By Pedro Pablo Morejon
HAVANA TIMES – It’s the little moments that can give us a real taste of happiness. They invariably repeat themselves in my life every week. It’s no longer a matter of going up the stairs and hearing a baby laughing or gurgling.
Years pass by so quickly and now it’s the sight of her teenage body that hugs me and welcomes me with a smile. Then, when I smell her scent and stroke her hair, kiss her and feel her arms in a tangle around my neck, I remember the poem by Jose Marti called “Open Arms” (Brazos Fragrantes).
But this time, her smile as well as her long hug as always, lack her playful smile. I ask her what’s up and she hasn’t had any breakfast. There isn’t any milk and the rotten everyday bread wasn’t made because of flour shortages. Hunger is a scourge that hits harder when you’re a teenager, your mother has gone to work, and you have to stay at home in your school holidays.
I know that I need to get her some powdered milk, so we go out to find something and I manage to find a bag of bread that private sellers are selling for 180 pesos. Luckily, I have some cash despite the government’s attempt to “digitalize funds”.
We carry on walking down the street and walk past the Coppelia ice cream parlor. It’s closed as normal, there isn’t any ice cream. There isn’t anywhere to go, there isn’t anything to do, even though the press are telling us about a summer of love. The last and pretty much only option left are the magnetic USD stores, the only ones that are half-stocked.
Little moments return here, but they aren’t happy ones. They are of repressed rage, of an antisocial impulse to burn everything down, to raze every one of these devilish stores to the ground, where products are sold to you in a currency that isn’t what you earn your wages in, where you find candy at unaffordable prices for the children of the vast majority of Cubans who don’t receive dollars because their relatives haven’t emigrated to those countries where we were always taught that workers are exploited by a dehumanizing capitalism.
But the thing that gets under my skin the most is people’s indifference. I guess they are receiving dollars from abroad and they don’t care about anything or about being treated as hostages on this island of “survival of the fittest”. Maybe they are trying to do the same thing as me and are trying to keep calm or shifting their focus, so they aren’t mortified.
We find a tub of ice cream for 7.20 magnetic dollars, the equivalent of 1500 Cuban pesos, half of a monthly wage or the equivalent of a full pension. Since I don’t have family living abroad, I save every goddamn dollar that falls into my pocket, but I have to close my eyes now because my daughter who almost never asks me for anything or complains, deserves this treat.
We sit down in a quiet place, she enjoys it and as I watch her satisfied expression, I’m overcome with a bittersweet feeling as I wonder just how many children in Cuba are unable to enjoy these sweets. At least my daughter is happy for the moment and that comforts me, although I’ve had to buy this moment with foreign currency.