The Mustache

Maritza had agreed to marry me, but only if I grew a mustache. At first I found it hurtful that something so superficial should check her love for me. I remember the gibbous moon reflecting in Havana Harbor, the Malecón quiet as a death watch at that hour. This was 1902, before cars rattled their metal bones day and night along the boulevard. Outdoor concerts we called retretas drew large crowds in those days, and breathless couples danced polite versions of the danzón, or sometimes an American two-step, right out in the road. Maritza and I had danced all evening, then drifted toward the seawall as the musicians stowed their instruments, a fiddle string softly plunking.

Beguiling in white, Maritza laughed when I showed her the ring. “First, you must grow a mustache,” she said, and touched my lips. I laughed too, believing she was joking, but her face grew serious. “I mean it, Martín. I won’t marry a man with a bald lip, like a boy.” She lifted her chin and puffed out her chest. “Quiero un hombre viril . . . but tender too,” she said, “like José Martí. Like you, my love. Anyway, mira. Look at your hairy hands. You could grow a mustache in a week!”

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