The Prodigal Friend / Yoani Sánchez

He returns speaking softly, knocking cautiously on the door of that friend he hasn’t wanted to see for more than a year. For a long time he doesn’t talk about what happened when he didn’t come, or why, but the way we look at each other says everything. Fear, that element that puts affection to the test and throws corrosive acid over declarations of loyalty, has kept him away. Now he’s back for just a few minutes. While he’s in our house he speaks in a whisper, pointing to the tiny hidden microphones he imagines in every corner. We invite him to share a couple of fried eggs, a piece of taro, and some rice, not a word of reproach. We act as if we’d seen him yesterday or as if we’d talked on the phone just this morning, as if he’d never been away.

Nevertheless, something is broken beyond repair. So we only tell him about family things, about Reinaldo’s granddaughters who grow bigger every day and Teo’s new interest in playing the guitar. Not a single word from this side about the gratifying and painful side of our lives that comes from expressing ourselves freely in a country full of masks. When we seem to have run out of things to say, we extend the conversation by mentioning the rain or the stories of violence that seem to become more common every day in this city. To fill the void created by distance we tell him about our inability to find cooking oil, and the detergent one has to tease out from the hidden stores in the shops. We avoid, of course, future plans, daily worries, the police cordon, and how sad we feel about those who leave.

After a while the friend goes and we’re convinced he won’t return for a year or two, an eternity or two. Who knows, he might be here sooner than we think, patting our backs and telling us that when everyone fled from us in terror he wasn’t infected by the fear and from his room, at a safe distance, he was with us every step of the way.