—Living surrounded by water makes people a little more unstable. Each person debates whether to stay in the place where they’re from or let themselves be carried off on the waters to other latitudes.
I say “water” to maintain the metaphor, but people don’t leave only by sea. The air is another escape route. In the era of the eighties there was a lot of popular indignation directed against those who left. They had eggs and tomatoes thrown at them; with my own eyes as a frightened child I even saw a melon hurled at the head of a man who had decided to live far from his country of birth.
Almost all of my friends have left. I couldn’t say precisely when the emigration began. I only know that it was a long time ago and occurred in very different ways.
Bertha had to leave Cuba to keep from going crazy with the shortages of the “special period.” She managed to borrow several thousand dollars and paid for a marriage of convenience, with all the documents and even a trip for the “husband” who with the passing of time has become a close friend.
She has been living in Mexico for the last nine years and works in a bar, although she is a teacher by profession. She had to pay off the debt, of course. Now she comes to visit every six months. She doesn’t live a life of luxury, she doesn’t go a lot of places, she works to help the family she left behind and she misses her old neighborhood.
Abel was a journalist working for an unauthorized Cuban news agency. The authorities dogged his every step while he lived on the island and he felt that he was constantly under surveillance. His daughter had left for Spain some time before, when Abel found himself obliged to leave the country. They all but demanded it, he said. He couldn’t continue working for the agency and could no longer work anywhere else either. At least that’s what he thought – he didn’t have a chance to find out.
At fifty-some years of age he embarked on an adventure to the motherland, together with his elderly mother that he didn’t want to leave in Santa Clara. His daughter paid the fare for both of them. Now, ten years later, my good Abel is a night watchman somewhere in Valencia while he records his nostalgia for the island in poems and novels that one day will reach the streets of Havana, recounting fragments of the life of an exiled Cuban.
There are two empty apartments in my building. The tenants live abroad. In one of the homes, a young man left in 1993 on a work contract and didn’t return. Later he helped his other brothers to leave, and still later his mother. Some live better than others. They come to Cuba rarely, for brief visits or to legalize some document. They say that they don’t miss anything because they have frequent contacts with friends who have also emigrated.
The other apartment was a different story. That was a couple whose only daughter fell in love with a foreigner. After some years they were reunited in the United States. Of course, such reuniting doesn’t take place in Cuba, it’s always better in the other place, wherever that may be. People leave, miss the place, long for it, remember it, the sparrows trap them, as they say, but they don’t come back to live in the place where they were born, met their friends and were shaped as people.
Here they are considered traitors for abandoning their country, but this rejection is no longer from the people, only from officials. Now people leave to improve themselves, whereas before they went from the “best” to the “worst.” The situation has taken on other nuances.
At times I ask myself if one should choose their country or simply resign themselves to the place where they were chosen by chance to live. To leave, go to other places, look for a change: Is that treason? If tomorrow I decide to join my friends, am I betraying something or am I searching for my real country: the one of dreams, illusions and memories?