By Irina Echarry
“Lift up your blouse.”
Yadira, embarrassed, complies with the order and reveals the half-hidden pack of cookies stuffed in the elastic of her pants.
While she’s walked toward the manager’s office, sweat runs down her face. She doesn’t know what to do.
Yadira is a good girl, educated, intelligent. How is it possible that she’s now waiting for a background check to see if she has a criminal record? How was it that she went into a store’s food department if she didn’t have any money? Was it that she was so tired she couldn’t think straight?
Ricardo, her friend, has done it since they opened the foreign currency stores, though just for amusement and to be rebellious. “It’s abusive that they sell products in a currency that we don’t have,” he says, after having pocketed candy and strawberry-cream or chocolate cookies to give to children on the block.
He’s a neighborhood hero. One time he brought home two jars of olives for an old woman who complained about how she hadn’t tasted them in ages, and another time a bottle of rum for the farewell of a friend who was leaving for Europe.
Yadira draws a blank
Nevertheless, Yadira isn’t thinking about Ricardo or the stories she knows. Her mind is almost blank.
What she does remember is that several days ago she felt the same fatigue and wasn’t able to go into the only store that was nearby. The reason? – there was no bag-check booth.
If you’re carrying a day pack, purse or any packages, you cannot enter stores, and sometimes you have to get into a long line to leave any of your bags in the guardabolsos (bag check) – if there is one. If not, you have to go on your way and search for another option.
But that day Yadira didn’t have another option, she fainted in the middle of the street because she couldn’t enter to buy something sweet. Fortunately, a woman gave her some candy and she came to.
She also recalls that once inside any store, most of the products are behind the counter. To find out the price you have to ask the clerk, who may answer politely the first time, but not the second, and definitely not the third.
But at least the goods are there. Those stores that sell in the regular national currency hardly have anything that’s needed.
The manager of the store looked at her with a grimace on his face and asked, “Why do you do it?
She responded, “But it’s the first time.”
Yadira explained to him that she did in fact have money. She had just gotten paid but didn’t have time to line up to buy hard currency CUCs at the “Cadeca” (the change bureau) and she felt faint.
In the hard currency stores you can’t pay with the national money (MN) you receive from your job, you have to use the other currency to purchase the products you need.
“You think I’m gonna believe that?” he responded.
“It’s the first time, I swear ….” she pled.
Yadira then dropped to the floor. The manager made an expression as if he wanted to help her, but he’s the manager, he cannot compromise his rank; and after all, who cares what happens to a thief. The cameras recorded everything: when she picked up the packet of cookies, when she opened it, ate some and then slipped the pack into her pants.
At that moment, the manager didn’t think about how his own son used to faint when he needed sugar. The stores are full of people who want to take products without paying, but in the manager’s mind there is only one phrase: if you can’t pay, don’t come in.
Maybe staying out – of everything – is the best option?