Reports from Cuba: Twenty-Five Cents
I do not like beggars. I was raised on the idea of begging as a holdover from the past, a scheme to get an income without working. From the time of the Special Period here, I have changed my point of view. I’ve seen extremely old people begging, almost with regret, with a dignity that has nothing to do with the act of begging. As a counterpart, professional beggars have appeared in tourist areas. Young women begging to be able to buy milk for rented babies they carry, or gullible foreigners approached with a false colostomy.
Yesterday, I encountered a beggar in my path. As I advanced towards her, I figured she was two parts scheming and one part crazy. She was sitting on the doorjamb of an interior street at 5th and 42nd, one of the busiest hard currency stores in the city, her strategic position enabled her to address everyone who entered or left via 40th Street, especially those using the parking log. The car in Cuba continues to represent a certain status, even if it’s a Palaquito (Fiat). As is my usual custom, I passed at a distance. I was alone and there wasn’t anyone else, so if she was talking to someone, it was to me.
“This is communism.”
I went back to the woman’s side, and to buy time, looked again in my wallet without finding any change.
“Why do you say that my dear? Do you think that in communism you weren’t there?”
The beggar didn’t look at me, nor had she looked at me before. Her gaze wandered from the half-empty bowl of coins at her feet to the opposite wall. Terse and forceful, she earned the chavito (Cuban Convertible Peso, ~one dollar U.S.) this post cost me.
“I worked 35 years and here I am. This is communism.”