Friday, September 18, 2009

Santa Clara-Havana (1)

Image: Hamlet Lavastida, exhibition of August 2009 in a private gallery.

Yesterday I came from Santa Clara in a new Chinese Yutong bus with air conditioning. The wait and the trip could have been perfect, but sadly the institutions, companies and services in this country, even though they invest thousand and thousands of dollars, can’t avoid shocking you in their tortured state agony.

At one in the morning I arrived at Santa Clara station, and as I had no return ticket (it is impossible to buy one in Havana), I put my name on the waiting list for the first bus, at six. The waiting list means that when the bus comes, they call those with no tickets in the order of arrival, and they fill the available seats.

The waiting room was almost empty, some children slept on their mothers’ laps and others bobbed their heads in extremely uncomfortable plastic seats; you have to wonder if the designer felt a dark and twisted hatred for humanity. I was surprised that you could smoke, and even sleep on the floor, but as there were children I smoked outside and I didn't settle myself on the floor as it seemed inhumane. I put my purse in the chair beside me and lay down, it wasn’t a bed but after an hour in a terminal support for your head is like entering paradise. Unfortunately the earthly paradise is only for the privileged, the agent came into the room and woke me up:

- You can’t rest on the chair next to you.
- Why?
- It’s the rule, if the inspector comes he’ll scold me.
- This law is a bit fascist, madam. Did you know that one of the tortures the STASI used was to not let the prisoners sleep? And you can sleep on the floor. This doesn't bother the inspector?
- Also you can’t put your purse on the chair next to you, you are occupying a space that is for people.
- If someone comes I’ll move it, but it’s vacant, I don’t think it will happen.
- You have to vacate it, it’s Mistreating Social Property.
- Excuse me but you must understand that this is not Mistreating Social Property, that’s absurd. I’m sorry, I’m not moving it.

I was biting my tongue to keep from laughing what with the Mistreatment of Social Property. I knew it was going to cost me dear to argue with a state bureaucrat. With these people things can get very serious, they earn a pittance for a salary but have absolute power over five square meters and they apply it with the same irreverence, force and abuse of power that they have seen those with “Absolute Highest Power” apply to them, a kind of revenge I suppose.

She got hysterical and started to shout, telling me that I could not do what I wanted, that the director could not stand that kind of attitude, that who did I think I was and that for my crime they weren’t going to dock her pay because she’d kill me first.

- Excuse me? If I leave my purse here they’ll dock your pay? The minute they start that I’ll move it.
- Nobody is going to take my money. You remove that purse because it is Mistreatment of Social Property or else I’m going to kick you out of here!

Still trying not to laugh, I began to feel a little sorry for this woman who now doesn’t even care about the purse, only about launching her firepower at me. I looked around and saw that people were beginning to smile. Nor can I deny that the slap of an agent in her diarrhea-brown uniform in a bus station at three in the morning is the saddest thing in the world. I tried to calm her down:

- Look, I’ve moved my bag, you can relax.
- Listen you, if I see you mistreating social property or sleeping I’m going to call the police and I myself will drag you by the hair to the patrol car.
- Look, you already woke me up and clearly I’m not going back to sleep, the bag has been removed because I don’t want you to lose your pay, but on the other hand don’t threaten me, I’m not afraid of you or the police. And, when you call the station let me know, I want to hear you say that you need a cop car at three in the morning for a girl who put her purse on the chair next to her, it’s a crime without parallel in human history, I’d be delighted to hear the response you get from the officer on duty.

She left but she was beside herself, still yelling a while around the place, at one point she neared the window and scolded me:

- What happened is that I want you to travel, that’s why I let you be.

I had to work hard to control myself and not tell her, “I too moved the purse to help you, we’re even,” but I was afraid she’d have a stroke that very instant. The rest of the morning she spent keeping any eye on me, waking up a few more who were sleeping on their chairs and managed that, by 5:30, half people in the station were rolling around on the floor disdainfully while the more scrupulous smoked quietly in their seats.

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