HAVANA TIMES — Slanting eyes, swarthy complexion, large breasts, wide hips, long hair down to her shapely behind – this is a more or less accurate description of the woman from Santiago de Cuba who has been living in my building for some months now. She didn’t move in by herself – the whole affair smells of a relationship with a foreigner.
This beautiful woman almost never leaves the apartment. She has a 2-year-old kid living with her (the son of her previous, Cuban partner). One could say she is imprisoned there: he works at the Mariel port and spends the night only a few days of the week, to get some rest.
Large volumes of clothing are left to dry on a clothesline out in the balcony. Most of the clothing belongs to the man, who pays the rent. I look at her from the street the below. She is always holding a broom or mop, cleaning, involved in some domestic chore, for her partner demands that the house be spotless (as he often has meetings and throws parties there, inviting his workmates over).
At one point, I had a chat with her (Caridad is her name). She gave me a brief version of her story. She met the man at a carnival in Santiago de Cuba one night, while dancing rumba. The two were instantly drawn to one another. They started going out. Later, he returned to Europe. When he came back to Cuba, he asked that she moved to Havana permanently. She didn’t think it twice and quit her job as a hotel chambermaid.
Even though she doesn’t go hungry or face any hardships, even though she doesn’t have to worry about what to put on the table (her pantry and fridge are always full), even though he provides her and her child with clothing and other things, she is still a kind of “high-class servant” – the difference now is that she only has one client. If he ever got tired of the girl, he would send her back to her town immediately. There’ll always be women willing to take her place.
Ana Maria teaches Spanish at a primary school; her students like her a lot, but in secret make fun of her being so thin and her dark skin. The teacher has been in a relationship with an Italian for 8 years. The man, Franco, is a tombstone engraver at a cemetery in Naples. He travels to Cuba every six months. He’s helped her repair her home and sends her money regularly. He has never proposed, however. Nor has he ever made any effort to invite her to Italy, so she can meet his family.
She wants to get married and have a child, but he only gives her evasive answers. He says that maybe next year…She doesn’t know what to do. The clock is ticking and she will soon turn 30. Her family isn’t worried about that, for the money he sends her is enough to buy some of the food for the house and to save for other expenses. She debates whether to leave him or to continue in that relationship that has no future.
The girl who lives down the block has a light brown complexion and has a very good body. She is a medical doctor but is no longer practicing, at the request of her boyfriend. He bought a large apartment and is now refurbishing it. He is planning on opening up a business in Cuba, but he is still practicing law in Spain, where his home is. So the girl continues to be alone, waiting a long-term plan to come to fruition.
Sometimes, we run into each other at the neighborhood store or pharmacy and she talks about him and about how much she misses him. She tells me they will soon get married, though he is still involved in a divorce process (which is more complicated there).
He’s also told her that, if they ever got married, he would insist on separate estates, for he’s had bad experiences with other women and lost a lot of money. Laura believes that, as he falls more and more in love with her, he will have a change of heart and everything will have a happy ending. She even pictures herself with his child, going on retreats to Manresa, where her fiancé is original from. Since she isn’t going to the hospital she worked in anymore or seeing any of her patients, she feels frustrated and bored.
These are cases of women waiting to be married, out of convenience or love, who are at the mercy of someone, while renouncing their freedom for the prison of comfort, not thinking that the cage they are in will spell their stagnation as individuals, that they will lose their independence and any chance of personal growth.
These are the stories we see in our times of crisis, common everyday stories, where morality is but an image painted on a wall.