My Guru, the Brain

On a night of carnival, expect anything. I
expected music, dance, romance, but the
anything that happened was too bizarre. The
night was pleasantly cool, and full of stars.
That’s not uncommon for a February night In
Havana, but I wasn’t in Havana, not really.
A young man of twenty is in Heaven on a night
of carnival.

My friend Omar Perez was with me. Probably,
his mother had named him Omar to neutralize
such a common last name. My first name, Pedro,
was on the other hand, common. Both my grand-
fathers were named Pedro. Two uncles, and two
cousins shared that name. They had run out of
Spanish nicknames for Pedro by the time I was
born. My nickname is Pete because my father
spoke English well.

Omar, and I fought our way to the first row of
spectators. Being thin, young and strong,
having sharp elbows, and no sense of fair play
worked well for us. The air was thick with rumba
music as the floats glided by. As the Pedro
Domecq brandy float passed, people broke ranks.
Two guys on each side of the float were giving
away one ounce bottles of brandy to the crowd.
By luck, I guess, one of them was a good friend
of mine. When I called his name and extended my
hand, he smiled at me, and handed me the sack
from which he was dispensing bottles.

By the weight of the sack, I guessed he had
given me a half gallon of brandy. Omar and I sat
on the surf breaker wall that bordered the bay.
Giddy already and forty little bottles to drink
yet, we began to offer them to passersby. To
guys, for twenty cents; to girls, for a kiss.
There were no takers.

“Let’s go drink a few with Juan at his job,”
said Omar.

“I don’t want to go there at night.”

“Are you chicken?”

“No, It’s bad luck.”

“It’s not. Besides, he can come out and drink a
few sitting on the curb with us.”

I went, reluctantly. I sat on the curb, while
Omar rang the bell. He and Juan whispered, and
laughed. After Juan closed the door, Omar sat
down by me. ” He’ll come out in a minute. He
is bringing a stiff to sit with us.”

“Yeah, right. Tell me another story.”

Juan cleaned the morgue at night, and received
any late arrivals. I knew him, but he wasn’t
my friend. I considered him unlucky and washed
my hands after I shook his. Omar liked the
macabre stories Juan told and, sometimes,
visited him at night. Omar loved horror movies,
and a good scare.

Juan came out holding a container covered with
a cloth. He placed it on the sidewalk next to
me and sat next to Omar.

“Oh, good! You brought snacks,” said Omar.
“Lift the cloth, Pete. ave a bite.”

“No, thanks. I don’t want any.”

Juan lifted the cloth with a magician’s
dramatic flair. Inside the steel container was
a human brain. “This is Carlos. The forensic
doc forgot to put him back inside the skull
and the funeral parlor picked up his body
already. Now this brain has no home.”

“What’s going to happen to it?” asked Omar.

“The doc is going to toss it in the garbage
tomorrow. I see plenty of organs in the garbage.”

“That’s not right, ” said Omar.

I opened a little bottle and passed the sack
around. Juan stuffed his pockets with as many
bottles as would fit. We drank looking at the
brain.

“What’s wrong with the garbage? In the garbage
dump, or in the grave it’s going to rot the
same,” said Juan.

“I wouldn’t like that happening to me. What if
it still knows what’s going on?” asked Omar.

“No way! That thing can’t feel a thing. When
you’re dead, you’re as good as dead,” said Juan
with a final tone as if his tautology had
explained the mystery of death.

Juan poured some brandy on the brain. “Salud,”
he said addressing the brain.

He and Omar laughed. A mood of dread descended
on me. I could not laugh. Probably I was
speechless too. I had seen pigs brains before
in the butcher shop, and to my untrained eye,
this one looked just the same. But at the sight
of this dead human brain, the thought struck
me that I was seeing, hearing, feeling, and
thinking with one just like this. I had known
that before, but the thought that there was no
Pete, that there was no self beside this white,
grayish, yellowing thing crisscrossed by purple
veins, had never struck home before. Now the
dread that I’d never feel the same, that this
sight had changed me in ways I didn’t know yet,
had me in its grip. I only wished to escape
this place. Like a zombie, I walked away.

“Hey, Pete, where you going?” they yelled
after me.

I heard their laughter as if coming through
a fog, I walked faster and faster going home,
where I hoped I’d feel like myself again.

Pete


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