Of all the rumors and conspiracy theories I’ve heard since Tupac died, only one has reverberated inside my head. “I’ve heard that Tupac isn’t really dead,” a friend said. “Why did they cremate the body right away In Las Vegas, where they had no family or friends?”
I shrugged. I make it a point never to argue down conspiracy theories.
"What I heard is that Afeni has had Tupac’s identity changed and shipped him to Cuba."
As I listened to my friend, what surprised me was how my heart leaped at the thought of Tupac alive.
That night, I had what was surely one of hundreds of dreams that people across America have had about Tupac. In the dream, I am walking down a street in Havana. The air is thick with the perfume of strong black coffee, and black men in starched white shirts play dominoes on the street. The walls are pastel pink, white, and green, the paint is peeling, the mortar is crumbling. Only the high arches in the doorways and the spiraling staircases that center the apartment buildings are indications of this city’s glorious past.
I walk down a hallway, past overcrowded apartments with no curtains because in Fidel’s Cuba, no one has anything to hide.
"Estás buscando el negro?" a woman asks me, a grandmother who I’m sure is a Fidel spy.
"Yes," I answer in pitch-perfect Spanish. "I am looking for the black guy. He’s my brother."
She points me to the last door on the floor. I make my way into a tiny studio that is decorated with orange and green crushed-velvet furniture—classy stuff if it were still 1959. Afeni is there. Tupac is there, but he looks nothing like Tupac. I know him only by his voice.
He is asking for a CD player. He wants some rap CDs. His mother explains that such music will give him way. She prompts him to listen to his Spanish tapes; he may never go home, so he must learn the language. She directs him to a large stack of books—books about Che Guevara, about Fidel, about Latin-American history. She tells him that his life has been saved for only one purpose—to aid the revolution he was born into.
"Y’all don’t give a nigga much of a choice," he says, looking around the tiny room and smiling at the woman who has loved him better and more wisely than he ever loved himself. He goes over to the window and looks out, thinking, as he always does, that if he stares hard enough, he can see past the calles of Cuba to his beloved ‘hood, where on the corner, someone is playing Cee-Lo and someone is smoking crack and someone is playing a Tupac song and someone is laughing and someone is crying. But he can’t see any of it, not really. And as each day goes by, it’s that much harder to conjure the ‘hood in his mind. He sits down, puts his feet up on the table, opens a book, and begins to read.
by Veronica Chambers
From Esquire (December, 1996)