They sit at the dining room table and eat alone. He blows out the candles jiggling on the coconut flan. She sings “Feliz Cumpleaños” while holding up a phone where three of their grandchildren are cramped inside a screen singing the English version of the song. She scours eight supermarkets until she finally finds a bag of sugar, she fails to find cocoa powder. She asks him what kind of cake he wants for his birthday, he says he doesn’t feel like celebrating this year—“There’s no one left”—but if she insists, he would like his favorite: chocolate.
They go to the airport and watch the plane carrying their eldest daughter and her family climb up, up, up into the sky. Their eldest daughter packs up her life in boxes labeled with Sharpie, she hides her jewelry inside rolled-up socks and her mother rolls her eyes and says, “That’s the first place they’re going to look.” The eldest daughter’s husband enters the green card lottery and wins. During lunch, they talk about the handsome opposition leader who’s just slipped out of the country in the middle of the night with his wife and children—their eldest calls him a coward.
A fourteen-year-old boy, the son of a family friend, is shot in the head during a protest asking for the liberation of the handsome jailed opposition leader. They go to the airport to drop off their youngest, the baby of the house, who just got accepted into a school in Boston—she wants to study politics. “I will never give up on you,” the handsome opposition leader yells before he’s dragged into a government tank; he clings to the Venezuelan flag in one hand and three white carnations in the other. Their family dresses in white and meets at their home before heading out to the protest. “Tomorrow will be a new day,” declares the handsome opposition leader on TV, and a flicker of hope lights inside the pit of their stomachs.
They bathe with buckets and eat bananas starting to brown by candlelight. For days, they turn on the light switch, but nothing happens. Inside the hospital where she works, babies show up with pruned skin and stomachs as empty as the formula shelves. They go to the airport and watch their son and his fiancée empty their pockets in the security line before boarding a one-way flight to Bogotá. Their son is freed after being kidnapped for eight hours in exchange for a wad of dollars, a set of silverware, and a bag full of frozen meat. A masked man presses a gun into their son’s temple, and he thinks if he ever makes it out of this alive, he’s going to ask his girlfriend to marry him.
He watches the man in the red beret spew words like revolución and patria on TV. His wife holds his hand and notices that it’s shaking. He warns, “It’s going to happen here,” and his children scoff and call him dramatic. Oceans of red shirts flood the presidential palace, waiting for the comandante to grab the microphone. The man in the red beret promises to give el pueblo a better life, he promises them refrigerators, he promises them dignity. An election is weeks away and a charismatic candidate who dresses in red and calls Fidel his father climbs up, up, up in the polls.
Their house is always full of people: friends, family, family friends. Teenagers sneak out through the windows. Children blow out candles on top of Mami’s chocolate cake. They buy a house with four rooms. He gets promoted. His wife is pregnant with their second baby. He finally lands a desk job. He sells washing machines. He sells medical equipment. He sells dictionaries. Their eldest is born in Caracas, she sleeps inside an open suitcase—her first crib. They go to the airport and leave on one of the last planes out of Havana. His wife is nine months pregnant with their first child and she’s trying to find something to wear that will conceal her large belly. His wife insists on bringing along some cookbooks, she doesn’t even know how to cook an egg, but he only allows her to pack one. They pack as much as they can into one suitcase, careful not to make it seem obvious that they’re leaving with no intentions of coming back. The son says goodbye to his parents in the middle of the night, they hug him hard, wish him good luck, and are certain they will meet again. His parents sit down at the dining room table and eat alone.