My Neighbor Esperanza

Jorge Milanes Despaigne 

Restoration project in Old Havana.

My neighbor Esperanza is a Cuban descendent of Spaniards.  Her parents came to Cuba in the first half of the previous century to make their fortune.  Though they never became rich, they worked hard to become the owners of a bodega (a small store), located in the Vibora neighborhood.

Testimonies of this are reflected in their photos of the epoch, where you can see a well-stocked business and even the advertising of the times.  In the background are signs like “Jabon Toro” (Bull Soap), though today almost no one remembers the jingle: “Bull Soap, the bull in your soap dish.”  Esperanza recalled that phrases that she heard in her childhood, one of the first ones that she learned how to read through a poster.

A while ago she was going through the steps to obtain Spanish citizenship.  She was filling out forms, buying stamps, waiting in lines…  I myself helped her fill out the application schedules for a Spanish passport, because according to her I have better penmanship.

Finally the paperwork nightmare concluded, but a few days ago she came over to the house to tell me that her godmother who lives in the United States had invited her to come to New York – and of course she had accepted to visit.

I thought that it would take a while for the trip to actually happen because her husband is still recovering from a fall.  However her daughter offered to take care of him during her time in the big city.  But this morning she came by worried about a matter that had nothing to do with paperwork, though it was in fact fairly unusual, at least among the people I know.

It turned out that Esperanza offered to buy me some Perla toothpaste, which is sold (under the rationing system) at their bodega; well, now it’s called “Dentex,” though it’s the “same dog but with a different collar,” as the old saying goes.

She knew that I wouldn’t want it and that I’d never buy it for myself.  But what Esperanza told me this morning left me openmouthed, after I made sure it wasn’t a joke:

“Oh, Jorgito, you could buy the toothpaste from the bodega.  Look, I’ll buy it from you and pay a little extra if you want.  It’s that I don’t like Colgate or any other of those foreign brands; in three days I’m leaving for the north and what am I going to do if I can’t find any Dentex up there?”