With a camera slung over her shoulder, Veronica joined the flock to watch the sunset on the promenade. In spite of the clouds, the full moon cast a soft light across the water. What a spectacular night.
A young girl motioned her toward the railing. “Do you like it here?”
“Oh, yes. I love your city. Tonight we have a purplish orange sunset.” She snapped a few shots.
The girl smiled and caught up with friends. Was it more than the tourist business that made Cubans friendly and kind?
The surface where she walked was slick with humidity. In New York, if she were to slip and topple down, there wouldn’t be anyone to pick her up. Here there was camaraderie among strangers, aloneness without feeling alone. Birds chirped. Small children’s voices were clear and sharp against old motors chugging down the street. She walked for a half hour and then turned around.
She gazed across the main street at Moorish architecture with Baroque balconies. Her mind played through the architectural richness, older by five hundred years compared to New York. Portals, columns, and pilasters loosely followed classical lines. The greatest charm laid in strolling after a warm day. At sunset couples, children, and fishermen walked along this outdoor lounge, The Malecón.
Ancient side streets, too narrow for traffic, were shaded by towering Colonial buildings with faded paint and cracked plaster. Rooftops had some planters with vines running wild. Wooden benches with sun canopies above them flapped with the wind picking up.
Coming toward the point where she’d entered, she stood and listened to the rolling tide. Wave after wave sloshed against the barricade, wish-wash, wish-wash, the rhythm of a heartbeat. On the horizon, the haze had turned from purple to gray. In the entire harbor, there must have been hundreds of vessels of all shapes and sizes crammed in deep-water berths. Multi-million-dollar cruise ships like hers, luxurious yachts, and smaller boats moored together in rows.
She spotted her ship docked with many others on the pier. The giant vessel stood out in dark silhouette. Seagulls shrieked from where they nested on reefs. Like a bird sensing danger, she tensed. Nausea crawled up her throat, and she pressed a fist to her nervous belly. Her cruise ship bobbed up and down and plunged her into a troubled state. Throughout the busy week, her thoughts about the goings-on remained nebulous. Vague fears were swallowed up and forgotten. Until this moment, facing departure tomorrow night, she hadn’t fully processed what she’d seen onboard. She’d looked the other way when young women had padded the bras of their bikinis with white chalky powder in packets and brown powder in toy balloons. Who would she tell anyway, the Cuban military police? She hoped to heck no one put anything in her luggage. How would a drug bust work out in a communist country?