An empty chair


Today I’ll celebrate Christmas Eve with my family and friends. We’ll assemble an improvised table with the old doors of the elevator and over them a blanket will play the role of a tablecloth. Everyone will bring something to the party. We won’t have grapes, cider or nougat candy, but we’ll be together in harmony which, by itself, is a big luxury. The children will have their guaranteed soft drinks, while a little rum with lemon or honey will be the choice for the adults. My mother will recount how complicated it was to get tomatoes in the morning and my niece will remind us that on Tuesday the 25th she’ll play a little angel in the mass at her parish.

At the head of the table, we’ll keep a chair which remains unoccupied since Christmas 2003.  It is the place of Adolfo Fernández Saínz, condemned in the Black Spring* to fifteen years in prison.  It will be sad to see, for a fifth time, his absence. If his jailers allow it, we’ll be able to listen to his voice on the phone, cheering us up.  (How ironic is life! He, who is in jail, has the strength to impart resiliency.)

I remember when we told my son that he was in jail.  My husband told him: “Teo, your uncle Adolfo is in jail because he’s a brave man,” to which my son replied with his innocent logic: “Then you are free because you’re sort of cowards.”  What a direct way of telling the truth children have!  Yes, Teo, you are right: this Christmas we warm our chairs because we are “cowards.”  We wish, in the intimacy of our family, a new year of liberty, but we can’t make those wishes a reality. We content ourselves with the myth of national destiny, because we gave up on the act of changing things.

Adolfo’s empty chair will be the freest territory at our improvised
Christmas table.

Translator’s note:

Black Spring = In March 2003, coinciding with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Cuba arrested about 75-90 people including about 25-35  journalists (reports vary).  The majority of these people remain in prison.


  1. A friend sent me your blog; it’s very interesing and often sad, but hope seems everpresent in a subtle way. Keep hoping. Nothing stays the same forever.

  2. Yoani,

    I think next Christmas Day that chair will seat your uncle. Say your Rosary.

    Warmest regards, John

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