Saturday, December 12, 2009

Three Sisters

In the corner of my old house there is a store (the classic “bodega” in our Cuban slang, which is the store where our fellows get the groceries subsidized by the government). The next door, in the 80s and 90s where inhabited by three old ladies, three sisters. There were almost identical each other and had the touch and aristocratic air of the old times ladies you could find in the old mansions of the republican Cuba.Three Sisters

Of all of three, just the older got married, and was the one that I know her name: Carmen. Someone told me she had married a well-known politician who left the country in 1960 after struggling with the new born revolution. Somehow, he never came back and claimed her, his name was lost in people’s memories and today is just a blurred story attached to her name. Carmen had to return to her old house next to our “bodega”.

In the earlier 80s, the three sisters were well dressed and you saw them walking down and up our neighbourhood frequently as we do trying to catch our daily supplies. With their aristocratic air they were pretty much sweet, gentle and very pleasant with everybody: always with a sweet expression in their faces and a word of affection. They were especially sweet with children of all races. Carmen was the friendliest and probably that was why she was always looking for their common groceries: lining up to get the milk, in the “bodega” and in the produce’s stand in the other corner of the block.

Then, one day, Cuba woke up with the news of the Special Period and our daily supplies began to disappear of our monthly ration book. Day after day, you woke up and the first question was what we are going to miss today.

For a while, drowned in the daily fight to survive I missed the trail of the three sisters. We had to rush to catch any single item and life was so strained you didn’t have too much time to get worry about other people’s fate. One day, lining up in our produce’s stand, I was stunned when I heard a familiar voice but too far to recognize who she was physically.

Carmen was talking about one of her sisters with another neighbour. What shocked me were her face and her fragile figure. Thin, emaciated and pale, Carmen was telling how weak her younger sister had been in the last two days that she had to stay on bed almost the whole journey. I asked her how she was and her other sisters. Her only answer was a sigh.

In the new Cuba, old adults and people over 7 year old of age don’t have any source of milk, they have to figure out the way to get something to eat as breakfast, even dinner and lunch are a huge challenge to overcome. The three sisters didn’t have any other relative in this world. With no other relative to look after them, they had to stick to the only source of groceries: our monthly ration book, which means nothing.

One day my mother arrived from her job overwhelmed and in a rush got two glasses of milk that we had thanks to a farmer who weekly came to our house, illegally by the way, to sell his milk. She didn’t have time to explain anything; she just rushed out our apartment with the milk in her hands. Leaning over our balcony I saw where she was running: the sisters’ house.

Later, the news sparkled around our neighbourhood: one of them had faint in the streets and was rushed to the hospital where she died...of starvation. It was the youngest. The other two were too fragile to go to the hospital: they hadn’t eaten for three days and they were dying there, alone. It is hard to admit, but our society let them alone, abandoned to their fate.

A few weeks later, Carmen didn’t wake up: her heart beat for last time during overnight. Her sister found Carmen holding desperately her pillow and with a grimace in her face. About the last sister, I have no idea. One day someone knocked the door and nobody answered, that was it.

In less than four years, almost at the reach of our hands, we saw three gentle people leaving our surroundings with no other reason than simple starvation. This is a true story that you could check if you go to Old Havana, close to the train station, the corner of Economia and Mision and ask.

How many other stories like this one you can tell around our country?

In 1999, I went to Guantanamo and for the first time in my life, I saw a line of people in the backyard of a catholic church waiting for a plate of hot soup. I thought I was living in a third world movie, but it was not.

How far our country had gone, how far do we have to go?