What to Buy? / Yoani Sánchez

The money came in a white envelope, brought to the door by an agency — alternative and illegal — that distributes remittances. It was accompanied by a letter from the uncle who went to New Jersey thirty years ago and never returned. “Use it to celebrate Christmas,” he wrote, in his stylized handwriting, ending the note with a brief, “bye.” The lady closed the door, still in disbelief that the relative who emigrated had sent them, for the end of the year, these fifty dollars of salvation. She shouted to her son and daughter-in-law, while the great question started to take shape in her mind: “What will I buy?”

First they thought about repairing the roof that leaks every time it rains, but after subtracting the twenty percent tax levied in Cuba on U.S. dollars, there wasn’t enough to buy the materials. Another possibility was to invest in a license to sell juice from the door of the house. But her son quickly convinced her not to, as the profits from such self-employment would be too long delayed and they were desperate for money as soon as possible. He pointed out that his wife was going to give birth in three weeks and the priority was disposable diapers for the baby. But the lady of the house refused to convert all the money into Pampers; they could use the little capital to repair the washing machine that had been broken for years. “Besides, I need a pair of shoes, because it hurts me to keep going to work like this.” The uncle — far away — had no idea of the turmoil his remittance was causing.

They spent the rest of the week discussing what to do with the 40 convertible pesos they got from the bank. The dispute took on an aggressive tone at times, when the daughter who didn’t live in the house showed up to claim that part of the money was hers. None of them gave serious thought to doing what the exiled relative had intended: buying themselves some nougat, a bottle of cider and piece of pork for Christmas Eve. As a Saturday in December dawned, the toilet appeared clogged. They found a plumber who charged 38 CUC to repair it and replace a piece of pipe. Life itself had established their spending priorities. The woman sat down on the living room couch and wondered, again, what she should buy now, with the 2 CUC remaining.

December 15, 2010