Russian Roulette


It is Mayra’s first day in the streets.  All of her family is home.  There is much joy, but the atmosphere is different.  She looks at her parents, and now they no longer get upset when their 11-year-old son attempts to make her laugh with jokes that make fun of the invincible commander and his “glorious Socialist Revolution.”  She is surprised; her mother, with her back to her, laughs at the jokes of her kid.

Now she was sure; something had changed.  Previously, they constantly watched over their vocabulary.  Under no circumstances would they let him bad mouth the Revolution.  Annoyed, they explained to him why he should be eternally grateful to the Revolution:  “Thanks to it you have a home, you study, you don’t have to pay anything when you’re sick.”  An echo that still resonates within her ears.

Sitting in her backyard, she breathes fresh air.  She closes her eyes and returns to her cell: Walled up windows, humid air, and the strong stench of excrement.  She rapidly blinks and feels relieved.  Yes, things have changed.  She has her parents in front of her, and now they complain, almost in a whisper, about how bad things are.  They count, one by one, the pennies in a freely convertible currency to see if they have enough to buy a 16 oz. bottle of oil.

Mom, 65-years-old, is much fatter.  She no longer fits in the chair that she has in front of the sewing machine.  She now dedicates herself to mending and sewing clothing for people on the street.  Dad is very bony and four inches shorter than he was 5 years ago.  In only two days he will turn 70.  He is retired from the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).  He has a pension of 320 pesos [about $12] and also works as an evening watchman in a company that is located very near the house.  Every once in a while he cleans his neighbors’ yard and makes some extra money.

I see them like that and I can’t picture them supporting the Revolution, euphoric in the plaza, dreaming of a paradise in which social inequities don’t exist, nor the exploitation of man by man, believing in everything stated in the preamble of the Republic’s Constitution.  The one that they made me read a thousand times because it made us all equal.

The fanatics lost their spirit when the Special Period began.  I remember that at that time they would tell me to speak quietly when, infuriated,  I cursed the mothers of the planners of the power outages, and the planner-in-chief.   Now, they pretend to be deaf when my son tells them he is going to be a baseball player, not with the purpose of being the best, like ordinary athletes,  but in order to travel and be able to stay in any other part of the world.

This was the same dream that led me to “Doña Delicia,” a correctional facility for women.  Fifth avenue, police guards, official warnings, social dangerousness, and then 5 years in prison.  Everything happened so fast…and for being dumb! “I will not tolerate a person of such low ethics.”  If I would have given those police what they wanted to make themselves blind to what was happening, but I did not give in and I got screwed over.  Who would have imagined that I would complicate things to this extent?  Thanks to that son of a bitch woman who tried to kiss me.  Disgusting!  And by force!  No, I don’t regret it, If I were faced with the same situation again I would do exactly the same.  After all, life is a Russian Roulette.

I remember my dad’s face during the trial, the same face he wore when my mother pleaded for him to make peace with his brother, a 1980’s “Marielito.” We were dying of hunger, but my father, not even by force, would give up his pride.  That is until mom became sick, diagnosed with optical neuritis and we almost lost her.  Now, with much pleasure, he receives aid that comes from the exterior, from Miami, “the nest of the worms”.  How funny!  When I left, he was president of the Committee of Defense of the Revolution (CDR), and just a few days ago he resigned.  And now the letter of invitation to visit his family in the belly of the beast has arrived.

Life turns and turns.  I ask myself what would have become of me if I hadn’t become a prostitute.  Perhaps I would have become a drunkard.  Either way, I learned that it doesn’t matter which path you take, if you’re after an unlikely dream.  I only wanted to break away from all this shit, and look at me here, submerged to the depths in all of it.  That’s why I understand my parents, their silence, their sadness.

It’s not easy to recognize after so many sacrifices: the harvest of the 10 millions, the voluntary work, standing guard, having to pay for the cost of the Territorial Militia Troops (MTT), the CDR, the Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC), acts, meetings, marches, slogans, statistics about the lives and labor of others; we are worse off now than when everything began in 1959.  It’s not easy to accept that after 51 years of socialism, the things that were promised – the perfect place to raise your kids – has been less than an unreachable dream, it has been a lie.

Mayra closes her eyes once more, her loose hair tickles as it dances in the wind.  She softly passes her hand by the back of her neck and she feels the star tattooed on her neck, she sighs and looks around to see if someone is looking at her.  She dries her eyes, she has no other choice, she is the hostess, she must attend to her family.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by Raul G. with a little tinkering by ricote

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