Ernesto Perez Chang
HAVANA TIMES — I have read and re-read the congratulations that those friends of mine who have left the country (definitively, it seems) sent me this New Year’s. In their letters, they make toasts, wish me good health and express their gratitude for the life they have built far from Cuba and for the miracle of being alive.
Their words seem to tinkle in red and green, like the lights on the snow-covered Christmas tree one sees in the background of a family portrait, or like the Santa Claus’ outfit, at a park where children have gone to play.
Red and green, as in all the postcards I read and read again. The elders, those who know about these things, say that this joy that has caught my attention is what they used to call the “Christmas spirit.”
I know very little or next to nothing about Christmas. I walk out of the living room, leaving behind my parents and sisters while they talk of festivities and lit-up streets in a city lost beyond time, a city that is doubtless not mine.
I look out from the balcony to see if I catch sight of anything my friends and family speak of, but all I see are many sad faces, people walking slowly down the street, tired. The vague light of the afternoon goes out in their faces as the hope something good will ever happen to them begins to vanish.
In the square in front of my building, there are no Christmas lights or trees, only some faded, badly-painted signs hung up on different walls, all of them calling on people to continue the struggle, to continue holding their ground and to overcome adversity – as though people hadn’t done enough of this to be rewarded with something other than the exhaustion of the defeated.
I begin to wonder whether those long days of thrusting our swords into the air, hoping to strike an enemy that is perhaps intangible, perhaps uncertain, of warding off the imminent nothingness that besieges us is not the true cause of our exhaustion, rather than the fear of everything that is red, like blood, or green, like the olive uniform.
For the first time in many long years, this December 31st, at midnight, no one in my neighborhood yelled out “long live” this or “long live” that, long live red or long live green. They only poured water out of buckets from their balconies and burnt rag dolls. I think they have begun to understand that one does not wish the dead a long life, that one rather whispers to them “rest in peace!”