Many-Splendoured Love/Disconnections

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Sitting in the quietude of a hotel lobby Sabine took a sip of Fresh Lime. Along with its coolness, she thought of Fabian, and felt a sensation of excitement. A smile spread all over her face. With eyes closed, picking up the glass in her hand, tilting the face downward a little, she took another refreshing sip. At that moment she heard someone saying, “Hello, are you staying at this hotel?”

She opened her eyes and lifted her face to look at the man standing in front of her, and instantly felt nausiated. He was a very ugly-looking man - short and slim-built. The skin colour could be called ‘white’ or ‘light’. His eyes were a strange green tint, his hair was curly, and the nose was very sharp and hooked like a parrot’s.

In one moment Sabine had noted all this. Clearly his physiognomy was Arabic. “ But why does he seem so ugly to me?”, she asked herself. She got her own answer when, to reply to him, she looked at him again. She mused, “ His physique is not Arabic. It is sickly. There is an expression of ferocity in his eyes, and even more, his ugly lips are twisting in an ugly way.”

Gulping down the liquid with some difficulty, Sabine shook her head in negative. “ Then where are you putting up?”, he asked. “In another hotel”, Sabine gave an ambiguous answer. “Alone?” Now Sabine shook her head in affirmative. His eyes were roaming on Sabine’s bare arms, shoulders and neck. “Do you stay in Cuba itself?”, he asked. “No.” “ Then? Because you want to go to America, that’s why?” “ No.” “You are here because you have to go to America?”, he asked again.

Sabine pushed the glass away. It was not possible to enjoy the drink now. She picked up her hand-bag. There was no point replying to that man.

He spoke with confidence, as if he knew. “You are wanting to go to America, right? Well, it is difficult, but if you know the ‘right’ person, he can do it for you.”

Now Sabine understood a little of what he was trying to say. From Cuba the U.S. coast was only ninety miles, so the ‘right’ person must be able to make arrangement to sneak someone in the U.S., with a payment in dollars. So he thinks everyone comes to Cuba for just that one reason?, Sabine was irritated. Then, forcing herself to look at the man, she started speaking agitatedly. “I have no such need. On the passport I have, I can go to the States any time.”

Still there was a shade of disbelief in his voice. “Would anyone come to Cuba just for vacation? You must have some other reason, isn’t it so?”

The stranger had really asked a very pointed question. Sabine did not come here for vacation. There really was another reason for that. The truth was that Sabine was fed up with her own life. She almost wanted to run away from her home in Germany. With the intention of going very far from her parents, boyfriend, job, small flat etc. she had come all the way to Cuba.

Roaming around in the palatial National Hotel, one day, she had met Fabian. He had come to Havana on behalf of his office in France to attend the International Film Festival that was going on in town. Both were immediately attracted to each-other, and had started spending every evening together.

But Sabine did not want to give any such details about herself to that man. Avoiding a reply, as she got up from the sofa, she tried to turn the conversation around. “So what about you? Why have you come here?” Deliberately she kept the second part of the question “To go to America illegally?” unasked.

Twisting his lips he said, “Oh, me? Oh, hello, my name is Khaled. I am Palestinian - but from Lebanon, and have lived in Texas for years.”

As if that answer was not enough, Sabine needled him some more. “But what for did you come here? For office work?” Then she added, as if she knew, “You must have come from your company.”

Khaled started replying in a round-about way, “First I went to Lebanon. From there to Switzerland. Then came here.” “When will you return to Texas?” Sabine’s question felt like a poisoned arrow to Khaled. But before he could say something the receptionist called, “Your phone is connecting.”

It was then that Sabine saw another man waiting for Khaled. She felt that he was not an Arab, but perhaps an Indian. She asked Khaled about him. Going over to take the phone, he replied, “Yes, he is Indian. From Bombay. His name is Babu. More than that I do not know.” But Sabine realized that Khaled knew much more.

With much angry force Khaled started a long argument, in Arabic, with someone on the phone. From a little distance, Babu was staring at Sabine’s fair body. His mouth was left agape. He did not go to talk to her, and when Sabine’s eyes fell on him, he averted his own.

Then keeping his face down, he quickly got into the elevator. In that short moment Sabine had experienced the feel of his eyes, hidden behind glasses worn on his round face. Absentmindedly, touching the thin chain on her bare neck, Sabine started going out of the hotel.

Hardly had she stepped on the pavement when a man entering the hotel stopped her. “Hello, where did you get lost all these days?” Realizing that Sabine had not recognized him, he clarified, “Why, we met at the Havana Airport. You had said that we will meet in town the next day. Do you remember?”

Sabine slightly recalled the brief running into him six or seven days ago. She did not know his name. She had not asked, and he had not mentioned it. She knew he was Pakistani, but she had forgotten how she had come to know that. May be they had talked about Nationalities, because now he continued, “I waited for you. Some friends of mine were there too. I wanted to introduce you to my German friends.”

Sabine was not particularly keen to meet any Germans in Havana. Just then he said, “Doesn’t matter. We can meet now. Tell me, when do you want to meet?”

“I’ll see. I’ll meet if it is convenient. I can’t say just now”, Sabine replied at last. Then like an insider she asked, “Where are you going? To meet that Indian, right?” “Who, Nilesh?” “What is his name? Nilesh, or Babu?” “Oh, I have met him as Nilesh.” The Pakistani hesitated a little. “I don’t really know him much.”

“But what is the story?”, Sabine pressed on. “Does he have a problem? Except for the ones working in the Indian Consulate, there aren’t any other Indians here in Cuba. So what is he doing here? There seems to be some hanky-panky going on to me!” The last sentence she uttered in a sing-song manner.

For these men, who seemed to be in deep trouble, Sabine did not feel any pity. On the contrary, the knowledge about the complications of their lives was almost giving her relief about her own.

The Pakistani was hesitating, but with her smile and sharp look in her eyes, Sabine was making a two-prong attack on him. Turning once to look at the hotel door, clearing his throat to shake a little embarrassment he started saying, “It is a long story, really. He was living in New Jersey. From there he went to India to get married. And now they are not allowing him to re-enter America.”

Sabine realized that to begin with Nilesh must have gone to America illegally. Then perhaps he had been deported, and now he was trying to get back in. “Oh, is that so?, She asked, “So what is he doing here?”

“Oh, he has been bumming around for a year and a half. If you give money - in India itself if you give several lakhs of Rupees - then there are ‘agents’ who will arrange to sneak you in, some way or the other. Such agents can also be found in certain countries of Central America.”

“But what do you mean by ‘some way or the other’?, Sabine had not understood. He replied, “Oh, it means by air, or if it becomes possible from Cuba, by boat. Or else, one is made to sneak in, from the jungles of Gautemala into Mexico, and from the jungles and rivers of Mexico into America.”

Sabine’s eyes popped out. It was a very serious matter. If one got caught doing all this, then either the person was deported to India, or even worse, may get put in jail somewhere. One would have to go on walking, hungry and thirsty, in the jungle; and the boat, between Cuba and the U.S. shore, may even sink some time.

Now Sabine did feel a surge of pity for that hapless stranger.

The Pakistani was finishing the story. “Nilesh went around a lot of places. For many months he holed up in Equador. Many months in Peru. At last he has arrived here. By giving bribes he will go to Gautemala or Nicaragua. From there to Mexico. In poor countries you find lots of people who take bribes. But like this, already a year and a half has passed. But now, he is confident that all will work out, and he thinks that, within two weeks he will easily get lost in the vast labyrinth of U.S.A.”

Sabine felt doubtful about that, but now she had no strength left for a discussion. “All right then, I will leave you”, she said suddenly, and started walking away. The Pakistani’s words, “Hey, when will you meet again?” trailed after her.


The next day, for many hours Sabine lay around in the shade of a tree near the swimming pool of the National Hotel. There was a breeze, so the heat was bearable. Finally, showered and refreshed, she strolled out in the evening. Fabian was busy till late. He was going to meet her at dinner time.

With an intention to see the sunset, Sabine went to the Malecon Boulevard by the sea. It was a nice open area of Havana City. That evening, it was as if the whole city had come out for a stroll on its wide pavement. Sabine stood looking at the children laughing and getting wet from the spray from the fountain. Their innocent mischief made her break into a laugh also.

Then she walked over to the parapet on the sea. Nearby Khaled and Nilesh were engrossed in some conversation. Khaled was flaying his hands as he talked. He seemed to be angry. Nilesh seemed to be just listening. As Sabine drew closer, both men saw her. Khaled stopped talking. Nilesh moved away a little.

“Hello Khaled, how are you?” “ What - O, how are you?... Every bastard is useless. If I had a gun, I would kill them all”, Khaled was saying.

Sabine felt that he had gone mad. She looked in Nilesh’s direction, and nervously, he started looking this way and that. Khaled began speaking again, “I have a house in Texas. My wife, children - children born in America. But jealous people are plenty. We were living happily, which other Palestinians could not tolerate.” Khaled’s empty eyes were wandering - on the sky, on the road, on some far away wave of the sea. Today his eyes did not stray on Sabine’s bare skin. Like his own life, his mind also seemed to have dispersed.

Department of Immigration had consficated his shops back in Texas. Business was lost, his life was ruined, and now Khaled’s heart was full of bitterness. “ I will definitely return to America - somehow or the other. I will kill them all. I don’t consider that a sin. Even Allah will consider it a Justice.”

At last he turned towards Sabine. She was sppechless. What could she have said? With a stretched hand he started counting, “... and what an expense it is for me. I am here, my wife is there. Every otehr day I send piles of papers. With special courier. And every day twice, three times, I call America. Sometimes I have to talk for hours. My chidren have no idea where I am, or what has happened to me.”

Sabine’s attention was not on his twisted lips today. It was on his sad story. Listening to it she was thinking, “What kind of world is this? I have no idea about it. And what a terrible life these people have.” Inside herself Sabine began to feel a sense of regret - for her own life, for the lives of these two strangers.

She started saying someting nice - “Lets go, and sit and have a coffee together, and chit-chat”, but before that Khaled had started walking away. Nilesh had been waiting without a sign of impatience. His eyes were on Sabine. When their eyes met, this time he did not turn them away; but in a few moments Khaled came up to him, said, “Lets go, Babu”, and without another word, both of them moved away to cross the wide Malecon Boulevard.

Khaled had forgotten even to say good-bye to Sabine. Knowing that it was not his fault, Sabine turned away as well. Light wind was swirling up from the sea like warm sighs. Sabine was trying to explain Reality to herself - “Friendship is not possible with these men. European and Asian, woman and men. No, not possible. Besides, just now they have no mood for friendship.”


The impressive structure of the National Hotel was noticeable even from a distance - especially from evening on, because of the excessive lighting on it; but its real glamour was to be seen upon entering its compound. Colourful decorative flags in the long entrance-way, carefully tended gardens, constant comings and goings of shiny cars, liveried doormen just to open the doors, and once inside, the spacious lobby, the bustle of countless people; the slippery-looking, polished marble floor.

Nilesh had become a nervous wreck. His real fear was about being dragged out of there. He looked all around. When he saw that nobody was looking at him, he felt less worried. Then he started pretending as if he had come in for some errand. Randomly, he picked up some fliers about the film-festival from a table, took a look at some photographs pinned on a notice-board, but his eyes were constntly searching for someone.

Nilesh had gone to the National Hotel with an intention to see Sabine. His guess was that she would be there. After spending a few minutes looking around in the lobby, he went down the stairs to take a look there. Randomly he took the elevator to a floor or two, and peaked around. Coming down into the lobby again, he tried to check inside. In that large sitting-room all the sofas were empty. He dared to step in, and peeped in through the left side door.

There he saw a small room crowded with men and women, sitting or standing, with many different kinds of drinks in their hands. Amidst the noise of converation and much laughter, they seemed to be enjoying themselves. Nilesh’s eyes quickly swept around on all of them, and fast he dashed out.

The door on the right appeared to be opening on to the back varandah. With a view of the lush gardens nice bamboo chairs and round glass tables were arranged there. Some people seemed to prefer the quiet. Surely Sabine was sitting in one chair, with her head resting on its tall back. Her one hand was playing with the thin chain on her neck, and in her other hand she was holding a long-stemmed red rose. With half closed eyes she seemed to be seeing a pleasant dream.

Nilesh had not exchanged even a word with Sabine so far, but seeing Sabine sitting there so many feelings rose in his heart. His desire was to sit very close to her, to tell her so much - holding her hands, probing into her eyes, but he could not move from there. It was as if he had turned to stone. From behind the glass door, from afar, his eyes kept trying to wake her up from her dream.

It seemed to Nilesh that a long time had passed. Sabine’s day-dream did not break. At last he stepped up to go to her. He had known that something like this will happen, that he will see her close by, and so he had resolved in his mind that “Today I will definitely talk to her.” He now reminded himself of that resolve, and forced himself forward.

Sabine was smelling the rose, and was smiling seductively. With eyes on her, Nilesh bumped into a chair. Sabine did not see that. She had not seen Nilesh at all.

Before Nilesh could go closer to her, a handsome young man reached Sabine. In both his hands there were glasses of drinks. Placing them on the table he bent low and gave Sabine a long kiss. Then going very close to her, he sat down holding her free hand. Very pleased, Sabine seemed to have bloomed up entirely.

Now really there was nothing to do but to leave, but Nilesh could not move his legs.”So close and so unreachable”, but even with his heart tearing apart, he contended that those two did look good together. Like made for each-other. Nilesh himself was left out once again. He grabbed at the back of a chair to steady himself. His eyes were still not leaving Sabine.

“What are you ordering, Sir?”, a waiter was asking him. Nilesh felt that in the eyes of that waiter there was really a different question, “What are you doing standing here for so long?”

Not a sound could come out of Nilesh’s mouth. Shaking his hand vigorously in front of his face, Nilesh suggested”Nothing”, and left the way he had come, in a desperate hurry. The noise of conversations and laughter followed out with him. Outside the hotel gates, the streets of Havana were soundless by then.


Once again evening was falling. But Sabine had not gone towards the sea. Several days had gone by in between, and the International Film Festival was over. Most of the people who had come from many different countries, and places, to attend it had left. On the last evening, before he would leave, Fabian had said, “We will definitely make plans to meet again. France and Germany are hardly far.” He had not been able to stay longer in Havana, as his office required him in France now.

Sabine had tried. She had requested Fabian to stay, she had pleaded with him to spend a few more days there with her, but to no avail. And Sabine was still not ready to return to Germany. The aversion to her life there had still not faded. And being with Fabian in Havana had been so blissful.

After Fabian left all the partying, and dining out, and laughing and loving in Havana stopped. Just as suddenly Sabine was left alone.

In the late afternoon, with a hand on her head, she was sitting at a cafe in a small plaza. There was an open book on the table, but it did not interest her. She was looking at the passers-by absent-mindedly. At that time, at a short distance she spotted someone she ‘knew’. Feeling relieved she stood up, and waving her hand she started shouting, “Hello Hello”. She did not know his name. Today I will ask his name, and will also find out which hotel he is staying at, she decided.

When the Pakistani came closer, showing a lot of enthusiasm, Sabine started saying, “How are you? I am glad you ran into me. Sit down, sit down. Come, I will buy you a coffee”.

“See, the thing is that I am really in a hurry”, just standing he said. It was as if Sabine’s earlier disinterest was giving her a slap now through the Pakistani’s indifference.

Stil, he was patient enough to be civil, and asked, “You all right?” Then hurriedly he added, “I am leaving tomorrow morning.”

“Where will you go? Back to Pakistan?” “No, no, are you joking?”, he laughed, and said somewhat snobbishly, “I will go to Canada. Everything has been arranged.” “Oh”, Sabine said softly. “And those people? Khaled and -----?”

“Khaled has not been seen recently. I have a feeling that the poor fellow had to return to Lebanon. His problems perhaps were not solvable. And that Indian - his name I have forgotten - is still here. Even after giving bribes he could not get a visa for Gautemala. With great difficulty he got one for Nicaragua, but he was turned away at Havana Airport, so he came back to the same hotel. Who knows what he will do now.” The Pakistani looked at his watch.

Still Sabine pressed on, “Why don’t you sit with me for a while? At least have a coffee with me.” The tables had really turned. Now he firmly said, “No, I will have to go. This is the last night in Cuba for me, didn’t I tell you?” He winked, and walked away.

Slowly Sabine turned her face. Closing the book, for a few moments she remained sitting there motionless. Then, having made a decision, she got up and started walking. It seemed random, but in that same direction was the hotel where for the first time she had seen Babu. Or Nilesh. Whatever his name was.