HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba, your pockets may be full of all kinds of bills and you can still run into all manner of obstacles and mistreatment at stores while trying to make a simple purchase. The lesson of the story is that, on the island, money doesn’t change things.
I’ve said this before: for some people, it seems I’m mere decoration. I’ve even come to wonder whether I’m a ghost, for I’ve gone into a perfume shop that’s practically empty and, of the four clerks there, not one has moved from the counter to come help me.
Every time I want to get some service, I stand in front of the counter, looking at the products in front of me like an idiot, assuming that a clerk will notice I’m there…to no avail. Perhaps my face expresses so much poverty that they don’t even go to the trouble of asking whether I want anything.
That’s when I get angry and start speaking like a madman, while I glance about me. Am I alive? Do I exist? Am I a ghost? After asking the three questions out loud, the clerks look at me and one finally deigns to help me. Without budging an inch, she yells at me, asking me what I want. I tell her to come closer, that I don’t like to shout, and she does, with a nasty look on her face. I ask whether they have any shampoo for oily hair and she doesn’t know the answer. To my surprise, she doesn’t know what products they carry.
Finally, I decide to head to another store that’s close to my house.
Surprise, surprise: I got there, found the product I needed but, in the department that carried this product, there are no clerks working. I decide to wait.
At a prudent distance from me, three clerks are chatting, while a third talks on her cell phone. People begin to gather in front of the counter. Like me, they’re interested in buying something, but the clerk there is nowhere to be found and none of the others there have any explanation as to the delay. We don’t even know whether the department is working (though it’s only 2 in the afternoon).
After a 20-minute wait, the young woman – a stunning young lady – shows up, holding a cell phone. She’d seen she had customers waiting from a distance, but that doesn’t matter. The products she’s selling aren’t hers and she probably doesn’t get much of a commission for her sales. Besides, customers are a bother: they bicker and complain about everything.
When she got to the counter, I told her I was about to leave after waiting for very long. She replied: “Really? What a shame.” She said that without even looking at me, with her eyes fixed on the cell phone.
No one in line said anything. They only looked at one another as if to say: “this is hopeless.” And that’s the truth, no one will try and change what seems unchangeable. As long as this system continues to exist, these daily situations will continue to happen and, at every store, even if we have the money to buy things, they will continue to treat us like what they think we are: a bunch of miserable Cubans.