The day when Catalina turned forty went by unnoticed, as always. Since her husband died at sea, in an attempt to cross the Straits of Florida in an unstable raft, her life has become a wreck.
Left alone with her three children, Pablo, Clara and Serafin, the once enterprising girl who had been dreaming of becoming somebody in life gradually lost all her life force due to the constant struggle for survival. When she became pregnant with Noel, whom she later married, she had to abandon her university studies. Noel was a soldier who had taken part in the Cuban intervention in Angola – he was one of the leaders of the reactive artillery regimen that put the South African troops in Cuito to flight. He was a national hero.
Catalina and Noel both worked in a food factory and they were members of the Communist Youth Organizing Committee. After they both lost job due to workforce reduction, Catalina gave birth to their second child. That’s when Noel began to mull over the idea of leaving the country in a raft. The first attempt was unsuccessful: the Police seized his makeshift styrofoam boat and kept Noel in prison for six days.
After being released, Noel started to prepare for another attempt to flee the island. In just a month he was able to set out to sea again, this time in a cork boat. Along with him there were Papo el Negro and la Superabuela. Yet, after only fifteen miles, Papo became delirious and forced the rest of the voyagers to return to the mainland. In February, Noel made another attempt with his friends el Rasta, el Bemba, el Sordo and el Artistico. However, the boat’s engine broke down and the oars split. The Cuban coast guard took them to their station and sent them back home.
In his fourth attempt, luck wasn’t on his side. He drowned sixty miles from the shore, in the middle of a storm. El Sordo, who was travelling on the boat with him, managed to reach Miami. He wrote to the family: “Noel behaved like a man until the last moment, when the waves swallowed him.”
When this happened, Catalina was pregnant with their third child. It was quite a miracle that she was able to recover from the tragedy. She gave birth to Serafin and since that day she’s been fighting like a guerilla soldier amidst the harsh conditions of the “super special period” that the island is experiencing. The days go by with her running from a food stall to the grocery store and to the butcher, to the school, trying to do her best to gather some money to support her family: selling dishcloths that she sews at night, when the kids are asleep, reselling jams, doing whatever she can.
“I’d like to read a book, visit a museum, see a ballet performance… but when? Serafin yesterday complained about the taste of milk I gave him and threw away the bottle. Pablo and Clara grumbled about the dull meal I cooked for them. I have no soap to wash the uniforms or to bathe my children. In the afternoon I have no idea what I’m going to cook for dinner. This week I haven’t been able to sell a single dishcloth. Compared to the fifty years of socialism, nuclear war that so many predict and that the world so much fears is nothing but a skyrocket,” she says.