My Brother’s Shoes and Mine

Rosa Martinez

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — My younger brother has worked as a technician for the phone company for two years. His salary is nearly three times as much as mine, and it includes incentive pay in national currency as well as in convertible pesos (hard currency).

That must be why — along with him not having any kids to support — he’s able to live comfortably on what he gets paid and the occasional extras he brings in. There aren’t any frills, but his life is without so many things that go wanting.

This must also be why he criticized me so sharply when he learned that I owed various people a total of about 50 CUCs (about $55 USD).

“How is it possible for you to owe so much money?” he said to me, completely beside himself. “You can’t be getting all tied down in that mess. Hell, you only make 650 pesos a month (25 CUCs), so you’d better just adjust to it. Did you forget what dad always told us? ‘You can only stretch out your legs as far as the sheet goes,’” he added.

I knew that what he was saying was right, and I know that being in debt is horrible. It won’t let you sleep soundly, think clearly and or live in peace.

I recognize that when someone gets used to asking for money, it’s hard to stop – and month after month you’re still in it.

But while I didn’t like my brother’s words in the least, the tone he used was even worse. I didn’t even acknowledge that he was right at some level, I simply lashed back:

“Yeah, yeah, dad did teach us to only stretch our legs that far, which is the same as not spending more than you have. And I also remember Uncle Ulysses got used to being in debt, at least until the day he couldn’t find a way to pay it back and he ended up hanging himself.

“I know all that,” I said, “and believe me, I don’t enjoy owing even 20 cents – much less 50 CUCs. But sometimes there’s no other choice than to borrow money to take care of the problems that should be solved on a regular salary.”

“What it is, my dear brother,” is that you get paid almost three times as much as I do. Plus, you can always come up with a couple bucks selling off some of your tools and products from your job.”“What’s more, the phone company practically gives you two or more changes of clothes and a pair of shoes every year, and you receive a monthly allowance for personal hygiene items and other food products.”

“Oh I forgot; most importantly, your salary is for you alone. Me, on the other hand, I have two little girls who just like me need food, clothing, shoes and a whole lot of other things, which that if you — instead of criticizing — could help out with a little, I’d sure be better in a better position.”

I don’t know if it was my words or the strong tone I used to express my opinion. Maybe it was the word “help.” I just know that after that my brother went flying out of the house like a dog that had knocked over the family stew.