Our Neighbor’s Broken Plates

By Jesus Jank Curbelo   (El Toque)

Photo: Hansel Leyva

HAVANA TIMES – They’ve never really had anything, but the man says that he is going to take everything this time. He’s picking up the few clothes he owns and throws them into a suitcase, the three girls crying, the woman shouting. Doors slamming and banging and broken things. The shouting comes in through the window. Neighbors lock themselves in. Children wake up and need tucking in.

It’s 11 PM and the building doesn’t have any electricity. I fan my son and try to calm him down, but the shouting continues to come in through the space between the blinds and you can hear it all as if it were in the living room. I’ve called the police a thousand times. Last time, they told me that family disputes weren’t their problem.

The time before that, two police officers came and there was silence for a couple of days. Peace ended when the eldest of the three daughters came home smelling of a cigarette. She must be barely 12 years old. The mother shouted off her ear and the man, who isn’t her father, told her that he was going to break her head with a stick.

Today, it started because there wasn’t any food in the home. The sound of a plate breaking on the floor and the woman shouting at her husband that he is starving her.

“We have to cut down on everything with you. Yesterday, I said “I’ll make this little bit of rice and this other little bit tomorrow.” And that was what my daughters ate. I haven’t eaten all day.”

She is heavy and really tall. She looks fatter now because she is pregnant. She is carrying a girl.

“How is that my fault?” the man shouted. “I haven’t eaten either.”

“Go make some money.”

I’m not sure the man works. I have seen the woman come down the stairs with the girls in the morning. I haven’t seen him, but I hear him talking on the phone or watching TV all day long.

“I come home from work and get started on homework. And I cook while I do my homework. And you don’t ever do anything, Roberto. You don’t do anything. I’ve been on at you for two years: paint the house, paint the house. I gave you 150 pesos for paint. And what did you do? I don’t know. Then, I gave you 200 pesos for paint. And what did you do? I don’t know.”

“You shouldn’t have given me any money.”

“Of course not, you spend it all.”

“Look, it’s true that I spent it all. But then I asked my mother for it.”

“You’re my husband, not your mother. Get that into your head, Roberto.”

They’ve been living here for three years, at least. One time, in the middle of an argument, the woman said that it was thanks to her that he left a bad life behind. Now she reminds him and in the blink of an eye, she begins ripping up his shirts. She says that she bought them anyway. The youngest daughter, about 5 years old, gets in the middle of them: “Mami, stop. Mami, stop.” The mother tells her not to get involved. He says that he is leaving, but he doesn’t leave.

“I haven’t liked you for a long time, not as a husband not as anything, what more do you want me to say? I don’t even… with you. What more do you want me to say? Just leave.”

“You just want to tame me and I’m not going to shut up,” he answers.

She hits him hard.

“The next thing you say, and I’ll chop it off. I’ll chop it off, I’m warning you.”

My son had fallen asleep by then. The sleepiness in the house torments me and I go outside to smoke. It’s nice and quiet outside. The street is so dark that stars are confused with traffic lights. Fifteen minutes later, when I go back inside, everything is calm. I don’t know if the man left; I never saw him come down the stairs. They probably made up or called a truce until tomorrow.

It’s the same old movie every night. Always the same. And I’m tired of watching it.


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3 thoughts on “Our Neighbor’s Broken Plates

  • So well written – intense

  • The Cuban Ghetto as it has always been for the last century and more. Development of a people is never easy but try they must.

  • Excellent.

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