Life in Cuba in Your Early Twenties

Daisy Valera

HAVANA TIMES, April 23 — I have a friend who has taken to stealing bottles of beer and rum from bars and shops in different parts of the city.

In the distracted moments of salesclerks, he’ll help himself to the refrigerators – and even close them as a courtesy.

It always ends up with someone running after him, but so far he’s wound up leaving them in dust.

Sometimes he asks himself — and me along with him — “How is it that I still haven’t gotten my pretty-boy face smashed in?”

My friend looks great, but he’s not enrolled in any school, and he works only as a night watchman.

He collects keys that don’t open any doors, as well as candles to light up who knows what path. But he doesn’t collect bottles.

The fruits of his thievery wind up in his bloodstream, or as gifts.

He doesn’t have any money to feed his habit, and it seems that bottles are generally close at hand.

In any case, he knows they’re his.

He’s decided that those pieces of paper called money aren’t the measure of his happiness.

Alcohol, against all odds, has become a rapturous substance for him.

He’s not a kleptomaniac, and he feels sorry that he’s getting the salesclerks in trouble. And yes, he’s always afraid when he steals, but he’s not bad at doing the math either.

He knows that those who have “taken all his chocolate,”* don’t pay him what they owe him.

He’s concluded that he owes about five decades worth of asking forgiveness for his petty theft.

Note: my friend doesn’t rob self-employed people, and soon he intends to obtain some rolls of toilet paper.

In the night, he writes a graffiti message to the city: “You God Damn Zombies!”

He writes nervously, with compulsion, using a silver marker.

My friend is a 22-year-old worker who lives with his family in a space that measures 10 square meters.

He still hasn’t told me if he wants to leave the country, and I don’t dare to ask him whether he’s happy.

He told me that his thefts are a cry, or various cries – ones to alarm discouragement, exploitation and misery.
* An allusion to the classic Cuban song El Bodeguero and its lyrics: “Toma chocolate, Paga lo que debes” (Drink chocolate, pay what you owe).

Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

3 thoughts on “Life in Cuba in Your Early Twenties

  • Although he might be able to do this at bars, I doubt he could do it at stores, especially those selling in CUC’s, rather than CUP’s, as they always seem to have not only cashiers, but those in every aisle taking the inventory, and then those watching those taking inventory, and then those watching those who are watching those taking inventory. In the meantime, there is one cashier on duty, and a long line piling up behind her one check-out station! Then there would be the sucurity guard, either between the check-out station and the front door, or just outside the front door, adding another layer of the gamut through which your friend would have to run! Added to all this, for example, at the department store near the corner of San Rafael and Galiano I remember having to fill out, sign and date a form in triplicate in order to purchase a steam iron for the wife of my friend! Perhaps your friend should begin making his own “home brew!” Then, with the extra, if he didn’t all drink it away, he could sell it, too!

  • daisy, your sharp and at times funny writing made me cry with delight. kindly write more. your observations of life’s moments for a little pleasure with alcohol is my own joy, too. give us more writings, please.

  • I can’t speak for other state establishments but if your friend stole a bottle of beer from the Las Vegas Cabaret located at calle Infanta and 25th in Havana, the bartender on duty at that time would have to pay the 1 cuc for every bottle stolen by the end of his shift. Fidel never loses money because the employees must cover the losses. Why is that you ask, especially if there are witnesses to the theft? Because the lack of trust in employees believes that the thief is likely a friend and the theft is a set-up. Anyway, cuban solidarity once againQ

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