A White Experience / Regina Coyula

On Wednesday the 23rd, as announced on Twitter, I dressed in white, bought some gladioli, and walked around the city. An unforgettable experience. As soon as I left my house, I stopped to greet a clueless friend who didn’t even notice my outfit, but two neighbors on the sidewalk in front did comment. Before I was “the Human Rights one,” and finally, “with the Ladies in White,” for my two neighbors it was a confirmation, they “didn’t see me” when they passed right by. This cloak of invisibility was a curious note on walking through the neighborhood where I’ve lived for 53 years.

At the bus stop I felt many eyes upon me, I felt very nervous and wanted to appear normal. Once in the bus, full as usual, a man of about 40 offered me a seat; I had to push my way through almost 6 feet of human material to get to it, but the man pointed me out above the rest of the people. When I got off there was a young girl in front of me, very pretty, with a portfolio of the kind that are used to carry laptops, she stopped me about 15 feet from the stop and asked if I was a Lady in White. I said no, and explained that I was dressed this way in honor of the anniversary of the death of Orlando Zapata. By her look I knew she didn’t know who I was talking about. I tore one of the blooms from my gladioli and put it in her hand, and while I closed her hand around it I reassured her saying it wasn’t witchcraft or anything bad, but to keep the flower and remember the date.

I continued my half-penitent walk, I was in a neighborhood where no one knew me, I hadn’t even told my husband what I was going to do, remembering at that time the stories about how they could arrest you and take you to a police station far from your house, all this without knowing that at Laura Pollan’s house there was a repudiation rally underway, closing off Neptuno Street from Belascoain to Infanta. I think if I had known my determination wouldn’t have been so firm. A Police patrol passed by my slowly, making my heart jump.

Talking that evening with the wives of Chepe and Biscet, founders of the Ladies in White, I told them what had happened, how just now, and in the smallest way, I could imagine what all those women felt. I remembered Blanquita, Raul Rivero’s wife, when Raul was in Canaleta prison, and she came to my house and cold hardly eat more than a piece of papaya or some juice, because the tension had upset her stomach.

On the way home I almost had a heart attack when a civilian car with two people stopped to ask me for directions. When I was in the bus, a woman offered to hold my bag and when I asked for it back to get off the woman handed it back saying, “God bless you, ma’am.” Once again Harry Potter’s cloak walking the familiar streets to my mom’s house and then to my house, exhausted. Very stressed, very afraid, and this is me whom many consider brave for writing without protection. The brave ones are the Ladies in White. No Carlos Serpa of the world could convince me to march for money.

February 28 2011