What I Worry About

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I worry about this old man who, after working all his life, now sells cigarettes on the corner. Also the girl who looks in the mirror and values her body for “the sex market,” where she could meet a foreigner to get her out of here. I worry about the black man with leathery skin who, no matter how early he gets up, can never rise to a position of responsibility because of the racism — visible and invisible — that condemns him to a lower position. The deeply wrinkled forty-something who pays her dues to the union, but senses that at the next meeting they will announce that she is out of work. The provincial teenager who dreams of escaping to Havana, because in his village all that is waiting are material shortages, a badly-paid job and alcohol.

I worry about the girlfriends I grew up with and who now — with the passing of decades — have less, suffer more. The taxi driver who has to carry a machete hidden under the seat because crime is increasing even though the papers never report it. I worry about my neighbor who comes over in the middle of the month to ask for a little rice, despite knowing she’ll never be able to return it. Those people who race to the butcher shop just when the chicken arrives in the ration market, because if they don’t buy it that same day their families will never forgive them. I worry about the academic who remains silent so that suspicions and ideological insults won’t rain down on him. The mature man who believed and no longer believes, and yet even thinking about a possible change terrifies him. The boy whose dream is going to another country, to a reality he doesn’t even know, to a culture he doesn’t even understand.

I worry about people who can only watch official television, only read the books published by the official publishers. The peasant who hides the cheese he will sell in the city at the bottom of his bag, so the police checkpoints won’t find it. The old woman who says, “Now this is coffee,” when her daughter who emigrated sends a packet with a some food and a little money. I worry about the people who are in an ever greater state of economic and social need, who sleep in so many of Havana’s doorways, who look for food in so many trash cans. And I am worried about not only the misery of their lives, but because they are increasingly at the margins of speeches and politics. I am afraid, I am greatly concerned, that the number of disadvantaged is going to grow and there are no channels to recognize and fix the situation.