News keep coming. Frozen pensions. Cuts on basic state pensions. The end of pensioner related benefits.
Surcharge on income tax. Cuts on widow pension schemes.
News keep flowing. Rises in taxes; in rents; in electricity; in transportation. Every year. Living is getting more expensive. Every year. More unemployment. The young and fittest are leaving the country. Every year. More loneliness.
How do you cope with these stories? How do you stretch your money, how do you trick loneliness and the empty stomach if time has taken the strength, the agility and hope from you, leaving just more years on your skin?
We opened the doors and saw it. We left our comfort zone and took a punch on the stomach. The aisle is narrow and dark. The light trembles. The wooden floor creaks under the feet, we can feel the dampness crawling on our bones. The stench is unpleasant, like candles and garbage, like a hospital. Maria lies on the bed. She doesn’t even know we’re here. Everyday, strange hands bathe her, turn her around, dry her, touching her without shame. Our silhouette is just another silhouette joining the group of strangers around her bed. Sometimes, Maria’s name is Eugénia. Or José. Or Joaquim. We know her from newspapers and TV news, where the story always ends with an obituary.
This time is different because we are here. Because we got here before it all ends. The death notice, with the black cross on top, is yet to come on a forgotten page of a newspaper no one will read. We feel the ether that sanitizes the wrinkled skin, we ear the plastic gloves popping out before being dumped in the trash can. The lying body exhales a long and rueful whisper, and our throat closes with a knot that will remain forever. This Maria – who could be Eugénia, José or Joaquim – used to have another life. She was young and happy. She liked seeing her face on the mirror, eyes shining with the illusion of believing that tomorrow would be a good day. She had a house, even if it was small, a family, a job. That reality is just as far away as the reincarnation of past lives. This Maria, or Eugénia, or José, or Joaquim, is no longer able to do things on her own. She eats because someone, a organization named after a saint, still goes from restaurant to restaurant collecting the leftovers, putting it in disposable boxes that will feed the needed. We can’t do much more in here. The lying eyes fall upon us, the anguish sticks to our skin like glue and gets mixed with the dampness. Like an arrow piercing through our skin. We want to hold her, we want to take her hand and tell her that everything is OK. But she doesn’t believe that anymore. And neither do we.
When we close the door behind us and get back to our life, we become aware. Looking at these people is like a time machine. It’s a voyage to the dark future we don’t want to be our own. Nonetheless, everyday someone else, made of flesh and bone, sometimes next door to us, lives through this discomfort and we don’t even notice it. Until we see the face on the news. Elderly lady found dead at home. Old lady abandoned by her family. Elderly couple commits suicide to escape poverty. The neighbours saw nothing.
Text by Ana Kotowicz