At the Sunday table
there are two empty chairs.
As has already been said, the decision to leave for other lands has weighed on many people in recent decades in Cuba. However, that decision also has its counterpart. Those who do not leave, stay. And staying to live in this country, once again, as it happens in few parts of the world, is a decision that carries many prices.
From my years as a university student, as we wandered endless afternoons and nights through intellectual and bohemian cultural habaneros, I remember a dialogue that I witnessed. In places like the courtyard of the UNEAC, it was not uncommon for some important figure of our letters, cameras, arts or chords, with a work done, to sit and share the table with the handful of students eager to know and hyper-questioning of everything, that we resulted in that harsh and confusing decade of the nineties. On one such occasion, an important Cuban intellectual explained to a stunned European visitor the negative consequences of his decision to stay in Cuba.
He never said it, but we believe that it was his unbending, visible and always renewed love for Cuban women that was the main reason for his attachment to this country. However, that afternoon we heard, one by one, the results of his decision. That scholar, already in his sixties, who was traveling, who published books, had not been able to find a house with good conditions and enough space. Therefore, he had not been able to have children either. Of course, the collection of the right to his books published here, did not allow him to acquire a car, which also limited his participation in the cultural life of the city and his own daily life, in times of crowded buses and bicycles that were already uncomfortable. at his age. More than once, it was friends and foreign entities that paid for his tickets and accommodations so that he could participate in conferences and other events abroad, since his salary in the 90s national currency did not even allow him to approach a plane. It almost goes without saying that, in such estates, he always represented our culture with dignity and intellectual height. It should be added that, although Cuban to the bone, his uncomplacent posture, his habit of assuming and defending his truths in any scenario without sparing arguments, made him little worthy of the institutional affection of certain sectors.
At such evidence, we were stunned. If an intellectual of that caliber lived in such a way, what could we expect? Perhaps the best answer is that, of that vast group of students, only a few, quietly accommodating on the fingers of one hand, we are still in Cuba today.
Because yes, staying involves prices that are almost as high and complex as leaving. A foreign journalist once commented to me that life in Cuba is so changeable that Cubans do not realize how prepared we are for changes and how we deal with them without trauma. However, unfortunately, changes on the Island do not always point to the positive. Even those who must at the time remedy serious imbalances, due to some sinister fate, or human delays, laziness or limitations, suddenly slow down, intersect and they do not finish curdling until after a long suffering, or they never curdle and the cycle begins again.
Staying in Cuba implies, not for everyone, but for many, facing an increasingly difficult daily life. High prices and products whose value soars against insufficient wages; the services that work badly, that never reach or that disappear without more against the urgent necessity of these; scarcity and solutions to this, which are never the ideal, not even the right ones, but the ones that exist, the ones that can be, are the daily landscape of our environment.
Like that intellectual in the anecdote, we meet teachers, professionals of various and sometimes very complicated subjects, whose teaching and high qualification was expensive and who in other places would live very well, but who stayed here. Many landed on the ground and treasured collective achievements, contributed their knowledge and tried to help make a better life for their country. Others were less successful or fell victim to failed plans, ideas that were not executed, failed projects or simple fatigue.
Staying, in addition to the day-to-day efforts, also generates spiritual consequences. In a rapidly aging population, on each date there are more households where the so-called empty nest syndrome occurs. Parents and grandparents, whose ages do not allow them to go to fight and work in other skies, stay here, with some of the children, or with none, because the young people leave. Sometimes they receive remittances, sometimes for nothing. The empty family chairs every Sunday, not infrequently hurt more than any material lack. Even with a poor lunch, they would surely prefer to count them all busy. Without adding that, that same father or grandfather, the following day must be guaranteed to support him and return to an increasingly difficult arena.
Life then revolves a bit around a call, the visit trip, the reunions. Not always those who emigrate can take their relatives, or their age or illnesses do not allow them to adapt to other climates, other customs. Staying also engenders distances, loneliness, regrets.
In some text lost in my archives and in my memory, I do not remember well whether as a journalist or as an interviewee, the writer Leonardo Padura said that our country suffered from a permanent exceptionality. That state of perennial tension, which with strokes of humor and irony we try to forget and navigate, seems at times never to abandon us. The desire that, sometime, normality, calm, some peace finally touch our island doors and settle on the side here of the waters that surround us, is one of those hopes that should not be extinguished. Perhaps like this, leaving or staying to live in this beautiful land, would not be extraordinary decisions or designated as a solution to many needs of all kinds. In a normal country, without scarcity, without queues, without blockades, in which choosing where to live would be one more decision and not something transcendent and almost epic, the empty family chairs on Sunday would surely weigh less on the soul. Even, perhaps here or there, surely they would all be busy much more frequently. Ω