Wafers and Ice Cream / Claudia Cadelo

Claudio Fuentes Madan

He’s 90. He climbed unsteadily onto the P4 bus, a cane in one hand and a nylon bag in the other. It was ten at night. He didn’t want to sit down because he was only going three stops and his voice sounded so sad it made me want to carry him. As we crossed 23rd he was telling me what every street and every house was like before 1959. Most of this information was inaudible but I was too embarrassed to admit it. At times it seemed like he was talking to himself and not to us.

We got off together, or to be exact, we got off at the same stop at 23rd and 10th and walked up to 12th. He lives on Marianao but always makes a stop at the bakery to buy bread. “I have an egg in the house and I don’t like it by itself, with bread it’s better.” He wanted to go to the “Ten Cent” store but it was closed.

“Granpa, what are you doing at Coppelia at ten at night?” I ventured to ask, though I imagined the answer. “I sell wafer cookies to eat with the ice cream. Today I have a lot left.”  And he showed me the little five-peso packets. “Now I have to wait for the 55 because the other buses leave me off too far away.”

I imagined his house with yellow walls, a beat-up roof, rickety doors and broken windows. I thought of his loneliness in front of the stove frying up an egg and warming the bread. I wondered if he might at least have a radio or television to entertain himself. I saw him getting up at six and filling his bag with wafers and leaving for the bus stop, getting off at one of the entrances to Coppelia and spending the whole day calling out in his dying voice, “Wafers, wafers.”

When we said goodbye he left me his sad certainty of final misery, of survival to end, of an abandoned death. “Take care in the cold,” I shouted, looking at the hole in the back of his vest. With tiny little steps he made his way and I wondered, once again, what will socialism be.

January 16, 2011