The store is located in the left atrium at the corner of Galiano and San Rafael streets, where there used to be a Ten Cent store, long since rotted from age and filth. It’s like an alien spaceship that landed in a neighborhood that has seen many of its businesses turned into homeless shelters, and insignificant small offices closed because of blocked sewers. But Trasval is different. People baptized the large store, run, so they say, by the Ministry of the Interior, “the museum”, because of the high prices, in convertible pesos, of all the merchandise.
Trasval was playing at capitalism, with background music, employees dressed in suits and sporting earphones, cameras everywhere, and products we had never seen. We felt like chicks, tucked up in the lamplight and the tinkle of the melody, which would end at the cash register slaughterhouse where we would pay three months wages for a can opener. Inside, you can still see an area with tools for your swimming pool, though the clerks haven’t smiled at the customers in months and they no longer answer questions nicely.
The last time I was in that black-tile-lined bunker the collapse was already imminent. The air conditioning didn’t work; the employees had shed their warm clothing, including the ties; and yards and yards of the same product warned of the decline. All the can openers have disappeared and a scandalous rumor of corruption spread in the aisles. Its splendor was brief, its profit would have been enormous. Because Trasval was the latest commercial snare offered to Cubans, the latest elaborate bait prepared by that mix of merchants and secret police who swarm everywhere these days. Individuals who both traffic in goods and inform on us, sell us a lamp or spy on us from a corner, count the money or finger the pistol they wear on their hip.