We were travelling by a minibus that belonged to the new carrier cooperatives associated with the state. The seats were so close to one another that I could not avoid overhearing a conversation I haven’t been able to figure out till today. At one moment I even turned my head to see the person who was talking about such a horrifying topic. His words made me think about the extreme degradation some Cubans are forced to face when dealing with everyday difficulties.
I saw a very young man, 24 years old, perhaps. He was clearly very well-educated and literate. He was talking about dogs, explaining their digestive system. He also shared various recipes he used to alleviate them when they were not well.
He said he had four pedigreed and two mixed-breed dogs at home, all very healthy and well-fed thanks to his job as a pathology technician in a hospital in Havana. The girl that accompanied him asked him many questions as she also bred dogs and it was hard for her to feed her pets and keep them healthy because of the costly private vets.
Then they started talking about his job in the morgue. As a child he was very gifted at performing autopsies and dissecting cadavers which made him the best student in his class. After he graduated, he voluntarily began to work double shifts. He wanted to stay as close to the dead as possible, to open, disembowel and sew them, preparing them for funerals.
He described different ways how to dissect the dead and how he had contributed some innovations to the traditional forms of dissection as well as the usage of new instruments. Thanks to being fast and exact, he gained recognition among his professors and elderly experts in the field. All of them were astonished to see such a young man with his innate abilities and faculties to perform a job attractive to very few health professionals. In fact – at least in Cuba – this type of job is performed mainly by elderly people or professionals that have been found ineligible for any other job position.
“Before performing an autopsy, the pathologist must drink 90% alcohol diluted with water since it’s believed that only someone who is out of his right mind can open and disembowel a cadaver. After that the pathologist should consult a psychiatrist and undertake a test. In my case, it’s different. I don’t drink so I sell the alcohol to local drunkards. I don’t need to do any psychological tests either because it’s a job I love and can’t leave.”
The girl seemed surprised by the young man’s explanations and asked him questions that the young man answered in a natural way and somewhat sweet tone, that would be more suitable for a clergyman than a morgue employee. He described in detail how to amputate the main bones and the best ways how to get access to internal organs. The most shocking, however, was when he confessed that he was interested particularly in the bowels, as it was the main source of food for his seven pets that lived with him.
“The liver and heart are incredibly nutritious and it’s what they like the most, though they eat anything I bring to them. Once I grind the organs, I cook them well, always in salted water. I’ve spoiled them, for sure, but what can you do? They’re my boys.”
They got off in the middle of journey and I could see him again briefly: broad shoulders, muscular arms, undoubtedly a young man, respected in the lab centre where he worked. It crossed my mind that his conduct might have been unlawful… Or is it just that human organs do not mean anything after death?
He helped the girl get off, showing very good manners. A dark thought dwelled upon me for the rest of my journey and it still keeps buzzing in my bowels: what if the pathologist participates in the feast together with beloved dogs?