48. The Third Face

AFTER THE COUP, THE well known revolutionary Juan Battista Arranxia was forced to flee the country. After diplomatic lobbying by the new government in exile, he was granted temporary asylum in Cuba, where he was instructed to undergo facial reconstructive surgery in order to be able to return to the old country to resume his militant activities. The surgeon who operated on his face was the most respected plastic surgeon in all of Cuba, a country noted for the quality of its doctors and surgeons. Juan Battista was a very handsome man – in fact, his handsomeness was so well known that it had become a liability. A revolutionary should only be a little handsome. On the express orders of the government in exile the surgeon had shaped him an anonymous kind of face intended to go unnoticed. When his new face was revealed, Juan Battista’s disappointment was so palpable that the respected surgeon patted him on his back and told him that the swelling and bruising would subside, that his looks would improve, even if it would never look as good as the original, but when Juan Battista was ready to resume his old life he, the old surgeon, would ensure that his original face would be restored, at least as much as was possible given the passage of time. Juan Battista returned to the old country incognito, with a new passport and a new identity provided to him by the government in exile. There he resumed his militant activities with a zeal that surpassed his own high standards and which in fact began to border on cruelty. Although his star rose to the highest ranks of the underground resistance movement, Juan Battista, accustomed to beauty, now found himself with such an ordinary face that he is said, when in public, to have been unable to look at himself in mirrors and windows. He began to avoid bars and restaurants as much as possible as these places tend to use mirrors to make small spaces appear larger. However, as underground movements are often obliged to use such places for rendezvous between members, it was at times unavoidable to do so, in which case Juan Battista always chose to sit in a location where he was not assaulted with a reflection of himself. When he went shopping for clothes, he bought them without trying them on to avoid the mirrors in the change rooms. So not only was his new face uglier than his old face, his wardrobe now consisted of ill-fitting clothes. It is possible his aversion to mirrors contributed to his survival throughout this period underground. Having been a man of not inconsiderable charms on both men and women, however, Juan Battista’s powers of seduction now completely deserted him. His lover at this time, Maria Guell Rodriguez, who was also an activist, reports he was unable to have sex during this time. She remembers having caught him on a number of occasions standing before their bathroom mirror talking to himself. When asked, he told her he was talking to his old self about his new life. It sounds like a litany of complaints, she replied. Years passed, and though the junta's crimes multiplied, making its grip on power stronger on the outside and increasingly hollow on the inside, it lasted many more years than anyone had anticipated. Juan Battista grew old with the revolution, but his militancy only became more extreme. He now routinely tortured sympathisers of the junta, and when they had outgrown their usefulness summarily executed them without a second thought. He rose to the top of the junta’s most wanted list, but always managed to escape capture with his uncanny ability to blend into a crowd. When the junta finally relented to public and international pressure and the transition to democratic elections was formalised, Juan Battista was ordered by his protectors to return to Cuba. As the old Juan Battista’s identity – his old name and his old face – was now the subject of many legends and myths among the people, he would be needed to fill a high position in the incoming government. The plastic surgeon in Cuba who had operated on him originally, however, had retired in the intervening years. His health was now poor. His right hand, with which he had held his surgical implements, now trembled. I’m sorry, he said, I grew old too soon. No, said Juan Battista, I’m sorry. The revolution took too long. Juan Battista left Havana and travelled to Miami, Florida via Mexico, using yet another alias - his third, again provided by the incoming government - to circumvent the Cuban embargo. Armed with such photographs of his first, youthful face as he could find, he organised at considerable personal expense to have his face restored by the foremost plastic surgeon in North America. When his face was revealed, however, the disappointment was so palpable that the plastic surgeon reassured him that the swelling and bruising would subside, and that his old face would reappear in due course. Later that same day, Juan Battista Arranxia checked out of the hospital and, despite rumours he now works for a Miami drug cartel, has never been seen or heard of since.