By Jesus Jank Curbelo (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – I don’t know whether you’ve seen the news, but a few days ago, a motorbike that was charging blew up. It was early in the morning in Lawton, nearby. I’ve been seeing accidents like this, for a while now. Electric mopeds that explode, boom, and burn everything down around them.
Photos went viral in the morning, and they were very sad. Burnt down houses, people trying to save whatever they could. People who don’t know where they are going to go. Anyone will lend you their sofa to spend the night, but that often doesn’t last for longer than a month. However, trying to find a house is agony.
Here, three generations live in the same room: cousins, grandparents. Every time somebody is born, you have to find a little bit of space and wait for somebody else to pass away to get the space back.
There isn’t enough space in temporary shelters either, “temporary” being the official name for them. There are schools where two families are stuck together in a classroom, for example. Or an abandoned place that people try to fix up as best they can, with one bathroom for everyone.
Many leak and many don’t have partition walls. The Government sends boxes of food to many people who don’t have proper conditions to cook. I have known people who have spent years in one of those places. Who were children when they went there and now have their own children. This is why nobody wants to end up there. This is why there are people risking their lives in places in danger of collapse.
Where did they go?
I asked friends in Lawton, but I don’t know where the people involved in the fire ended up. Seven families. I saw a photo on Facebook: a young woman holding her daughter. Their eyes were filled with pain. The person who posted the photo said that the little girl didn’t even have shoes on. She was barefoot in the photo, with a dressing gown on.
I also saw that help groups had been created, announcing places where you can leave donations. Four days later, the accident appeared in the news. The local government’s actions were praised. But when this news is pushed into the background, when we forget about it, these families will still have nothing. Or they will be living in a shelter. God knows where.
I have seen many people lose their home and end up on the street. With the clothes on their back. After a hurricane, after a tornado, after a downpour. Or because the roof just can’t hold up anymore. I have had to speak to these people, interview them, without knowing what to say.
I have tried to remain as cool as I can, trying to give them hope. I try to put myself in their shoes, but it’s just for me. Nobody ever knows what loss and abandonment are until you go to sleep with one thing and wake up with absolutely nothing.
One night, I had my laptop stolen in Santiago de Cuba. A robber climbed up to the second floor where I was and took it. I had my laptop on the bed, I had been watching a movie and I fell asleep with it. I woke up and it wasn’t there anymore.
Losing a house or everything isn’t the same thing, but I swear that I felt like it was better to die right in that moment. I thought about how I was going to find the money to buy another one. I thought about all of the information I had on it: my word documents, especially my work, my time. Then, the police came. They interviewed us, took fingerprints, photos, dogs who followed never-ending tracks. The leading expert gave me confidence. I cried the entire day.
I left Santiago and went to Santa Clara, invited to take part in a short story festival. I was exhausted when I got there. Dragging my feet as if I was half-empty. That was the closest I’ve felt to being stripped of everything.
Two or three months later, the police called: “We’ve archived the case.” That was it. Up until today.
I’ve been thinking about the girl in the photo for days now. About those seven families. I feel like buying a building and telling them: “Live there, don’t suffer anymore.” Of saving the Government building materials and saving the report of the housing distribution, where people who were living in shelters for years come out with tears of gratitude. However, I don’t have a place to live in or fall dead.
I also thought about how the news might say that everyone was given a house, tomorrow, like after a tornado. I would even go out to thank them. But I doubt that will happen.
Tell me something to cheer me up.