Her Nike sneakers stick our their tongues in superiority at my fake leather sandals, while I calculate that her Italian glasses cost an entire month’s wages. From her purse, purchased from Via Uno, she pulls out some Marlboro cigarettes and offers me one, even though she knows I don’t smoke. We go together to her house in Cerro, a tenement in a crumbling old house occupied by seven families. I enter the living room and her impeccable shoes are out of sync with the backless metal chair, the amorphous mattress covered by a grey sheet, and walls that haven’t been painted since her grandfather died. She offers me a coffee in a cup without a handle, but all I see is the gold ring on her index finger. “Yadira!,” I rebuke her, “you dress with such opulence and you don’t even have your own bathroom!” She smiles and I can see a small ruby embedded in her left eyetooth.
Leaving her house I notice the unbelievable combination of ostentation and misery that “adorns” our streets. Amid the deteriorating doorways on Avenida Reina I see the comings and goings of Adidas, Kelme and Wilson, while my nose picks up the stench of the sewer ditch, running across the sidewalk, as well as the unmistakable essence of Christian Dior. The lines outside the boutiques speak to me of the amount of money coming in through remittances, illegal activities, or the diversion of resources from State enterprises, which sustains the fancies of these “peacocks.” No one wants to go without brand name clothing, be it fake or authentic.
I’m told that the Adidas store, located on the corner of 1st and D in Vedado, is the subsidiary selling the most per square foot in all of Latin America. They are even thinking of moving to a larger site to double their profits. Some of the products they sell will be bought by people who don’t have their own home, or who have to juggle just to be able to eat each day. They prefer to wear their most “valuable” possessions on their own bodies.
From behind the lenses of her UV sunglasses, draped in the cotton of a Point Zero garment, or with her L’Oreal scented hair, Yadira does not see the falling tiles in her kitchen nor the springs popping out of her mattress. To those who know her, she is a magnificent young woman dressed in brand name clothing, and not the resident of a poor tenement where, each morning, she carries her own water into the tiny collective bathroom.