Speaking in a Low Voice

Irina Echarry

Elderly Cuban. Photo: Caridad

I don’t know his name; let’s call him Ramon, that’s the least important.  He’s thin, brown-skinned and appears to have racked up a good number of years.  I see him daily seated on the wall in front of the bakery, carping quietly about his problems.  In his hand is a drink that causes him to speak with no inhibitions.

On this wall, the man fights the demons that harass him.  He argues with invisible people (one day it’s the city councilperson, another day his wife or some kid who “doesn’t know a damn thing about life”). He debates fundamental issues of his freedom as an individual, demanding his right to “to sit wherever I want,” because “it’s nobody’s business what I do.”

I’ve seen him sling his hands hopelessly, saying: “No one can pull anything over on me. I know all the scams at that company.” But he always says this just barely raising his voice, as if he was tired or didn’t want to bother anyone.

Ramon is used to drinking.  Ever since I was a little girl I’ve observed him, and I can see how his appearance has deteriorated over time.  What catches your attention is that you never see him caught up in the euphoria that alcohol generally brings on.

He is a man anguished by work or family issues, or those of some other kind that he doesn’t know how to solve.  On top of this, he believes that drinking will lead him out of it somehow.  But since he never quite finds the door, he tries again the following day.

Like this, days, weeks and months go by in the life of this man so wrapped up with his internal muck.

Like I said, the wall where he sits is in front of the bakery.  As a result of the nation’s flour shortage, January has been problematic for buying one’s bread daily.  The lines have been longer and people have been more irritated than usual.

Ramon, however, has not felt the least bit perturbed.  He has continued with his routine as if he were paralyzed.

Seeing him this way, so calm, made me think that it’s not good to be so lost in thought.  If we all resign ourselves to reflecting on our problems in a low voice, with invisible people, without being interested in what’s around us, we’ll never succeed in improving life.  We won’t solve our internal conflicts and much less the collective problems that concern us all.

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.

2 thoughts on “Speaking in a Low Voice

  • I agree- Irina you have aer ‘set of eyes’ and can truly see. In Canada we have the same problems–homeless(?),alcoholic PLUS the cold..the government triies to help but it is fundementally a choice–something we treasure as Canadians.
    Keep writing!

  • A good character sketch, Irina! Moreover, you manage to connect the life of this lonely and pathetic individual with the greater society and its (our) problems. Regardless of whether one lives under “capitalism” or “socialism,” the character type you describe exists under both social and economic arrangements. It is a tragedy that within so many humans their potentials are wasted or frustrated. It is probably an unaswerable question whether, in such cases, drinking is a cause, or merely a symptom.
    At times alcohol and drugs can be liberating; most of the time, however, they drag us down to oblivion. Perhaps they are the symbolic equivalent of the shock which anesthetizes a deer before it is eaten by a lion, except in the case of humans this “anesthetic” period often takes years, even decades, before it victim is devoured.

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