The Elderly / Yoani Sánchez

He bought a box of strong cigars though he doesn’t smoke, a cloth bag for errands, though he already had one, and two boring copies of Granma on the same day. He did it to help the trembling ancients with their bloodshot eyes who sell endless bits and pieces on the streets of Havana. People with legs stiffened by arthritis, hair gone gray years ago, a cane to complete their spindly anatomy. Old men and women thrown into the informal market exhibiting their meager goods in the doorways of Reina, Galiano, Monte and Belascoain Avenues. Septuagenarians forced to sell their constantly dwindling ration quotas, sad-faced grandmas who eat thanks to the candy and peanuts they themselves sell outside schools.

Thousands of Cuban seniors — at the end of their lives — have had to return to work, this time facing illegality and risk. Hands shaking with Parkinson’s offer sugary snacks at bus stops, wrinkled faces offer razor blades for only five pesos. Their pensions are extremely low and the well-deserved rest they planned to enjoy has turned into jittery days hiding from the police. The system they helped to build cannot provide them with a dignified old age, cannot spare them from misery.

That ungainly octogenarian, dragging his feet to the corner, hawks sponges to scrub with and tubes of crazy glue to stick everything together. A passing girl checks the contents of her wallet. She doesn’t have enough for either one, but in the morning she returns to buy something, if only one of those national newspapers in whose pages the faces of the elderly are always happy and satisfied.

January 22, 2011