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La Habana

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In Old Havana, a helmet sits in the display window of an antique shop.

The shop sells many a rare artefact: some Russian, some American. The ancient store has no name, but the locals call it La Armas because it is near Plaza de Armas. Tourists flock there to buy artillery shells, Soviet-era uniforms and iconic posters of Che (the Americans call him Chay Guay-veer-ah but to the locals, he is the one and only Che, the only Argentinian who ever mattered.) Some ask about the helmet sitting in the right display window, a few even express interest in buying it. But for almost half a century it has not been sold, and it is possible that by the end of another century, it will still be there.

Rodrigo, the owner of La Armas, says that his abuelita had told him that the helmet had been made by the Russians, a gift from Khrushchev to Fidel Castro. Everyone who has heard this disagrees, particularly Professor Garcia from the history faculty of the university, who scorns the idea that the Russians would have given El Fidel such a bizarre, practical gift. The argument always ends with Rodrigo calling the professor a puta and telling him to get out of his shop, while others yet throw in their useless opinions as to the mysterious origins of the helmet. A good luck charm brought over by the Americans during the laughable Bay of Pigs assault? A military remnant from Soviet Russia? Nobody knows.

And then there is another story, the most implausible explanation, the one told by some of the older generation that almost reads like a fairy tale.

The story always begins with light. A man of light, and a man of iron, brought down to wreak havoc on Cuba because the inhabitants of Habana had become godless, had rejected the sanctity and protection of the blessed Virgin for Fidel's brand of godless equality. The battle for man's salvation had taken place on a beach – the name always varies – and the helmet had belonged to the Iron Man, who believed that godless, soulless humanity had not been worth saving. A few of the oldest generation had claimed to be on that beach that day, but if that were true for all of them, that beach would have been crowded.

Those who had been there had fallen to their knees in shaking prayer, for they believed it was the End of Days. They swore that the devil had walked among them, skin as red as blood, and yet more swore that they had seen demons, some blue and animal-like, some with screams loud enough to rival Gabriel's trumpet on Judgement Day. But the man of light and the Iron Man had fought and fought and fought, and finally the man of light had fallen, presumably taking the salvation of mankind with him.

Then the Iron Man had seen his brother on the ground, his light quickly diminishing, and he was brought to his knees.

The story peters out after that, because a million different variations follow and everyone has their own idea of what really happened. It may be just a fairy tale, but the story of good versus evil is always arresting, particularly when no sides are black or white, unlike a chess game. But the story ends the same. The Iron Man, wrecked with grief over the man of light's fall, removes the helmet, the source of his power, and asks for the man of light to forgive him. Another story that is always arresting: the story of redemption, that the Iron Man could learn to see that humanity was worth saving, that love was really sometimes enough. Then again, in the fairy tales, it always was.

In Old Havana, a helmet sits in the display window of an antique shop.

 

THE END