The Other Joy

Jorge Milanes

Havana night scene.

Yesterday was my aunt’s birthday.  She’s an 80-year-old woman, with soft gray hair (that she conceals with dye) and who wears glasses (that she uses only to read).  Her husband died a year back and, as is still customary among older men and widows, she dresses in black and doesn’t like for music to be heard in her home.

After leaving work, I went to the old house in the teeming neighborhood of Atares, in the Cerro section of Havana, where she has lived for more than fifty years.  My cousin had called me at the office to remind me about the birthday celebration planned for her that afternoon.

The truth is that I was greatly surprised when I got there.  I heard salsa music playing and there were numbers of people there who were close to me; unfortunately though, I only see them at family get-togethers.

After I conversed with relatives and friends for a while, the “birthday girl” —who had been getting ready in her bedroom— came out into the front room.  More than a few of us were there waiting for her.  She was wearing an olive-green dress that reached all the way to her ankles, and she had on high heels, that made her seem taller.

She was overflowing with happiness.  “Turning 80 is a privilege,” she told me, “especially when I still want to dance with my nephew.”  We all danced, we drank, and more than anything else, we laughed.

For a long time, that cheerful expression had disappeared from her face, and certainly to rediscover it was a reason for tremendous satisfaction in me and in all those who love her.

But I then I began to think that her happiness, so contagious, had surpassed the reason for her joy.  It was to the point that I was afraid that her mind was starting to go.  Perhaps it was the beginning of Alzheimer’s, I wondered.

Later, when we all came together to sing her “Happy Birthday” around the cake and to all take a picture together, my aunt revealed to us her other joy: “Dear family, it’s my pleasure to inform you that tomorrow I will celebrate my birthday again; this time with my family in Florida…”

2 thoughts on “The Other Joy

  • Grok.
    It is a matter of pride that we, Cubans in exile, do not shut-in our elders.
    Some do and are criticized harshly.

  • I hope it’s only a trip. How could she adjust to society there? She’d end up being a shut-in, AFAIC. But who knows. It would be far nicer if she could spend her remaining years where she’s lived all her life, surrounded by everyone she loves.

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