By Julio Antonio Fernandez Estrada (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – The title of this article comes from a simple statement by someone who doesn’t know that we are going round and round like the Earth, on its imaginary axis, which even takes us around the Sun, but things just aren’t that simple here in Cuba.
Here, we go round and round more than we should, we dance in the spinning house, we spin on our heels, we get tangled in a casino circle and rotate in lines.
A line in Cuba isn’t the same as a line anywhere else in the world. On this archipelago, that has been bathed in water and double boiled, lines are rowdy, twisted lines without any destination, a trail of people everywhere, a mesh of groping and curses, the perfect place for scoundrels to pickpocket and cut in, cheating their neighbor in line with age-old scams, getting ahead a few spots just to tick people off in any way they can.
Lines in Cuba are commotions of desperate people with bloodshot and worried eyes, on the edge of their nerve to see if they will make it to the counter before everything runs out, or everything does run out and nothing is left, and those five hours have just been a waste of time under the Caribbean’s scorching sun.
In lines, people talk about their children, their grandchildren, government leaders, the children of these leaders, of the little chance they’ve ever had to wait in a single line in their lives. We are all unfair in lines, we challenge God, the Virgin Mary, African graves, the lonely Messiahs who live on the Father’s right hand.
Now, lines are dressed up in masks, as if we were robbers on a heist, we look at each other with rude faces, we stick our tongues out at our neighbor in this jam and nobody realizes we are doing this, or smells the bad breath that comes out of our mouths.
It took me a while to understand that the Cuban nasobuco (mask) – a refined name from medical jargon, which isn’t used anywhere else -, is also known in Cuba as bad breath, this intimate odor that we take great care not to inflict on others.
The almost complete lack of toothpaste, all over Cuba, has made nasobucos (masks) a necessity not only for public health, but for our honor and dignity.
Cuban lines are like this. You can find happy people, creators of lines, who are inclined to enjoy the human stampede, crowding and disorder.
People like myself, obsessed with justice, get infuriated in lines that become disorganized, where old people forget who came after them in the line, who came before them in the line and the ones where insults fly about and pickpockets come out winning, taking advantage of the commotion.
Cuban lines deserve a dictionary of words just for them. People take their place in them, people cut in, they say “a group is with me!”, people ask “who are you behind?”, places in line are up for sale, an entire early morning goes around to be the first forever.
During this lockdown, I have seen people line up outside stores without products, in case chicken or pork (which is suddenly on many TV ads, but never in a store), or detergent come in; and people buy what they were just looking at before, no matter how expensive or harmful it is.
Cubans don’t believe in looking after their bodies, or their health, or consuming organic produce, or in calories, or triglycerides, or fat in your arteries, or veins in fat, because years of lockdown, of disreputable trenches, of war for life, have made us uncivilized and like innocent savages, saving ourselves from COVID-19 and then eating minced meat every day, which is something half of the planet considers to be poison.
I’m going round and round!, a man in the green split chickpea line cries out, but you can see him standing up tall and fearless, without any intention of dancing or spinning around, or partying, but rather with a threatening look, like someone who can only say with their eyes peeping over the top of their nasobuco: “I’ve been here a really long time and I don’t want to get rough with anyone.”
My ideas go round and round, I’m convinced of the need of socialism, I am a man who wanders, I can’t explain, I don’t understand why the sun is stronger when the line is longer, or why cashiers take longer when there are more people waiting, why this mask seems like a muzzle to me, a bit, the perfect thing for us, the virus doesn’t enter, words don’t come out, you can’t see our yellow teeth.
I am also going round and round. I hope to buy something, anything. Lines are full of women, you don’t see many upper-class women though, where do they buy their products? My people don’t bother me, poor and sweaty people give me strength. I understand them, I know what they are talking about. They are intelligent and strong, they eat anything they can, they don’t know who Modigliani was, but they have watched hundreds of hours of animal documentaries and can give you a long speech about how silverback gorillas copulate. That’s the way we are, and this is how we stand in line.
I am also going round and round. I want to be here, first in line, when we not only save ourselves from this virus, but when also save ourselves from lines and barbarity.