A Ride on the Last Train

By Amrit

Peanuts and Popcorn. Foto: Elio Delgado

HAVANA TIMES, Dec.19 — Whenever I see old people in the street selling peanuts, plastic bags or any little incidental items , I think back to the old woman in the movie Suite Havana, by Fernando Perez.

She appeared along with other flesh and blood Cubans, who were not actors, as they struggled with the weighty challenge of survival in an endless “Special Period” crisis.

In the credits at the end of the movie, where these characters who had been filmed in their real day-to-day routines confess their dreams, the old woman reveals hers as being “to not have any more dreams.”

Whenever I see an old person sitting on a corner or in a market portico, displaying their goods with hands abused by work and time, it seems they have missed the last train, the one that could still erase the sensation of having been cheated by life.

My stepfather, who died a few months ago from pancreas cancer, had the same feeling.  His dream of visiting his granddaughter in Miami vanished completely.  It slipped away in the atmosphere of the Calixto Garcia Hospital – among the infirm, the injections, the intolerable food and the indifference of the nurses.  His only daughter by blood stepped foot in the Havana airport three hours after the moment he slumped motionless in the arms of my older sister.

Now, dealing with the sadness of my mother, who can’t find what to do between the limits of a prolonged bout of neuropathy and the challenges that survival dictates to her (once again), I am the one who reinvents her dreams.

I look for books for her, or old songs or movies… “In this one are pictures of Switzerland, mom, the country you always dreamed of visiting,” I tell her.  And with the time that guarantees me a new illusion, I wonder if I myself will still be able to get (though it’s been years since I gave up my dream of traveling the world) a letter of invitation to the country that seemed so certain, so accessible in her youth.

A distressed friend commented to me about how in addition to the demands of his job as a carpenter and those of his two-year-old daughter, he now has to juggle those while also attending to his father, who has lost the will to live (or to dream).  The old man has no drive to do anything, not even clean the house… My friend told me that his father’s depression began when he thought he had a tumor, and though the possibility of that was ruled out by examinations and diagnosis, the virtual tumor persists and has expanded as a form of melancholy.

Sitting at a bus stop in Alamar, this came back to my mind when I heard:

“Old folks up there they are different, they’re much less worn out.”

“You know, my sister went up there for a visit, and when she came back she looked ten years younger.”

These were two elderly people talking.  Another young guy who heard the conversation started laughing.  Since his youth, he’s seen any country as a possibility.  There are still many trains stopping at his platform.

But I want to make it clear that I don’t share the opinion that old people in Miami (less worn out in photographs) are happier.  Maybe yes, maybe no – because sadness can reach us in any country.

But I do believe that a person is entitled to look back at their life with the tranquility of having worked to achieve some of their dreams, although existence always imposes priorities.  Long service to society should not allow a person to die from retirement, rather than live for it, while in the meantime it’s still necessary to come up with some pathetic hustle that continues to confine them to the margin of subsistence, where one still cannot dream (because it’s necessary to go beyond the mere instinct of keeping the body functioning).

Just where basic needs end, dreams begin.

Sometimes — as if I were on a train with wings that beat unhurriedly (as if I myself had a lot of time) — I look at the old people of my city and I would like to help them aboard, one by one, before some bout of cancer or melancholy takes them away.