War as I remember it

When I was six years old I lived in Santa Clara.  If you want to see where it  is on the map, Fidel Castro´s  dictatorship changed the name to Villa Clara.  At that time we were having a civil war, and around Christmas 1958 rebel troops approached the city. I will write the story of the battle of Santa Clara  as I remember it. I don´t  know if what you can read or  see in the movies is true, because history tends to be rewritten, and this battle isn´t  famous.

B26 Bomber

I remember well the first day. Classes were over. That morning my mom woke me up, and with a straight face told me I couldn´t go out to play with my friends....

 I remember this conversation very well, because her comment had a huge impact. When a six year old child is told he can´t go  out to play on a clear holiday morning, he thinks he´s being punished. I sat in my bed and I raked the memory trying to figure out what the hell I had done to have my mother punish me that way, and I couldn´t think of anything. It was a nightmare, and I began to mourn and cry that I was innocent and to go seek somebody else, because  I wasn´t  guilty and how  could they do this to me.  

My mom sighed and told me that I had done nothing wrong, but there was a war, and they would soon have soldiers fighting in the city. She said we had to get dressed and have breakfast because she didn´t know how long we would have electricity and water.

I can´t  remember lunch, nor the first shots. I don´t even remember when they cut the electricity and water. My first memory after that conversation is the building stairwell, sitting there with other children, and hearing people screaming "here comes the tank."  An adult told us to climb the stairs to the top floor, and then we sat on the stair steps again. Then another adult shouted "here come the planes " and screamed at us to run to a lower floor. When we were going down the same adult who had shouted at us to climb told us to turn around, and at that point some of the children started crying,  but he insisted the tank was coming and to run up the stairs...  the last thing I remember I was rushing  up stairs two at a time wondering if it was possible for the building to get hit by a  tank and an airplane simultaneously.

Then I was in a kitchen on our floor, and  heard rumblings, I think they were dropping bombs. And an infernal noise (later I learned that sound came from  a  .50 caliber machine gun the rebels had mounted on the roof). I was terrified and felt like the damn plane was out to put a bullet in my forehead.

At some point they took me to the living room and I  tried to crawl under the couch. It was one of those with springs and a black semi transparent fabric covering the bottom. Somehow I broke the fabric, and I slipped into the couch between the springs. I can´t remember well how much time I spent hiding in that sofa, but I remember my mom taking me out, and screaming that I had cut my back with the springs.  

I don´t  know how much time passed, but my mom told me  I had to take a bath. There wasn´t running water, but she grabbed some in a small bowl, I jumped in the tub, and she soaped me. And then when I was getting  rubbed with a sponge, we heard someone screaming  the plane was coming back. My mom pushed me out just as I was, naked and  covered with soap. I remember this very  well because I was naked on the stairs and the other kids stared and laughed at me. I didn´t find this very funny and to top it off I  had a terrible  itch because the  soap had  dried and  I was covered with a whitish crust. It was total bullshit.

Later that night I think, a rebel came to sit with us. I dont know why, but all óf us children were in one living room, lit  by a candle. The man showed us his gun. He called it “Saint Christopher”. I have no idea what the hell it was.

He explained Saint Christopher jammed a lot, and that he hoped to find a dead soldier who had been carrying a  Garand, which he believed was a much better rifle. He taught us how to disassemble, clean, and put Saint Christopher together again. I don´t know if he survived. I think he must have, because I can only remember seeing  one dead rebel and it wasn´t  him.

That dead man impressed me a lot because I saw him die in front of me. The man was on the roof shooting at government soldiers and  they shot him in the arm. I was sitting as usual on the stairs, because it was the safest place when there was shooting or the planes were overhead.

Suddenly I saw blood running down the stairs, and a couple of rebels came down holding a man who was wounded:  it was the right arm, and it had shattered. I don´t  understand what happened, because he was left on the floor next to me while they went  searching for someone and I was looking at his face and the man died. I didn´t  even know he was dead, I knew it when my mom came and started shouting and banging the poor man on the chest. Then she called the rebels who had brought him down from  the roof.  I don´t  remember what she said, but she sounded incredibly pissed off.  

I have another memory. My mother decided we had to fetch water in the cistern of a house that was nearby and that had collapsed after getting hit by something.  Now that I'm older I think that house must have been hit by a tank round, because the house had fallen but there wasn’t a crater  as occurred when a bomb was  dropped from an airplane.


We left with some buckets, crossed the street, and we were looking through the rubble for the cistern´s  lid when I suddenly saw a flash in the sky. It was a fighter. At that time they used aircraft called P51. Those planes were  Second World War models, and Batista's army used them to strafe and bomb the city with small bombs. They also had one that was much more frightening, was a medium sized bomber called the B26. That plane was unloading much larger bombs, when they fell they blew large holes.  Good thing they didn´t  come often because Santa Clara wasn´t that big and if they had flown all the time it would have looked  like Guernica.

My mom and I saw the plane at the same time. She yelled, "Run!" And she  took off running toward our building´s main door. I think now that she thought I was behind her, but I'd run in the opposite direction, towards  the nearest  standing wall  I could see . I had seen the plane coming towards us  in a tight turn, and I thought that if it  was going to be shooting I could hide very well behind that wall. 

My mom arrived at  the door of the building, turned and started screaming in horror when she saw that I was not with her, but instead was crouched behind the wall about 40-50 meters away. Then my grandfather opened the building´s gate, grabbed her and pulled her  into the building screaming. And he closed the gate.

Seeing this I decided I wasn´t going to be left alone and ran.  I stepped fast through the rubble, crossed the street, and started banging and screaming  to open the door. It was then when I felt something go just by  my nose, and a piece of cement jumped from the wall next to me. It seems that a sniper had decided to shoot me. I don´t  know what that degenerate was thinking, because although I was big,  I was only six. That shot came from an unusual direction, it must have come down the street which led to the hospital. I don´t  know who the hell it was, was  he nervous or was  he a psychopath?

When I realized that I  was being shot at  I peed my pants. I kept hitting the gate but at the same time I was very concerned about my pants. I knew we  had no water, and pee stinks. Eventually my grandfather opened the door and pulled me out of the street. I guess they got water and washed me, because I don´t  remember the other children laughing at me.

Later I was in the kitchen and they began firing the machine gun up on the roof. I saw a piece of the ceiling fall.  I think the  machine gun vibrations were so strong they shook the plaster off.

I don´t think that was the bomb. That bomb was a stroke of luck, because Batista´s Air Force bomber dropped it about two blocks away from us,  on the courthouse building full of Batista's soldiers. And when the soldiers in that building realized their own people were bombing them, they surrendered. I think this happened on December 31, 1958.

The next day they let us out to play. The most fun was to find empty shells in the rubble. Bigger was better, of course. Soon we had a market for bullets, shells, helmets, shrapnel, and all the junk one finds after a battle. 

Two days after the battle ended I was sitting on a wall in front of a friend´s house trading rifle shells and bullets  when suddenly I heard a gunshot.  A child living in the house across the street had found a loaded.45 caliber automatic, and had put a bullet through his first cousin´s mouth. Then I saw his grandmother running around their garden shouting "my child, they killed my child." And then I saw a woman sweeping bloody water out their front door.

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