Our final Waterstones eleven début novel for this year is Carlos Acosta‘s Pig’s Foot. Read the opening of the book here…
A Few Important Details About Me
Bueno … okay … the first thing you need to know about me is I never knew my mother or my father and I only found out their names a couple of months ago. My memories begin on the day I came home from primary school dragging a dead cat by the scruff of the neck. I must have been about seven at the time, and I remember the cat had eaten my lunch. My grandma grounded me – obviously – and I wasn’t allowed out to play for a week. She told me it was no reason to go round strangling things. I tossed the remains of the cat on the ground, then punched the front door so hard I broke my wrist. All this stuff I remember as clear as day. But, before that, is like an empty space inside my head. Sorry, maybe I’m not making much sense, what I mean is I don’t have any memories of what happened before. I was a pretty normal kid, just like the other chiquillo in Barrio Lawton as far as I remember, though my grandparents always insisted I was different. They told me I had been born in a place called Pig’s Foot – Pata de Puerco – in the deep south of Cuba on the far side of El Cobre. According to them, I slid down my mother’s legs into the mud like a slug. Can you imagine? Like a slug. And as soon as my mother plucked me up out of the muck, I started howling like I’d been stuck with a fistful of needles. Pig’s Foot sounds to me like one of the weird recipes grandma used to concoct, but from what I was told both my grandparents and the parents I never knew were born there and one day I would have to go back.
‘Mark my words,’ my grandpa used to tell me that all the time, ‘No man knows who his is until he knows his past, his history, the history of his country.’ ‘The old guy’s losing his marbles,’ I thought, ‘the first sign of old age!’ But then one day I suddenly found myself utterly alone. It’s impossible to imagine the man you will become when you find yourself alone. I don’t know if you understand what I’m saying. Take me, for example, years ago it would never have occurred to me to set foot in Santiago, let alone to hang on every word I ever heard my grandpa say, as though somehow his words might be the cure for my affliction. That’s how I came to build a world around a tiny village called Pata del Puerco, a place I’ve never been, but one I inhabited through the memories of that poor old man, the same memories Commissioner Clemente wheedled out of me in the course of a long and painful interrogation, the memories I’m happy to relate to you now, no hard feelings.
Before we get started, I should point out that Clemente, the short, bald prick with the big ’tache who calls himself a doctor is actually Grand Wizard of the Cuban branch of the Ku Klux Klan. I suppose you think I’m making this stuff up, but I swear to you that even in 1995, there are evil people in Cuba. And Commissioner Clemente, with his gang of whiteshirts, is one of them – whenever I see him it’s like I feel like I have a rock in my stomach. That’s why when he asked, instead of telling him my real name – it’s Oscar Mandinga, in case you’re wondering – I answered the son of a bitch in Arabic:
.بِبَ ْھلَ َوان يَلِي ُق ھذا تَ َص ُّرفك إن ،الأر عن أي ُّھَا يــا َو َشأْنِي َد ْعنِي !تَبًّـــــا After that, what happened, happened; Commissar Clemente brought the darkness, hammering me with questions until he literally split my skull in two.
So like I said, my name’s Oscar Mandinga – pleased to meet you – now, back to the hazy past that was my childhood. The only thing I knew about my grandparents was that years ago they’d moved from Santiago de Cuba to a barrio called Lawton in the city of Havana and opened a laundry business that brought in just enough to put food on the table. I have no problems remembering The Good Life – ‘El Buen vivir’, since I worked in the laundromat as a kid, but even back then, I never heard any stories about my grandparents, never saw any photos of them as kids. As far as I knew my grandparents had been born old, because from the day I opened my eyes the first thing I saw was a tall, black, toothless old man – my grandpa – and a little grey-haired old woman with shy, sandy eyes – my grandma. They were sweet, affectionate old things for the most part and I’ve got to say they brought me up well. At The Good Life they taught me the meaning of hard work and thanks to them when I was little I learned to cook, to clean, take out the trash, in short to be methodical and reliable. But that’s no use to me now because that bald bastard Commissioner Clemente won’t give me any work. Though what with the ‘special economic period’ in force these days in Cuba, no one’s got any work.
For all I know you’re one of those ignorant morons who thinks books are for timewasters. If so, let me tell you straight up that I don’t give a rat’s ass what you think because I love reading the classics – though to be honest, I’ll read pretty much anything from Sputnik Magazine to the cartoons in Junior Pioneer. Art is my life, and it’s such a pity that in Cuba it’s gone to the dogs in the ’90s. Round here, people say that when you’ve made enough good art you’ve earned the right to turn out bad art. Bullshit! You used to be able to go to the theatre in Havana, but these days there’s bound to be a power cut right in the middle of the ballet or the operetta. Everyone’s permanently anxious and constantly complaining – everyone, that is, except my grandparents, who still insist the Revolution – power cuts, rationing, shortages and all – is the best thing that ever happened to this country. When I say it, I sound like a fruit loop.
Anyway, back to the important stuff, to Pata de Puerco and its origins. This is the story of my ancestors exactly as I told it to Commissioner chrome-dome Clemente before his band of whiteshirts turned up and took the sun away for ever.
Taken from Pig’s Foot, by Carlos Acosta, translated from the Spanish by Frank Wynne