THE BLOG
12/31/2013 11:54 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Cuban Mattress: A New One Costs a Year's Wages

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A woman shouts from the balcony and they stop, along with the cart they are pushing. On the sidewalk itself they set up a workshop. On some boards and in sight of everyone. The broken springs are replaced, enormous needles sew up the edges and the old lining, stained here and there, is replaced with another made from the cloth of a flour sack. Their hands move quickly. In less than an hour they're done and continuing down the street looking for new customers. A mixture of dust, lint and the accumulated odor of years of intimacy floats on the air.

Mattress repairers always have work, a lot of work. In a country where many still sleep on the same bed their grandparents slept on, this work is vital. These days experts in padding and bedframes are everywhere. With their spools of thread, they loudly shout out their promises of thirty-day guarantees after the renovation. They repair that which passed its expiration date decades ago, returning a comfortable sleep to those who find some out of place spring poking into their backs every night.

Also abundant are the scammers. Creators of an illusion that barely lasts and leaves the buyers with pains all over their bodies and in their wallets. They stuff in successive layers of dry banana leaves, plastic fibers or sawdust. Then they cover them with brightly printed fabric, taking special care to tightly stitch the edges. They situate themselves near commercial centers and assure people that their merchandise is "just like in the store." In a country where a professional needs a year's salary to purchase a marital mattress, the offerings -- outside the state stores -- are cheaper, and always very tempting. However, much of the time the advantage turns to frustration in a very short time.

The scenario repeats itself when the repairers come to a neighborhood. A mother is annoyed by the urine stains that her youngest child has left on the bed. Others are embarrassed because the neighbors will see the successive patches that have been made to their mattress over the years. Phrases such as, "It's not mine, it belongs to a relative, but I'm doing them the favor of fixing it," are common. Some appear with an amorphous structure, lacking defined corners and sunken in the middle, that needs more than magic to restore it. "Let me make it like new," says the repairer, and he starts to move his hands, sink the blade in a few points, and finally name a price.

More than a restorer of mattresses, he is a restorer of dreams.