In your sneakers with the Nike logo on the tongue you sneer at my synthetic leather sandals, while I calculate that your Italian sunglasses cost you a month’s salary. You pull a pack of Marlboro cigarettes that you bought in Vía Uno out of your purse and offer me one, even though you know that I don’t smoke. We are going together to your house in Cerro–a small room in a crumbling mansion occupied by seven families. I enter the living room and your impeccable shoes seem out of place alongside a metal chair without a back, a shapeless mattress covered by a gray sheet and walls that haven’t been painted since her grandpa died. She pours coffee for me into a cup without a handle, but I can only stare at the gold ring on her index finger. “Yadira,” I say to reprimand her, “you’ve got such opulent clothing but you don’t even have your own bathroom!” She smiles and I catch sight of a small ruby embedded in her canine tooth.
Leaving her shabby house, I notice the strange combination of ostentation and misery that “decorates” our streets. I see pairs of Adidas, Kelme, and Wilson sneakers going in and out of the front doors of crumbling buildings on Reina Avenue, and my nose picks up a stench wafting from a broken sewer pipe nearby, along with the unmistakable scent of Christian Dior perfume. The lines that form outside of the boutiques attest to the quantity of money that arrives through remittances, illegal activity or diverting resources which sustains these conceited “peacocks.” Nobody wants to go without designer clothing, whether it is genuine or fake.
Somebody told me that the Adidas store on the corner of 1st Street and Avenue D in Vedado sells more merchandise per square meter than any other Latin American subsidiary, to the point that they are thinking of moving to a bigger site so they can double their profits. Some of their products will be bought by people who don’t have their own room or who must struggle to eat everyday. They prefer to keep their most “valuable” possessions on their own bodies.
When she looks out from behind the lenses of her UV sunglasses, wearing her Point Zero cotton clothing, with the L’Oreal scent in her hair, Yadira doesn’t notice the missing tiles in her kitchen or the springs sticking out of her mattress. Those who know her believe that she is a splendid young woman who wears designer clothing rather than the resident of a squalid solar, where every morning she must carry water to a small shared bathroom.
Solar = A type of single room occupancy housing with shared bathrooms, that can vary from adjoining shacks to an old mansion broken up into single room dwellings. Whole families may live in one room. The closest English word is probably “tenement.”