In September 1958, I tried to join Fidel Castro’s guerrillas. I was fourteen, the ‘love child’ of a family of poor peasants. But I was not really all that different from those around me: I knew what poverty meant, what real hunger was like, and I had experienced injustice and corruption at first-hand: in fact, just before I left, I came across a number of young men from the quarter where we lived: they had been strung up from the trees, lynched by Fulgencio Batista’s henchmen because of their supposed connections with the 26th of July Movement, led by Castro from the Sierra Maestra. That was where I wanted to be; I had nothing to lose.

But the rebels didn’t take me. They didn’t take me in part because of my age, but mostly because I did not carry a weapon – a rifle or a machine-gun. That was what the guerrillas needed; they had more than enough men. I was in a difficult position: I could not go back home, because everyone now knew, thanks to my relatives’ evident concern for my well-being, that I was a ‘no-good rebel’. So I wandered the hills. From time to time, I spent a few weeks at the house of an aunt and uncle: they were also peasants and happy to shelter me as long as I did the jobs they hated.

With the fall of Batista’s government – brought about more by panic and rumour than by confrontations with the guerrillas – I could come out of the hills, but I couldn’t return either to the house where I grew up or to the village. I felt too much loathing. But things were going to be different now. There had been a revolution. I could escape the confines of poverty and the family.

Failed Saxophonist
The Business of Mourning