A sad story

December 11, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

I recently struck up a conversation with a stranger on the P-6 bus, one of the articulated bus lines that runs in the Cuban capital. As if in competition, we started to tell grotesque anecdotes, looking for the most exaggerated things that had happened to us. My partner won.

“Even saying goodbye to the dead is hard in Cuba,” he told me. And he told me that six months ago his little niece had died. A small one-year-old born with a congenital heart defect, who could not withstand the complicated surgery.

A sad event that this man told naturally and tenderly, describing to me the short life of his little niece. And I discovered the pain that can hide in an apparently pleasant conversation, undertaken to kill the time while waiting for the bus and along the journey. Between us there were no introductions. He didn’t give me his name, nor I mine to him. But I knew that he lived in Cotorro, a municipality on the outskirts of Havana.

The baby was laid out in the city mortuary. At the nearest florist he wanted to order a wreath to say goodbye to the little angel, from himself and his cousins. The employee, without any sensitivity, asked him who had died. He didn’t understand, thinking she wanted to know more about who she had been and described the little girl. He imagined, that for a baby of one, they would make a beautiful floral arrangement.

How wrong he was! The insensitive woman looked at a list of the dead to see which families had ordered wreaths. Because two wreaths and no more are authorized for every death, and the baby had already received the two to which she was entitled.

Caught between astonishment and indignation, I asked if this had really happened. He told me yes. But the story did not end there.

He protested and the assistant just replied, “This is what is directed.” After much pleading, the woman told him that if no one else died before four in the morning, he could order a wreath. In gratitude, he gave her some money which she happily accepted.

I thought that was the end of the sad story. Almost at his stop me, already at the door, the stranger told me, “But that’s not the only thing that happened.” They placed the baby in a coffin half a meter longer than her size. The indignation of the mother was such that she loudly called for an independent journalist to report the lack of respect.

He got off so fast I didn’t have time to tell him that I am an independent journalist. During the rest of the trip I didn’t talk to anyone else.

I was meditating. And I realized the importance of the work we do. It gave me satisfaction to hear, from the mouth of a stranger, that when there is helplessness and outrage they think of us, the independent journalists, as a valid alternative way to protest.

But I also wondered: How far does the rationing system go in this country? Outside Cuba, few can imagine how, in the midst of so many problems, we manage to survive each day. And the agony that we go through from the time we get up until the time we go to bed. A truly terrible ordeal.

On behalf of the pain and impotence of a family that has gone through the difficult experience of losing a child, I wanted to tell this story. I dedicate to her this beautiful floral arrangement.

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