddenly and her heartbeat rose as she heard her mother call,
“Celia! Celia! Es Victor!”
She ran out of bed, throwing the passport back on the nightstand, and opened the door, ready to compromise with Victor, to tell him that she loved him and that they would figure it out. But the only people that stood outside her door were her parents, and her little brother. Victor’s face was on the small television that was placed on the kitchen counter. He was held at gunpoint by the government’s men, and Che Guevara stood tall in the background.
Celia’s heart dropped to her knees, and as she closed her eyes, the deafening sound of a gun firing rang in her ears. Victor’s body lay lifeless on the screen, and Celia felt as the bullet ricocheted along the walls of her heart, tearing every bit apart, but still letting it pound.
© Camila Lopez-Passapera
Camila Lopez-Passapera is an aspiring writer who was born and raised in Puerto Rico and is a student of psychology in Bel Air, Maryland. She writes poetry and fiction and has been published in Terror House Magazine, The Drabble, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and Ethel Zine. Her Instagram is @camila.avi.