September 28, 2007

The candy man

Rafael Ferro Salas

PINAR DEL RIO, July ( - I woke up early today and accompanied my neighbor Felipe on his daily route around the city. He's a 68 year-old retiree who devotes himself to selling candies made by his wife. Felipe is an electrician by trade and he worked for thirty years.

"Retirement doesn't even begin to be enough to maintain a family," he tells me.

Felipe has a daughter who doesn't work. The girl was left sick after the birth of her second child and now she suffers from nerves. Selling candies barely maintains his wife, his ill daughter and his two grandchildren.

It looks like today will be a good day for the "business." The sky is clear and a soft breeze is blowing. The birds sing. I help Felipe with one of his boxes of candies.

"Everything has its trick. The hardest one of all is that of life," he says to himself.

I smile. We arrive at the city park and we sit down on the bench, looking for the best angle of sight to look for buyers among the passers-by.

"You had a good trick for living. What happened is they found out about it," he comments.

"I don't understand you. What trick are you referring to?"

"That of a writer, pal."

This writing thing seems easy to him. I could explain to him it's all the opposite, but I'd take a lot of time and for now what's important is selling candies.

A lady with two children arrives, inquiring about the price of the merchandise.

She buys and goes away. The children go together with her, tasting the candies, content and thankful. The world always takes the form of an enormous piece of candy for children.

"I respect your profession. I said that about the trick because you do it in an easy manner; at least that's how it seems to me, but I respect it. You began to get entangled when you got into politics."

He keeps talking and recounts the day they mentioned my name on the "Round Table" television program, in which various journalists comment about national and international current events, from the official viewpoint. From time to time they criticize the work of dissidents and the opposition. What they said that day about me was reason enough for them to remove me from the radio station where I'd worked for more than twenty years.

"Politics is garbage. What concerns me is maintaining my family. The rest doesn't matter. I worked for thirty years and at the end of the day, retirement barely provides me to shop for the garbage they sell with the ration book. You have to come up with things to keep living and that's what I do," he says to me pointing to his boxes of candy.

Felipe is now getting into politics and doesn't realize it, but I don't interrupt him. He offers me a cigarette. We smoke and watch the people who cross the park.

Several buyers came, but not all those whom Felipe would have desired. Two hours later a policeman appeared.

"The permit papers for selling those candies, citizen."

From that moment on things get complicated. Felipe explains to him that he doesn't have papers and the uniformed man decides to take him to the police station. I prefer to risk the same fate as my neighbor and I go with him.

A while later we leave the police station. It's been a definitively bad day. Felipe's candies were confiscated and they imposed a 500 peso fine on him.

"It's an abuse what there is in this country. Now I have to work full time for three months to be able to make the money for that fine. I feel sorry for my wife. She got up early in the morning to make those candies and we lost all of it."

At the door of my home Felipe offers me his hand.

"It makes me glad there are men like you in that politics thing. I don't have a head for those things, but yes, I think something needs to be done to fix things in this country."

Versión original en español

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