Torontos Then and Now

VA columnist Jessica Dos Santos reflects on solidarity and the holiday spirit in the latest delivery of "Tales of Resistance."

I always say, half serious half joking, that if I ever decided to steal money it’d be something big. I wouldn’t get my hands dirty for US $100, but for an amount that would allow me and my accomplices to live comfortably for a long time.

In fact, I always told this to public officials that I knew were involved in unsavory practices. However, I need to confess something: when I was a little girl, I stole a Toronto [fancy chocolate bonbon].

I remember asking my mom for a Toronto. Not just ask, I begged for it repeatedly. But she gave me the same answer always: I don’t have money. I implored the woman at the grocery store. I knew she was the owner. “Please give me a Toronto.”

She smiled with this hypocritical expression “haha, so cute… Nice try.” I backtracked with a gesture suggesting “I was only kidding” while my mom widened her eyes and looked for a way to pinch me discretely.

And then, I did it. I grabbed the chocolate very stealthily and hid it in my school uniform. When I got home, I ate it hidden in the bathroom.

Then I had to get rid of the evidence, the wrapping. I thought about flushing it but feared clogging the toilet. So I ended up hiding it under my mattress. But not close to the border, right in the middle.

Years later I found this wrapping, and since then whenever I see a Toronto chocolate I recall this episode. I invariably end up asking myself: was that really so wrong?

Part of me thinks it was terrible. It repeats over and over that one cannot just grab stuff, and that children need to be taught limits and boundaries or they’ll grow up to be unbearable.

The other part manufactures excuses by the dozen: “I was just a kid,” “I asked for it and they didn’t give it to me,” “stealing a bonbon or a million dollars is not the same,” “maybe no one even noticed,” “it was no big deal.”

When the dust settles there’s no verdict. In fact, I take refuge humming Silvio Rodríguez “which boundaries should I respect? If someone steals food but then sacrifices himself, what should we do? To what extent should we follow what we preach?” or end up thinking about Ghino di Tacco, a famous Italian outlaw featured in the Divine Comedy and the Decameron who allegedly inspired the Robin Hood legend.

Deep down I think I struggle with the notion that we need to explain to children born out of privilege that they can’t have everything they want, no matter how pure their hearts or how minuscule their pleas.

We, or their parents, need to explain that they cannot provide them with everything, and that people don’t always share with others, even stuff they don’t need. Years later, Torontos will become proper housing, food, a decent job, dignity, human rights in general. This first contact with inequality can be tough for children.

A few days ago, I was waiting to pay in the grocery store when I saw a little kid ask his mother to buy some bananas. With a mix of pain and sadness, she let out a sentence that everyone who grew up poor will have heard dozens of times: “not today, dear. I don’t have money.”

The boy started to cry in silence, the type that causes me the most despair. I was busy fighting with my phone to log in to the bank and check how many bolívares were left in my account. I put a hand of bananas in my basket and moved to pay.

That very moment, I saw his look of anger and anguish turn to me as if aware of what was about to happen. I paid for the fruit and ran to him in the queue, fully aware that his mom might just yell that she doesn’t know me and doesn’t need my charity, or scold the little guy for embarrassing her in public.

Before the unmissable “son, what do we say?” from his mom, Simón was already halfway through his banana. He produced a “thank you” full of joy and saliva. And right away he took out a banana for me. I grabbed it, smiled and went out.

As I left, I lowered my facemask and ate my little gift. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have judged little Simón if he had stolen a few bananas (though logistically it would have been harder than my Toronto). I hope my small gesture will help him believe that, though life is full of injustices, there’s always someone just like us, an equal willing to share.

The crisis has left devastating marks, from severe hardships to families torn apart. But it has also taught us the value of solidarity, the importance of sharing what we have, no matter how little. I think that’s why we’re still standing.

This holiday season, which always sees petty crime go up as a bunch of poor people steal from nearly-as-poor counterparts to have Santa Claus come through for their kids, I hope we can remember that… and stretch out a hand to help those around us.

Jessica Dos Santos is a Venezuelan university professor, journalist and writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as RT, Épale CCS magazine and Investig’Action. She is the author of the book “Caracas en Alpargatas” (2018). She’s won the Aníbal Nazoa Journalism Prize in 2014 and received honorable mentions in the Simón Bolívar National Journalism prize in 2016 and 2018.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.

Translated by Venezuelanalysis.