By Xiomara Reinoso Gomez
HAVANA TIMES — I woke up tired today, as though I’d put on 20 years in my sleep. This happens often. I gradually regain my strength in the course of the day. I’m not complaining. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect when your life has been a disaster.
I turned 59 this month. It’s terrible how time flies! Youth lasts as long as a bottle of rum in a drunkard’s hands.
There’s so many things I did and didn’t do. It’s time to draw a balance.
As a young woman, I loved going to Havana’s nightclubs. I went to nearly all of them save for the most famous and classiest of them all, the paradise under the stars, Tropicana. I’m no longer interested in going. Going to Tropicana would be as exciting as sitting in front of the TV at home. A few decades ago, however, I was dying to. One day, I had a chance to go and passed on it.
I worked at a military unit at the time. I don’t know how things work nowadays, but, at the time, even to mop the floors at a military unit you had to be checked out by the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) on your block and the Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC).
I later found out that the CDR chair had declared I had “ideological weaknesses.” He was actually right: I’m not at all interested in politics and I have always tried to keep my distance from it.
I was denied the position because of that snitch, but I went to the unit in person with a tight-fitting pair of jeans that really accentuated my ideology, and the captain there revoked that decision.
To cut the story short, I was given a job as a kitchen assistant, serving food to military recruits (now, they call it Comprehensive Military Service, but it is just as obligatory as it was back then). The poor fellows had to eat from aluminum trays, drink from poor-quality aluminum cups and sit at bare tables. They served themselves water from a fridge.
One day, I had to serve the officers, who ate in a separate mess hall. When I looked at the room from the door, I was shocked. It didn’t look like a military mess hall, it looked like a luxury restaurant. The tables had white tablecloths, ceramic plates, fine wine glasses, paper napkins, floral decorations…all impeccable. It was a pleasure to be there. The food was the same the recruits got, but everything else was abysmally different.
While serving one of the officiers – a real hunk of man, incidentally – I asked him, with all of the frankness I’m known for:
“Why is your mess hall so nice and the one for the recruits so seedy?”
“Because hierarchy has always existed,” he replied.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know anything about the matter. It wasn’t the right time to talk about it and I stood a big chance of losing my job.
A few days passed and that same officer came to the kitchen. I don’t recall what silly pretext he used, but he started flirting with me and said:
“I have an invitation for two for Tropicana and I would like it if you came with me.”
That was tempting. I was dying to go to Tropicana and that stud made you want to eat him up and lick your fingers.
“I’m sorry, I replied. But a recruit invited me to ice-cream at Coppelia and I’m going with him.”
He looked at me as though he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. I went in for the kill:
“See, I was made by the humble, for the humble.”
The truth is I couldn’t help rub his own arrogance in his face and remind him of those important words.
He started to laugh sarcastically, but his face revealed his hurt vanity and frustration. I think he’ll never forget the day he was rejected for a recruit – him and all his officer friends