I saw him whisk by like he’d done so many times before, reveling in the speed of his skates, with his white hair tossed around by the wind and with a look of curiosity about everything that surrounded him. On that occasion though, Joaquin had to brake his stride to wait for the street to clear up. This was how I learned his name and also found out that he was 83, when, with his childlike smile, he asked “Am I not a child?” after he dedicated a poem to me.
Generally (especially after 50), as people continue to chalk up the years, happiness and imagination tend to be consigned to some drawer. The daily problems and responsibilities can distance them from the pleasure of feeling alive. Every day we see sad, old people who are only needy or sickly.
Ofelia was a self-centered woman. She hardly ever greeted her neighbors and she always looked at the youths on the block with mistrust. Now she too is over 80, but she spends her days in her doorway hoping someone will do her the favor of buying her a soda or a cookie at the corner store, which for her is so removed from the third floor apartment where she lives.
She says that her family doesn’t help her out; they rarely come by to see her and when they do it’s only bum money from her. Fantasies or not, Ofelia didn’t know how to win the love of others. She didn’t think that she would end up depending on other hands, other legs, or other minds.
Pedro used to spend every hour of his life in front of the printer at his job. He was often recognized as a “vanguard worker” and he received several medals. Today, at 78, half blind and almost unable to walk, he barely has enough strength to sit down in the sun on the bench in front of his house. His old printing machine didn’t survive the changes in technology, and no one comes from his old job interested in him.
Maria went into retirement when she felt that her asthma and the work day were taking too much of a toll. She was an accountant for a chain of stores, and with the advantages that this provided her she was able to fix up her apartment.
In the beginning she devoted her new free time to her grandchildren, but later she threw herself into activities that made her feel more important. She’s now the president of her Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) and secretary of her circle of the communist party. There’s nothing that takes place on her block that she doesn’t control and judge. Her neighbors consider her humdrum and stodgy; they criticize her and of course they judge her too.
These are some of the old people who live close to me. Some hardly speak; others spend their time in lines throughout the day trying to survive. Some can be seen smiling, but clearly there are fewer of them.
Today I’m going to go out and buying myself a pair of skates so that I can go out into the streets and marvel at the landscape, not depending on public transportation, and so that I don’t forget where I left the key to the drawer containing my happiness and imagination. In short, I don’t want to stop being a little girl; I want to follow along Joaquin’s path, who shot by so fast this time that I wasn’t able to take his picture.