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18 year old Magdalena Fuentes is lying naked next to her perfect lover when he tells her he is marrying someone else. It is soon clear her destiny lies with another man, even though she says she doesn’t believe in fate.
But fate doesn’t care whether we believe in it or not…
Havana, 1958. Magdalena Fuentes knows that Angel Macheda is the only man for her, even after he takes her virginity and then tells her he is engaged to someone else. She knows they are meant to be.
So why can she not stop thinking about Reyes Garcia? From the moment I saw you, he says, I knew there would be no one else.
From the moment I saw you, she tells him, I knew you were arrogant, conceited and rude.
Magdalena is a girl who will not let sentiment stand between her and love. But as Fidel Castro’s rebels tighten their grip around the city and she watches her family and her whole life come apart, she learns hard lessons about love abd about life.
Against the backdrop of the boleristas and the gangsters, the music and the guns, Magdalena discovers just how dangerous love can be.
Naked in Havana is the first in a three part series, a sprawling epic of passion and destiny, stretching across three decades and two continents.
You want Havana?
I’ll give you Havana.
I have Havana right here, in this old photograph album I keep up here on the bookshelf. It’s a little tattered and the photographs are all black and white, I can’t even see them these days without my glasses. But it’s the most precious thing I own, apart from my wedding ring. Reyes had to smuggle it out for me. I don’t have much else left of those days. I left Cuba with the clothes on my back and not much else.
Here’s my papi. Isn’t he handsome? He’s standing outside his nightclub, the Left Bank, down on La Rampa. I was sixteen then. Yes, stunning – that’s what everyone says. Being beautiful is a blessing and a curse. When you’re young you think you own your beauty like you think you own your youth. You don’t realise that you’re just borrowing both and that someday life will come to take them back. Perhaps I would have done things differently if I was smart enough to know that.
Or perhaps not. What a lowdown, spoiled bitch I was. You really want to read this? Don’t. Do yourself a favour, find some other book to read, because I swear, you’ll want to throttle me when you learn the things I did. But I learned my lesson. Take some comfort in that; life paid me back, in full.
Here’s my mother. I didn’t know her well. She died when I was ten. We are on the Malecón, by the sea wall, back in the early fifties before everything went to hell. Look how she’s holding me. She must have loved me but I can’t even remember her face now, not without this photograph to remind me.
People treat you like a princess, because they love you, because you’ve lost your mother. And because your daddy’s rich, you think it’s always going to be like that. But life always finds a way to keep us honest, that’s what I found anyway.
And if life doesn’t, death will.
But I got lucky. Reyes Garcia came along, and changed everything.
But first there was Havana.
So there I was, naked. In Havana.
On the bed.
Angel, bless him, waited until he’d slept with me before he told me he was marrying someone else.
In fact, he waited until he’d had me on three separate occasions before breaking the good news. For now he sat there on the windowsill, smoking a cigarette, listening to the scratchy sound of Beni Moré on the old Victrola singing Santa Isabel de las Lajas. We were in his father’s apartment on San Lorenzo, where Senor Macheda brought his own mistresses: I suppose, in Angel’s mind, he was just carrying on family tradition.
My thoughts were in quite another direction. I imagined finally telling my father about us, wondered whether we would have the wedding at the club or in the garden at home. I knew papi wouldn’t agree to one of the big hotels, he hated those guys taking over his country like that.
I lay on the tangled sheets, feeling the wetness on my belly turning sticky and cold as the overhead fan stirred the treacly air. He was always careful like that, my Angel; being late home from shopping was easier to explain than being pregnant. I admired the lean bands of muscle on his chest. He was a beautiful boy, a comma of inky black hair fell over his forehead and resisted all his efforts to push it back. His half lidded eyes made him appear more sensual than he really was.
My clothes were scattered over the floor. The room smelled of sweat, sex and the French perfume my papi had bought me for my eighteenth birthday.
Angel’s hand went to his penis, stroked it casually, then he looked at me and one corner of his mouth twisted in a self satisfied grin.
‘I’m getting married,’ he said.
I raised myself on one elbow, stared at him. ‘What?’
‘Father’s idea. Nothing I can do about it.’ He shrugged his shoulders, as if this was a minor inconvenience that no one could have possibly foreseen.
‘Married? When? To who?’
He drew on his cigarette, watched the long stream of smoke as he exhaled. ‘Some girl from America. He says it’s important for the family, that it’s my duty. Can you believe it?’ He laughed. ‘My fucking father would marry me to my sister if there was a dollar in it.’
He looked at her, tilted his head, like: you should feel sorry for me, Magdalena.
‘How long have you known about this?’
Another casual shrug. He examined the tip of his cigarette, the glowing ash I would have liked to have mashed in his eye. ‘Does it matter?’
I could hear the waves crashing on the Malecón, children playing football on the cobblestones in the plaza below. Someone was playing a guitar and singing, quite badly. The brown barrio girls were laughing and clapping along.
I reached for the glass of iced lime juice beside the bed and threw it at him. My aim was off. If I hadn’t been so angry it would have hit him on the head and sent him toppling down into the street. Instead it missed him by a slender few inches and smashed on the cobblestones down in the plaza. The guy playing the guitar cursed us and the girls screamed.
Angel ducked his head and ran for the door.
I looked for something else to throw. The lamp. Now the bedside table. I hauled a picture frame from the wall and hurled that as the door slammed shut behind him.
I wiped myself with his shirt and tossed that into the plaza as well. I found my clothes, got dressed. I didn’t walk out, not then, not straight away. Take deep breaths, Magdalena. Don’t let him see you cry.
I don’t know why, but when I got downstairs he was still standing by the door, naked, cupping his balls with one hand. Perhaps he was hoping that I’d calm down. You should not tell a naked girl you’re getting married to someone else and hold even the faintest hope that she will calm down anytime soon.
He saw the look on my face when I came out of the bedroom and panicked. He ran out of the door and down the steps into the plaza, bare-assed. The barrio girls started laughing and whistling, thinking this was a great joke.
Angel was trapped, halfway between me and the rest of Havana. He made to run back inside, then saw me coming down the marble staircase. I kicked him and punched him while he cowered against the wall. But how much damage can a girl do?
Not nearly enough, nothing like what he deserved.
There was a crowd gathered, hooting and cheering on the pretty chica beating on the rich kid. This was much fun as anyone had seen at that end of San Lorenzo for a while. Eventually I let him run back inside.
Luis was waiting with the car on the other side of the plaza. I kept my head down so he couldn’t see me crying and jumped in the back. He knew enough not to ask questions. He started the engine and put his foot on the gas. We headed back down San Lorenzo towards Vedado.
I stared out of the window, my hands balled into fists in my lap. I needed to calm down before I got home, I couldn’t let papi see me like this.
Angel might think he was going to marry someone else, but he was wrong.
This wasn’t over. Magdalena Fuentes would see to that.