Mothers of the Plaza of August (1)

WHEN, IN AUGUST OF 1994, the generation of the children whom no one wants was preparing their rafts along the Cuban coast, you could hear the cries of the mothers who searched for their children over several nights, and the sea, cloudy, let out a long roar, breaking against the reefs.

Dawn broke and still they searched with the headlights on in the full light of day. The sea only returned the empty boats to them and they wanted the bodies so that they could bury them. I wonder what the use is of burying someone after death and what the difference is between being under the earth or under the water.

The truth is that some mothers had given up hope and looked nervously at their grandchildren they held by the hand, without knowing what to do. I refused to look at them so as not to fix in my mind the harrowing images that destroy optimism in even the most optimistic: to see the beach with these haggard women, dragging those barefoot and hungry children here and there without rest, their clothes wet from the fog and mist, watching the water as if they expected a miraculous moment when their children’s bodies would appear, floating; and at the same time seeing reflected in their eyes the fear of what was really happening, when they were confused by some log, or a piece of a sail, thrown back by the tide. Every time the sea threw back some object, they approached, desperate, fearing that the bad omen has come true, and their frightened cries of horror reached us.

Their eyes moved quickly, searching for a recognized detail and they passed the object from hand to hand, trembling, and digging their nails in, trying to disinter a moan or a breath. They tried to question an oar, a candle, a jar, sometimes a nylon, to discover what had happened to their children. “The mothers are still looking in the shade of a smile for their children,” José Martí had written on the first anniversary of the execution of the medical students in Havana, “even reaching out their arms to press them to their breasts, from their eyes torrents of bitter tears still falling.”

And these mothers, on the shores of the beaches, also cried for their innocent children.

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