In Memoriam Steven Kaal: Chronicle of Love and Life

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By Inés Melara*

It was the year 2017, we had arrived in Havana to seek medical help since Canada could not do more in the face of the terrible disease that Steven suffered from. We arrived in Cuba with hope. We visited three hospitals and in all three they had told us the same thing: nothing to do, too advanced and it was one of the most difficult types of cancer to cure. Dignified Cuba and its health system because they could have told us that they were going to deal with something to be able to get money from us, but no, quite the opposite.

In the last hospital we visited, when they realized that we had already been to two others, they did not charge us and when we told the doctor that we wanted to go to “La Pradera Medical Center”, a place where they use vaccines in a monoclonal antibody treatment as immunotherapy, which is something like for the immune system to attack cancer cells, he told us that nothing we did would work because it was already too late. “Eat fruit bomb (papaya) and eat everything you want sir, enjoy life and take advantage of these last few months,” were the doctor’s words.

Receiving that diagnosis that we already knew and not being able to find any hope was terrible, but Steven faced it with a courage that to this day I wonder how he could cope with everything. We left the hospital without saying a word, I didn’t know whether to cry, whether to comfort him, whether to shout in the street, I didn’t know. “I would like to walk” he told me, so we did. We had walked for a few minutes when he stopped to say “you know what? With this chemotherapy I have been limited in so many things that I would like to eat, especially seafood and, well, the doctor said that I can eat everything, right? Well, go ahead, I’d like to eat a lobster and that’s what we’ll do».

We immediately asked on the street if there was a restaurant nearby that served lobsters, a lady recommended that we go to the “Tropicana International Cabaret” and that we see the show while we were there. So we figured out how to get there and off we went. The Cabaret Tropicana was not very far away, when we arrived, we saw a quite common and simple entrance, nobody can imagine what is on the other side of the walls, it looks like a botanical garden.

Upon entering, one registers and pays either just for the show or for the show and dinner package, in that same booth they show the menu and one chooses, among many delicacies was the lobster that we immediately chose, but when we approached to pay, the cashier told us that unfortunately lobster was not available, that this dish was only offered when reservations were previously made from the hotels and we were not part of any reservation.

It just can’t be! We shouted in unison as the girl kindly explained the reasons to us. At that moment I asked her if there was a bathroom nearby and I made signs as if I wanted to tell her something alone, I don’t know how she understood me, and right away she said that she would show me where the bathroom was; luckily Steven also wanted to go to the bathroom and that made things easier for me. When I was alone with her I explained the situation to her, I told her that I would pay whatever it took for that lobster, that it was almost one of the last wishes of someone who was already completely evicted and I don’t know what else I said that the woman ended up crying with me.

Then we comforted each other and in a hug he told me that he was fine and that he would do everything in his power so that we could have the lobster, but please he said, you choose something else and tell him to also choose something else while I I see how we get out of this, but I promise you I’ll do my best.

Relieved, I returned to the booth, we paid the entrance to the show plus the two orders of food and we waited outside while they assigned us the table inside the restaurant. The restaurant was beautiful with a decoration worthy of the place, in the center, a 75-year-old pianist delighted those present with foreign and local classics.

We were waiting for dinner when suddenly we saw a violinist making an entrance playing the piece “Ojos Negros” a piece that was accompanied by the pianist and the clapping of those present. When he finished playing, the violinist came over to tell us to order a piece. «Ask for a Steven» I said very excited to which Steven replied «please play «For a Head» that she likes a lot and when she is happy I am too».

And when that musician began to perform the piece, at the same time, we saw two cooks walking towards us carrying in their hands the dish of the much-desired lobster. And I swear I cried, I cried my eyes out. Three months later Steven transcended. I love you Cuba, thank you for being so dignified and so supportive.

Writer, Salvadoran-Canadian.

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