Irina Echarry

Photo: Franco Alberto Sangles Fonseca

Alexis, my friend for much more than a decade, is 36 and has always lived with his grandmother in her house. But his grandmother has a son (not Alexis’ father), who in turn has a wife and two children; in addition, his grandmother has a husband, Arcadio.

The problem is that the home only has three bedrooms: one for the young couple, another for the kids, and one for the grandmother and her husband – and Alexis.

For almost two years Alexis didn’t live in the house, but he had to return. Sometimes he would prefer sleeping in the living room, but now he doesn’t due to a back problem that bothers him all the time and that the floor only aggravates.

So, he had no choice but to start putting up with ugly looks from Arcadio, who had previously felt like the master of the tight space but who’s now lost his privacy.

Alexis has a degree in physical therapy and works in a polyclinic, where his monthly salary is 418 pesos, equivalent to 17 CUCs (about $18 USD).

He doesn’t have any relatives abroad who can send him money, which means he has to make do with the little that he earns on the job (though from time to time he’ll do some massage outside of working hours for which he’s paid a little something, but not what it’s worth).

Still, with the amount of money he makes, he can’t afford rent. A while ago he requested an assignment in Venezuela and now he’s waiting to be contacted, but it’s been a while and he hasn’t heard anything.

The purpose of his trip would be to save money to buy a house. In the meantime he continues sharing the room without the comforts of being able to read, listen to music or exercise.

Most of the time he feels overwhelmed by the monotony of his routine. He comes home from work, takes a bath, eats and then takes a walk through the streets of Alamar, where he hardly has any friends left to visit; almost all of them have left the country, and those still here are mired in their own daily problems, so they go to bed early.

The few parks in the neighborhood lack benches for just sitting around a little while; and none of them have lighting, so he can’t read in those spots.

Last night his grandma asked him to sit down with her for a talk: “grandmother to grandson.” She told him that Arcadio needed to “vent.” As she explained: “It’s not that I need a man, but I want to try to please him. Don’t worry…this doesn’t happen very many times during the month.”

Alexis waited at my house for the old man to wind up his “venting” session, and then he went back to the shared room thinking about how the day will come when he can pay with his salary for a place to sleep in peace.

That would mean a place where he wouldn’t be disturbed by other people and he wouldn’t disturb them, something we all want.


Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

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