Losing a Tooth, Winning a Number / Yoani Sánchez

Months ago I dreamt I lost a tooth. That tiny one on the side that’s been with me for more than thirty years. An incisor that has never moved and that I should care for, knowing it can’t be replaced. If my grandmother were alive she would have interpreted these dream experiences as “an omen that someone is going to die.” Anna associated dreams in which molars, eyeteeth, or front teeth fell out with the loss of a loved one; she had dentures and had buried almost all of her friends from her generation.

I analyzed the superstition coldly and remembered that in our illegal lottery the number eight is also called “death.” It wasn’t hard to find the neighborhood ticket seller; despite a five decade crack down, the well known bolita is present on every block in my country, with the most popular and well-established lottery being the one run by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution themselves. A clandestine network collects the risky money until the bolitero hears the winning numbers on Venezuelan or Miami radio and delivers to each bettor their respective winnings. So, any daily situation can be reinterpreted as a prediction, and you can bet on the numbers between 1 and 100 in hopes of winning a tidy sum. In colloquial speech, when someone says “butterfly,” “horse” or “buzzard” they are referring 2, 1 and 33 in the clandestine raffle, and “nuns” are a reference to the number five.

So I ventured out and put twenty pesos on the number that signifies a funeral. As I expected, I didn’t win anything. Still, I’m not about to give up, to the point where I still poke through the daily paper, Granma, to look for some figure to improve my luck. The first reward I enjoyed from the lottery was when, being a teenager, I ventured on a striking 90 (the number that corresponds to “old man”), taken from a headline in the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party. Believe me, many Cubans read that paper to hunt for clues to guide them in our most popular sweepstakes, not to find real news. Like a secret code, we analyze announcements, dreams, political billboards, anniversaries… signs of reality that are translated into numbers for the forbidden lottery.

August 1 2010