Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

28 de Abril del 2000

"A VERY SERIOUS MATTER." By Rafael Contreras Bueno, Cuba Free Press.

Pinar del Rio.- They were all seated on the sidewalk at the edge of the street. Five men; better said, what was left of them. Human misery wears many faces. Those seated on the sidewalk share everything. They hand around a cigarette stub. They drink a killer, homemade brand-unknown "firewater" from the same dirty bottle.

I knew some of the members of that group well. Regular, everyday people like anyone of us. A day came when they made some wrong choices.

Roberto was in charge of a state-owned market for farm products. He was let go in 1990. He started drinking, searching for the strength he needed to deal with his unemployment. The alcohol won out. Arguments at home, the first blows to strike his wife. She did not tolerate that and turned him in for spouse abuse. Roberto went to jail. By the time he got out his ex-wife had remarried. Now he lives in the street. Alcohol is his only steady companion and consolation. Of course it is killing him slowly but surely. That afternoon I saw him stop passerby's, begging for money.

Domingo, the cobbler, once was the best shoemaker in our city. The 90's also brought him disgrace. He had worked in a shop where special shoe-wear would be built. He was let go when the shop was forced to cut back. His elderly parents were sick. He didn't have any choice but to do something "illicit." He started making shoes privately. This was before the time for the "private initiatives" and so he was arrested. Once condemned, he served two and a half years. Now alcohol provides some relief.

I saw one of the men walk to a corner porch, lie on the floor. People walking by ignored him. There was a dog next to him. A passerby threw the dog some food and sneered at the man on the floor. The drunk went on sleeping, innocent in his stupor.

One of Roberto's daughters happened to walk along the same sidewalk where the group was sitting. The girl saw her father and lowered her gaze. It was Roberto's turn to take a drink from the common bottle. He passed it to the next derelict without drinking. He did not have the courage to drink in front of the young woman. She daughter walked by, not greeting him. That person was no longer her father. He was the shadow of the man who one day had pro-created her.

It was the shoemaker's turn to take a drink. He did so with a long draw, as long as his hopelessness. On the other side of the street one could see where Domingo's parents lived. There was now a group of people rushing in and out of the house. The five realized something was happening and they got up to see what. Their steps may not have been sure but they went together and in solidarity.

I saw them again, later that evening. This time they were on the shoemaker's home porch - in mourning. The cobbler's mother had died of a heart attack. The five marinated friends who had always shared their booze and their tobacco now they were sharing each others' misery.

These people had been deprived of everything: their jobs, their salaries, their families. But nobody could take away their desire to share their friendship - the only way they knew.

"Here's three pesos, Domingo. I think we should buy cigarettes with them," Roberto said and they all agreed. "No booze. A mother's wake is a very serious matter."

Rafael Contreras Bueno, Cuba Free Press.

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