Sunday Anguish

December 31, 2009

On Sundays, in the late afternoon, I feel  a recurring unease.  It begins with a slight, imperceptible tingling in the stomach, then a heaviness in the arms, and finally a tightness in the chest and a chill in the soul.  The imminent death of the afternoon, and with it the weekend, fills me with a sensation of incompleteness.  Time is running out and there are issues to resolve.

From my time as a high school student, Sundays are sad days.  Incomplete days in which I cannot start anything, waiting for transport to take me back to school, seeing my friends again.  And then spending hours recounting our weekend adventures. Some, like Roberto, stretch Sunday a little further, bringing music and drink with them and continuing the dancing on the dark balcony, or on the roof of the dormitory, partying until exhaustion or the dawning of Monday makes us stop.  When there isn’t any transport the adventure of traveling on my own starts, in the trains and buses still running.  An adventure that almost always ends by the side of the road, signaling everything that passes. As it’s impossible to predict the duration of such a haphazard journey, we have to hit the road earlier.  And the Sundays are that much shorter.

When I start working, I think the character of Sundays can change.  And for a while, it’s true.  I amuse myself, even though diversions are expensive.  And scarce.  A few years go by and I discover that working doesn’t satisfy a vital need, rather it entangles me in a confused network of circulars, intrigues, resolutions, black outs, opportunisms, procedures, quarrels, voluntary work, much less transport, egotism, production campaigns, professional jealousies, generalized inefficiency, vigilance work, envy.  A lot.  Nothing makes sense. Much less is logical.  Only the amount of fanfare matters.  And the enthusiasm.  Always the enthusiasm.  Yes. In its always greatest expression: unconditional enthusiasm.  And Sundays become a prelude to depression.

Six years ago I started making a living on my own. I don’t have hours, because the bananas don’t stop growing at 5 pm, and the clients need their equipment working so they, too, can earn a living.  I exchange the security of a wage at the end of the month for the freedom to say what I think, not to go where they order me to go when I don’t want to, and to excuse myself from the pantomime of raising my hand to achieve the sacrosanct unanimity.  Many who would call themselves my friends haven’t been to my house since then.  Others who in truth are at my side, though they are in Spain, warming the chest with an unpalatable coffee. To be free can mean to be more alone, if those around you continue to be slaves.  For six years I haven’t marked a time card nor gone to union meetings, but Sundays continue to be sad days.

Life of Sisyphus – Part Nine

December 11, 2009

So one begins to get old, she thinks, when we are given to remembering the past. The past is a dangerous thing when we let it stead the prominence of our lives. It is always present, determining our actions, like the sun keeps the planets incarcerated in its gravitational prison. Even the comets, incapable of strong attraction, pass by every few years to see how everything is going here. Making ourselves comfortable in the past is a dangerous thing, if you don’t have the strength, you end up always repeating the same things. And from there to death by boredom is a small step.

Since her teens she had watched with curiosity this longing for the past, often in reaction to the new. In high school her friends talked about how great junior high had been, in the university they wanted to return to high school and her co-workers talked about how wonderful their time in school had been. It’s odd to see a reunion of old schoolmates, how different they are, the ones who have moved forward and the ones stuck in the past. Those who hold on to the jargon and the cliques and those who have decided to overcome everything. Another very common idea is the possibility of stepping back in time and changing our actions in certain past events. How many regrets we carry on our shoulders, pushing us to the ground with the insupportable weight of the past. And how many illusions about rearranging our lives wait under the cold side of the pillow, filling our dreams and our nightmares.

She, on the contrary, has lived spurred on by the urgency to move forward, advance quickly, without too much looking back. She doesn’t long for things in the past. She doesn’t visit the schools where she studied, she doesn’t go to the alumni reunions or take part in conversations of reminiscing. She knows that people change, that by the forties one has lived another life, since you parted as a group of students in your twenties. In those years they were traveling like drops of water from a hose, carried from one place to another. Once past the nozzle they began to disperse, and each drop followed its own trajectory, separate from the rest. She thinks this is the difference that gives meaning to life. One of the her few memories of being a student is an exchange with the philosophy teacher. Answering a question, she very confidently said that movement implied development. And he asked her, speaking slowly, “And circular movement, does it imply development?” It was a revelation. She understood that it doesn’t matter how fast you move, if in the end you return to the same place. You must control the trajectory. Movement without change is an illusion, a deception.

Life of Sisyphus – Part Eight

October 29, 2009

The car passes without stopping and she turns her eyes straight ahead, to the deserted road.  She begins to raise her arm to look at her watch, but stops herself.  Knowing what time it is will only make her worry more.  And the worries age her.  Her ex used to say that the you had to look out for the worries more than for the creditors, because you can run from the latter, but you always take the worries with you.  Particularly if it’s about the inevitable necessities, like food, clothing and transportation.  She half smiles and waves her hand in front of her face, as if her cares were a kind of insect and she could drive them away.

Between her place and the wall, spaced prudently apart, others like her are waiting under the sun for some car to pick them up.  There are some pairs, they’re all young girls, friends for sure.  She looks at them with the envy of those who are over twenty.  “Youth, divine treasure, you go and don’t return.”  While watching the line of girls that flank the road she thinks that asking for a lift can be considered a simple form of prostitution.  They need to travel and the boys, whether to be a gentleman or a conquistador, decide based on appearance.  She smiled while remembering the words of a male friend: “The ugly ones, I let them down.”  She knows very well that it helps to have a good figure when it’s time to hitchhike.  With sixteen splendid years nearly lived, in the company of her two best girlfriends, they went everywhere without paying money pay the ride.   And wherever they went they turned the heads of the most indifferent men.  Beautiful, inseparable, co-conspirators.  In the village they were christened the Holy Trinity.  Some said it was for their beauty and others for the exclamations of Blessed Virgin Mary showered on them by the old men in the cafes on Main Street.  Who knows?

A boring Saturday morning, while catching up with the village gossip in the manicure salon, they heard that in the Central Market on Galiano Street in Havana they sold very delicious and fine sweets, which were the sensation of the time.  The manicurist went on painting nails and spreading gossip until lunch time.  After a nap she got up to continue the job.  When the church bell struck four, she saw them come, smiling.  They sat in the same places they’d occupied in the morning, each one with a cardboard box in her hand.  They opened the lids and offered the sweets to her, “Try them, they’re even better than they say.”  The manicurist couldn’t believe that they had been and come back from Havana in the same day.  She asked them to tell her a good story about the trip, thinking to have a new tale to entertain tomorrow’s customers.  She ate a sweet, looked at the three of them and told them, very moved, “You know chicas, to tell you the truth… you’re crazy!”

Daily miseries – Part 2

October 23, 2009

You lend something to a friend. This time you do not forget who it is. Time passes and he doesn’t return it. Trusting, you decide to wait a little longer as, after all, it is a friend. Time passes and he still does not return the item, but you don’t worry. You trust your friend.  One day you’re in the street and your friend is walking toward you. When he sees you he abruptly changes direction and you lose sight of him; your hopes of recovering the object vanish just like your recently paid wages.  You verify what has long been eluding you.  With a little pain in your soul you forget the friend and record the object as the price of that person now turns away without looking at you.

Daily miseries – Part 1

September 24, 2009

You have a difficult day.  While fighting so many problems without solutions, a friend comes to ask to borrow some object, maybe a tool.  You return to domestic chaos and in a little while forget to whom you loaned the object.  Time passes and it is not returned.  Your hopes of recovering it go up in smoke like your recently paid wages.  You can see for yourself that in your immediate environment there is someone capable of  robbing you to your face.  One more blow to your already battered innocence.  You torture yourself imagining that person enjoying what you worked so hard to get, thinking about you, laughing, calling you a shithead.  You make a long mental list of the things you’ve lost in similar circumstances.  Feeling a bit sick at heart, you raise a little higher the wall of distrust that separates you from others.

Adiós, Roberto!

September 7, 2009

He knocked on my door when the Brazilian soap opera was starting. He was sweating, after climbing several flights of stairs with his bike in tow.  “I’m going to Spain,” he cried, by way of greeting.  To give me time to get over my surprise he greeted my wife, returned the USB drive we were using to share information, and threw out the question to force my sense of hospitality, “Can’t a guest a get a cup of coffee in this house?”

While I was making the coffee he told me about his Spanish grandfather, the law of grandchildren, the paperwork, the trips to Havana, and to top it off he showed me his Spanish passport, still smelling like new, as one who exhibits a sacred talisman.  After the coffee we went out to smoke on the balcony and he explained to me that a cousin who lives in New Jersey had just sent him the money for his trip and that two other partners would receive him and help him out in the first moments.  He ended by assuring me he already had a trustworthy person to send letters, so hopefully I can continue to publish on the blog.

After he left, I realized that this is the last of my great friends who has left me here.  The old times are gone, irretrievably.  Robe was the soul of the gang, and when it began to scatter throughout the world, he managed to keep track of all the travelers.  We went to him to know the news, addresses and telephone numbers.  That night, his announcement left me with mixed feelings.  Usually I am glad to know that someone is leaving, whether a famous person or simply the son of a neighbor.  I’m happy because I think everyone has the right to choose what to do with his life and where to do it.  I’m happy because after living more than twenty years of the same, some kind of change is welcome.  But it also made me sad, and not just for me, losing a great friend.  It is painful to see that the lack of hope continues to determine our course.  Sad to predict the future of a country that bleeds in its perpetual stubbornness.

Today it’s two months since Roberto left.  He has written me an email and we talked briefly on the phone.  The first thing he said was that he missed my coffee.  Afterwards he told me about his work, it’s not in a comfortable office like he had here, but it lets him live in “lodgings” in the house of the partners and soon he will send money to the family he left behind.  Before saying goodbye, joking, he blurted out, “Guajiro, now no one is missing but you…”

Life of Sisyphus – part seven

June 30, 2009

She comes to the road that connects the neighborhood with the city and stops in the usual place. Despite all her precautions she’s started to sweat again. The cloudless sky and the absence of a breeze adds to the heat. At times, waves of hot air with the odor of asphalt hit her in the face. In front of her, the deserted road. At her back, some hundred meters, the bus stop is an oasis of shade in the midst of the glare and a refuge for the numerous would-be short distance travelers. Many years ago the local bus stopped running and the odyssey began for the residents of the neighborhood who now had to rely on alternative means of travel. Although in theory there were many possible options: the still-circulating intercity bus service, the bus service for workers, State cars, rental cars ranging across the spectrum of legality to illegality, even up to cars pulled by horses, reality demonstrated that these options weren’t solving the problem. And what’s more they bring another aggravation: the stress. The daily insecurity of meeting their schedules joined the long list of strains that people had to endure.

Many years ago when the location of the neighborhood was planned, no one anticipated what would come. The route by bus, including delays for stops, didn’t take more than half an hour, and if you went by car or taxi it was much shorter. The crisis, like a national Big Bang, extended the distances. The travel time to the city tripled, to the municipalities it quintupled, and to the neighboring provinces it was multiplied by ten. Trips that require crossing two or more provinces are nearly impossible. Taxis are a hazy memory. It’s been years since she’s seen the fence on the border of the province. From her first travels in childhood, this fence has had a special significance for her. She remembers when her father showed it to her for the first time. She was traveling in an old bus with small windows, hot and slow, to visit her paternal grandparents. The heat and thirst irritated her and she asked her father, for the third time, when the journey would end. He sat on his legs and said, with an air of mystery, that if she paid attention in a little bit she would see the place where one province ended and another began. This aroused her curiosity. A little later she saw a fence in vivid colors, enormous trees surrounded by flowering shrubs and several stones of different sizes. She asked her father if the people who took care of this place made this trip every day, but she can’t remember his answer.

Her grandparents died in those dark years and with them died the reason to travel. Then came marriage and the children and her life became more static. Now that she thought about it she hadn’t had an opportunity to repeat with her own children the scene she just remembered.

A car approaches and she puts out her hand in a gesture repeated many times.

Life of Sisyphus – Part Six

June 7, 2009

She walks slowly towards the exit of the neighborhood.  The sun burns.  Her skin suffers from the accumulation of lesions.  In the mornings she looks in the mirror and discovers a new spot, small wrinkles on her temple, or a sprout of gray hairs, noting that the years, the house, the kids, the tension, the solitude, are leaving a bill impossible to pay.  But it’s not the loss of her beauty that worries her most, but rather the physical exhaustion.  In the afternoons, when she gets back from work, the stairs seem to reach to the sky; at night she falls asleep in front of the TV, sometimes before the soap opera starts.  She remembers how, years ago, she laughed at her mother when she did the same.  Her mother nodding off, snoring, waking up surprised, denying she’d been sleeping and excusing herself saying, “I was resting my eyes, sweetheart.”  History repeats itself, she whispers sadly.

She walks slowly and the sun burns.  She consoles herself thinking that this is the month.  With the little bit she’s saved and if her ex isn’t late again with the child support, this month she can stretch the money she sets aside for changing into convertible pesos to buy soap and cooking oil, and buy herself a parasol.  She’s been determined to buy it since the end of the brief winter, despite the fact that her friends tell her a parasol makes you look much older.  But she believes that what makes her look older is trying to stretch the money to eat and bathe decently every month.  And the sun that burns so much.

She walks to the exit of the neighborhood.  It’s a long stretch without shade and the sun burns.  The buildings don’t have entryways, they’re separated from each other and from the sidewalks.  Aligned at different angles with respect to the streets, they seem like the walls of a huge labyrinth.  A labyrinth in full sun.  The scarce trees have no foliage to protect passers-by.  Many show deformations from bad pruning in advance of some cyclone.  With humps and stumps, like the veterans of uncountable wars, these poor trees remind one of the elderly, wrinkled and gnarled, who take the sun in the parks.  Eroded by time and trapped in time, neither the trees nor the elderly know with certainly if they’ll survive to see the next cyclone.  For now, they hope.  The sun burns, and she walks slowly.

The Life of Sisyphus – Part 5

May 21, 2009

She walks towards the exit of the neighborhood. Although it makes her late she doesn’t hurry, the years have given her patience. She enjoys the feeling of relief it gives her to leave the apartment. And she enjoys it more because she knows it won’t last long. Her apartment is a box divided into four little boxes. One box for the living room, two boxes for the bedrooms and one box for the kitchen and bath. The building is a big box, composed of sixteen little-box apartments: two little boxes on each side of a stair, two stairs per floor, four floors in all. A tight set of boxes with few windows, boxes that resonate and amplify noises, that accumulate heat during the day until late at night and that leak together, exchanging every kind of liquid from top to bottom. Leaving the claustrophobic box and walking a few blocks helps her relax to face the day.

She reaches an intersection of three streets and the relief disappears. In front of her extends a motley multitude of buildings-crates, with the same dark and dirty stairs, the same roofs bristling with tanks and antennas, the same walls unpainted for years, the same goddamn stinking garbage everywhere. To her left, a stop that hasn’t seen a bus in decades. To the right, a line of cars waiting for passengers going to the city center. The drivers, with professional patience, trading jokes, advice and even the number that came out yesterday. The smell of horse urine warmed by the sun begins to invade the entire area. She crosses a small park, the first they had in the neighborhood. It’s a very curious place that makes her imagine a time gone by that she knows through the stories of her parents. Here the benches are situated like the seats in a movie theater, facing in the same direction. In this place, occupying the total width of the park, a platform rises about half a meter above the rest of the floor. The neighbors have gathered here to meet, almost always at night, to deal with a range of topics: volunteer work, guards, mobilizations in agriculture. On the weekend there could be some musical or theater group and her Mom even recalled a lottery to make the list to order the purchase of toys that came for the children once a year. At the bottom of the platform stands a concrete column with a box, also concrete, with one side open to the benches. For years, this box held the only TV in the neighborhood. During that time the little park was the social center of the area. People decked themselves out for a visit as of they were going to a luxury restaurant, and they demanded silence from the talkers like a professional librarian. Her father says that the first arguments between the baseball fanatics and the soap opera lovers happened here.

Even though the years and the children—above all the children—have helped her understand why the nostalgia for days gone by hits so hard as we age, she can’t help but react with suspicion to these stories told by her parents. More than stories, it’s the tone of naiveté that provokes the greatest reaction. She feels dread towards this simple and transparent world, where it’s so easy to control what people can know, think and do. It enrages her to see the elders, who know no other ways of life, having this as the best, and only, possible option, and sacrificing their lives waiting for a dream that never comes.

It’s necessary

April 25, 2009

There was a time in my life when I employed the ideas of others to express my own.  A time when I had no voice, and spoke in the voice provided, repeating, in the words provided, the ideas conceived by others.

I read poems for love, repeating phrases popularized by popular people, looking for the meaning of life or the moment in books and songs that came into my hands by chance.

And when it came to elevated and solemn things, I would always have at hand a slogan, an oath, an insult to the Enemy, to shout with fervor in the square crowded with others like myself.

The years have made me suspicious of this searching for life in books and songs.  This search for the meaning of life in the by-products that fall off the production line of life.  This always looking somewhere else for life, somewhere outside of life itself.

And although suspicious of them, my books no longer confused me.  Life confused me, when I was faced with the unexpected, that I hadn’t lived, that I hadn’t read.  Life confused me, to spare me the confusion if sometimes the scene repeated itself.  To make me believe in my own strength.  To force me to grow.

There was a time in my life when I would laugh at those who argued very seriously that they had to write a book because they couldn’t find one that satisfied them.  Today I know that to grow we must speak in our own voice and write our own book.  It’s necessary to risk.  And to create.


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