- Marching Men
Eloy Manduley inserted his time card carelessly into the clock. Instead of a stamp, he heard a soft clicking sound. The numbers had been punched on the wrong line. The digits for the minutes were missing. Indifferent to his mistake, he left the card in its corresponding slot, walked past the counter and out the front door, and lumbered down the front steps of the Havana post office, where he had been working for the past two decades.
He didn’t remember to open his umbrella until he reached the sidewalk. Eloy couldn’t stand sunlight: it made his skin break out around his neck and on his forehead. The heat fatigued him too—sometimes to the point of unbearable dizziness—especially in the summer. He had been rushed to the hospital twice for losing consciousness in the middle of the street. Doctors had conducted tests and periodically examined him, but other than some minor vitamin deficiencies they had found nothing and so had given him, along with the advice that he should keep hydrated, a clean bill of health.
During his years of clerical service, Eloy had been recognized as “Most Outstanding Employee” on half a dozen occasions. The certificates he had received hung side by side above his bed. Gazing at the framed documents every so often, a sense of purpose had settled in his heart as well as gratitude for the recognition of his dedicated labor. He felt proud and satisfied—as a worker and revolutionary.
Lately, however, the commendations had become a painful reminder that his glory days were behind him. The irony hurt him more than anything: he was being punished by the very objects that had once symbolized his success. In the past five years, he hadn’t been offered any accolades. Just a month ago, he had been demoted. A coworker had accused him of opening some of the mail. Eloy had been seen—this person claimed—carefully reading what appeared to be handwritten letters and then placing them back in their envelopes. [End Page 55]
Eloy was humiliated. He considered dumping the stack of awards on his boss’s desk and telling him off. “Where is the proof?” he wanted to say. “How can you take a newbie’s word over mine?”
As for the accuser, a pompous young man with huge glasses, he deserved a good beating for ratting him out.
Eloy had been reading his lover’s letters. Her name was Gladys, and they had been involved for two years. She was now in the process of leaving the country. However, she hadn’t shared this detail with him. He had learned about her upcoming departure through her correspondence.
On this particular day, a Friday, Eloy walked away from the post office at a more deliberate pace than usual. Since his demotion, he had been overcome with the suspicion that he was going to be fired. Now on the verge of losing Gladys, he thought it quite normal to be distracted and apathetic at work, as though he were a defeated man. Whatever ounce of energy he could muster, he had convinced himself, should be used to fight for Gladys, even if it meant sacrificing his job and tarnishing his reputation.
As he reached the nearest bus stop, Eloy looked at his watch under the shade of his massive umbrella. He had made it on time. With luck he would have to wait only five minutes. A half-hour later, as a packed bus turned the corner and roared toward him, he concluded that being an upright citizen in a communist country had become a tragic thing.
Eloy squeezed himself between a tall high school student and a construction worker. He couldn’t reach any handles or rails, so he used his umbrella for support. As the bus labored ahead, he rocked back and forth, his head knocking against the men’s armpits. The air inside the vehicle felt static and damp, despite a few of the windows being open. A revolting smell of perspiration oozed from the sweat-soaked bodies. At one of the stops, Eloy retrieved a handkerchief from his shirt pocket and...