Fidel Castro's double lived a charmed life and was an important man in his own right. Of course, his relevancy hinged on Fidel's and it is never a safe thing to live in the shadow of another man, especially one as hated as Fidel Castro. In a sense, he was an uber-bodyguard. If he died in the line of service it would not be because he intercepted a bullet for Fidel, willingly or accidentally, because the two, of course, were never seen together in public. If he took a bullet for the Maximum Leader, or swallowed poison for him, or performed any other of those small offices, it would be because he himself was the target by proxy for the assassin, the magnet for bullets intended for Fidel. There would be no posthumous glory for him as Fidel's "savior" because, of course, he did not officially exist. The double also had "bodyguards" in his escort, but they did not serve the purposes of normal bodyguards, that is, they were not there to actually protect his life but to assure everyone after he had been killed that it was not really Fidel lying in a pool of blood. They even carried signed letters from Fidel to that effect with all other documentation certifying that Fidel's double was not Fidel. This was never directly told to him, but he must have supposed it unless he had actually convinced himself that he was anything but expendable anywhere and at all times.
His duties were at first those of a decoy, but when it became known that he had a flare for impersonating Fidel and did no discredit to him in the process, he began to be used as a double, who could fill-in for him at minor appearances at factories and schools where little more than a few encouraging remarks and backpatting was required. He enjoyed these little excursions, how grown men would weep from emotion in his presence or women swoon. Well, Fidel was their god, with absolute control over their lives for all of their lives, and, of course, with the power of life or death over them. The Romans too would have quaked in the presence of the God Caligula or the God Nero. The double knew that he was just a man, and even that the man that he impersonated was also just a man, and a frightened man at that: why else would he have need of his services?
The double's job entailed more than donning the comandante's uniform; yes, literally his uniform, for Fidel's tailor also outfitted him. Of course, his measurements were never taken; he was expected to maintain the same weight and general contours as Fidel. He was probably the only man in Cuba who actually had to worry about losing weight. Fortunately, the regime provided him with unlimited supplies of condensed milk and a good quantity of beef — yes, beef — so that he would be able to maintain Fidel's fornido appearance.
Of course, he was allowed no family of his own and had little to do with families of his siblings. His resemblance to Fidel had always been a joke in his family and it would not have required much intuition to figure out the rest. Officially, he had a botella (sinecure) at the Ministry of Communications (unintentional irony?), but was never seen there. In fact, he had been ordered never to present himself there. He wondered sometimes if the double might not have a double himself. He had seen enough strange things to make that entirely plausible. He was tempted at times to inquire into the matter but thought the better of it. If he had subsumed his personality into Fidel's, why should it matter that another man might be willing to be his stand-in? The thought even flattered him in a way; perhaps he had more in common with the chief than he had ever imagined. In any case, nothing seemed more pathetic to him than the life of the man who impersonated him.
There was only one thing that he feared; well, actually, two. First, of course, that Fidel would die and his own utility end. He had heard of pharaohs who had their entire retinues buried alive with them. He knew that he was more than just a water carrier and that it might be better to suppress his existence after Castro's death, which would be, in a maccabre way, the ultimate homage to him. He hoped this "suppression" would involve no more than an order to shave his beard, return the uniforms and forget he had ever impersonated Castro, a story which, he thought, few would believe anyway. Perhaps he would be reassigned to the botella at the Ministry of Communications and the guy presently holding his job returned to whatever job he held before becoming his understudy.
The first shock of his life came when Fidel fell in public and fractured his knee. His own mortality which, given his job, had never lurked too far from his consciousness he could accept well enough, but the sudden realization that Castro could die and undermine completely his settled life filled him with terror. He didn't want to return to his old life or assume his old identity. The insufferable boredom of it was more than he could take. How could a man who had been adulated as much as him, even by proxy, give all that up at a moment's notice and retire to what would surely be a hermetic life. The thought was too much to bear. Truly it may be said that no man more sincerely wished health and long life to Fidel than his double.
His immediate concern was whether he would be able to feign a limp and how convincingly. He even began to practice and found it more difficult and uncomfortable than he had supposed, which made him more determined to master it. For him posing as Castro's double was more than a job — it was an art, and he was not wrong; specifically, the magician's art of illusion, though he thought more highly of it. So while Fidel was in rehab learning how to walk without a limp his double was in training learning how to. Nonetheless, he was not called upon to perform his latest trick and got the opportunity to "convalesce" during Fidel's period of recovery.
To be continued...