The Forbidden Fog
By Rafael Contreras, Cuba Free Press
Pinar Del Rio—Julio Rojas is a Freemason. He is a member of the Solano Ramos lodge in this city. Julio is a carpenter by trade; he is a very good carpenter. As a Freemason he’s reached the 33rd. degree, it is a venerable grade in Freemasonry.
My son is also a Freemason, I felt truly pleased when my son joined them, he joined the Lodge and became friendly with old Julio. Amongst themselves, Freemasons refer to each other as “brothers”. I like the fact that my son and old Julio are like brothers.
Julio and I spoke some days ago. Sometimes I spend hours talking with Julio Rojas, he is a man who knows how to make words beautiful when he speaks, it’s almost as if he hangs tiny bells from the letters, words on old Julio’s lips sound so beautiful. I have told Julio the Freemason many secrets, there is no one on this earth who will keep a secret with the jealousy and care that a Freemason does.
I remember the particular afternoon that I refer to very well. I had made a comment to Julio about the beautiful way he has with words, then he told me this:
“All words are beautiful. What happens is that you must know their meaning from the inside. If you say them from the heart they come out like music.”
That was a good answer, I was even more convinced of Julio Rojas’ ability to place words just right when he speaks, it’s well worth your time to spend a few hours talking to Julio Rojas. That very afternoon, he showed me many words as an example, he spoke of the word “friendship”, and he told me a beautiful story about the word “brother”. The conversation got real interesting when he spoke of the word “happiness”, just when he told me that it was a beautiful word, I made a comment to the contrary, I had never corrected Julio Rojas.
“I am sorry Julio Rojas, but I can’t classify the word “happiness” as beautiful.”
Julio Rojas looked at me dead in the eyes, I really felt badly, I realized that I would have to offer some kind of explanation to my friend. The old man tried convincing me first and said something about a poet who had written about happiness, he talked about a lot of people who’d written about happiness; poets, novelists, painters, exiles, lovers, and even madmen, he argued that all those people considered the word “happiness” to be a beautiful word.
“I don’t consider it to be that Julio Rojas, it is a forbidden word. As a Cuban, it appears difficult and distant, untouchable.”
As soon as I said that, I realized that it was time to start to explain myself convincingly. I told him that it was impossible to consider the word “happiness” beautiful being Cuban and living in Cuba, no one can be happy when they can’t speak freely. He who sits at the dinner table, surrounded by his children, and can eat in peace because his mind is tortured at the thought of not having food for the next day, doesn’t know the word “happiness” either.
“Sometimes, one can be happy and not notice it. Someone once told me that happiness is like a great fog, and when you enter it you can’t see it.”
Julio said that. It was an attempt to add music to his words, to change my concept about the beauty of the word “happiness” but it was a wasted effort.
I said “no” convincingly, I couldn’t consider the prohibited beautiful. He who watches his children grow dressed in the trappings of misery can’t be happy, happiness is something truly surrealistic to the person who is forced to watch his daughter celebrate her quinces* wearing rented clothes. My daughter had some sort of party thanks to a friendly (and distant) hand offering their help, I will be grateful to that helping hand to the day I die.
As I continued my explanation I was coming to the realization that I had hated the word “happiness” for sometime. I explained to the venerable Freemason that a person who would never again see his childhood friend, knowing he had drowned in the Atlantic, en route to life as an exile on a pitiful raft, couldn’t be happy.
There is no happiness for a person who is forbidden the use of the poetry and the words that dictate his life. There is no happiness for a human being who is denied access to the books that the rulers deem evil. The word “happiness” is a sad thing for those who only have alcohol as a remedy and a way to drown their misery. I told Julio Rojas that because of those, and many more, reasons I didn’t consider the word “happiness” to be a beautiful word.
I looked him straight in the eyes, I can assure you that I saw the sparkle of tears in his eyes, he had noticed, my words came from deep inside, Julio knows how I think. He knows of the risks I take for writing and thinking the way I write and think.
Freemasons do not make politics a central point of their philosophy, but I saw how old Julio got up from that park bench and embraced me. Then he looked me in the eyes and spoke.
“You are right, but you can’t lose hope. One day we will change the color of the word “happiness” and make it beautiful.”
I watched him walk until he disappeared around the corner; I stayed seated on the park bench. Julio had mentioned the word “hope” before leaving, it looked to me to be a beautiful word, and you can’t take that one from anyone.
I sat there for a long time with the word “hope” bouncing around in my head, I inadvertently forgot about that fog that has the entrance to Cuba hidden, that fog that according to Julio the Freemason, a poet once named “happiness”.