HAVANA TIMES — My apartment is located down a narrow passageway between buildings, one of Havana’s numerous pasillos. There are nine apartments in total, each with their tangle of rotten love stories, stories involving relatively simple people whose lives are complicated by different financial problems.
I don’t understand why people watch soap operas, not when we run into those kinds of stories every day in Cuba. Personally, I get bored with these endless yarns about the moral vileness of human beings. Our underdeveloped country is a bit like a soap opera: what moves the plot along is almost always the worst impulse of human beings.
Someone suggested I should write about the unbelievable things that happen down my passageway. Here’s my crack at it:
I’ll start with apartment five, where a 71-year-old woman lives. Though she is retired, she has never stopped working and has done pretty much everything under the sun. When she was very young, she even cut sugar cane in Cuba’s eastern provinces.
She moved to Havana, hoping to improve her financial lot, when she was twenty. She was always able to earn enough money working at factories, cafeterias and even a sugar refinery on the outskirts of the city.
She has an alcoholic son who moved out long ago, having built his own house in Havana’s Aldabo district. He visits his mother only rarely, and she is always complaining about how little attention she gets from her son.
This woman suffered an accident. She fell from a height of over 2 meters while hanging clothes out to dry from a clothesline. She lost her balance, something understandable at her age.
She was taken to the hospital, unconscious. At the hospital, she met a man who offered to look after her. She had to stay at the hospital for almost a month, see, precisely because she had no one at home to look after her. I have to admit that, had it not been for that man, she would have been left to her own resources, for her son would not have helped her in the least.
When she left the hospital, she ended up marrying the man she met there, and the two lived almost happily for nearly a year. I forgot to mention the fellow she married is stark raving mad, and that he receives money regularly from relatives in the United States.
It had been thanks to the money he receives that he’d been able to rent a place before meeting my neighbor. According to what she told me, the man’s previous wife and children didn’t want him around, because of his mental problems.
I also forgot to mention that my neighbor is a spiritualist and throws together religious ceremonies, one of the things she does to make ends meet, actually.
In time, the man began to impose a whole series of rules on the woman, to the point that she began considering a divorce and he began to demand his right to keep the apartment, as it had been repaired using his money.
This led to more than three years of endless proceedings, litigations and disputes. She would slam the door on his face and wouldn’t let him in to rest when he’d arrive from his early morning shifts at some schools he worked as a watchman (though he is 80 and receives remittances from abroad, he hasn’t stopped working either).
All of the neighbors ganged up against the old man to defend this woman, who almost went crazy and lost a lot of weight during this time.
Threats were tossed around by everyone in this little war. I was told the old man even offered someone money to beat one of the neighbors to a pulp.
The crazy old man – rather pitiful, really – would stand outside her door and pretend to talk to someone on his cell phone to intimidate the woman, saying he was watching a woman who had mistreated him and thrown him out to the street after he had done so much for her. She would get very nervous and hide in her house, listening to the terrible things he said over the phone.
Because this woman depends on him financially, he managed to get her to forgive him and let him into the house again.
Now, she has become the problem. People risked getting into a nasty fight to stick up for her, and now she’s the one getting into fights with people to defend the unbalanced, offensive old man who has a bit of money and thinks he can boss people around, saying to people that they don’t know who they’re messing with.
This is the first story, another case in which truth is stranger than fiction. Unfortunately, nothing is a work of fiction here, and the little neighborhood war continues.