Chapter One, page 3
fried chicken every Sunday for lunch, occasional dinners out, and
now, finally, a television.
I was reminded daily of the life my parents used to have before the revolution,
of the life they claimed I should have had. My parents often talked of bathing
with fragrant soaps, of using shampoos that actually cleaned long hair like mine,
of American-made appliances that lasted for years, and of a sticky magical concoction,
called Vicks VapoRub, that cured all coughs and unclogged stuffy noses.
The cobalt blue glass bottle of one, the last one my parents bought before American
products disappeared from pharmacies, still sat in the middle of our medicine
cabinet. All the possibilities of capitalism, of life in pre-Castro Cuba, were
encapsulated for me in that squat little container of a salve so old that it had lost
Life in the late 1950s had been joyous, my parents told me. On weekends they
rode around the city on clean, practically empty buses, just to kill time. In the
evenings, television shows were entertaining, not educational like the ones I was
forced to watch because nothing else was on. Their favorite shows gave prizes
away. Imagine that! my father used to tell me.You would climb up a waxed pole,
and if you made it to the top, you’d win a mattress or a couch. If you found a plastic
rooster in the laundry soap, you could win a house. A whole house! Imagine
that! But I couldn’t imagine, and so my father took me to the one house in the
neighborhood that still bore the sign of the soap, Jabón Candado.
When I walked about my neighborhood, I used to go out of my way to find
that house, to marvel at its construction, to scrutinize all the details of its ornate
façade—crevices and niches and Doric columns, a relic of times past.A disabled
girl in a wheelchair lived in that house, and every day her parents placed her on
the front porch to let her catch the afternoon breeze. She sat there alone in her
pink, ruffled dress and watched me while I looked at her house. Her mother
would come out sometimes and, assuming I was curious about the girl, invite me
in. She’d ask me, Do you want to be her friend? But I didn’t. I wanted only to live
in her house or, at the very least, to visit it. I yearned to touch the symbol of Jabón
Candado, an open lock attached to the façade to remind people that someone in
that house once had the good fortune of finding a plastic rooster nestled inside a
bar of soap.