The next morning, Cecilia awoke with a start. She’d fallen asleep atop the covers, still in the clothing she’d worn the previous night. Her first instinct was to call her friend, Mirabel. But when she glanced at the clock and it said 6:10 am, she decided to wait a bit rather than call and alarm her. Cecilia closed her eyes, and the next thing she knew, the clock said 8:12 am. She rolled over, put her feet on the floor, and slid on her sandals. Walking into her tiny pullman kitchen, she started the cafe con leche, and went out the kitchen’s back door to get the newspaper from the hall.
Cecilia lived on the tenth floor of the Brickell town house, an aged but well-located highrise on Brickell Avenue. Her apartment faced east, so from her tiny balcony she had a view of the Rickenbacker Causeway and beyond of Biscayne Bay. But at the moment, she was too sleepy to be interested in the view. She took the Miami Herald back into her living room with its two small loveseats and plopped it down in her normal reading corner. This alignment put her back to the sliding glass door to cut down on the morning glare. By now the coffee was brewed and the milk warmed in the microwave. Adding two packets of turbinado sugar to the mixture, she returned with her cup to the corner and sat down to read.
Cecilia turned first to the Sports section to see how the Marlins had performed the night before. She had a subscription to MLB.com and followed the games carefully, both as a fan and as an adherent of the sabermetric concept of baseball, which clearly the Marlins had embraced two years before. The Marlins had beaten the San Francisco Giants, no small feat, with a final score of 7 to 0. This put them in second place, only a game and half out of their division leadership. The Marlins had accomplished quite a bit in two years, and she made a note to herself to put the new stats into her spreadsheet. It was her habit to handicap the National League teams, and calculate the likelihood that the Marlins could win the NL pennant. Thus far, only a quarter of the way through the season, she put the odds of that happening at 27.5%. Last year the odds were 0.3%, so the improvement in their performance was obvious and noteworthy. Turning next to the national news section, Cecilia was happy to see progress being made with peace overtures in Ukraine, but there was still a long way to go. It was unfortunate that these tensions had arisen. Cecilia had established a relationship with cosmologists in Moscow who were working on problems similar to her research. She was worried that if the need arose, she might have difficulty getting a visa to travel to Russia, or that her internet connections to her contacts there might be monitored or even blocked by Putin’s paranoid government. She made a mental note to send her primary contact a text to ensure all was well when she returned to work.
Return to work! Shit – I forgot to call and let them know where I’ve been. She jumped off the loveseat, and grabbed her purse off the small table in the dining area of her 1100 square foot condo. She called Mirabel, who was, of course, at work already as the Admin Assistant of the Department.
Mirabel answered with her official voice. “Department of Physics, may I be of assistance?”
“Mirabel, it’s me,” Cecilia hastily replied.
“Mierda, chica, I have been worried sick about you and Abuelo! What is going on?” Mirabel sounded frantic and angry all at the same time.
Cecilia replied, “I got back home at 11:30 last night, and I just woke up.” A small lie, but Mirabel’s disdain for Cecilia’s obsession with the Marlins precluded her telling Mirabel that checking the stats was her second act of the day, second in importance only to coffee. “Abuelo is stable, he’s at the hospital, but the doctor says his heart is damaged and he only has a few months left to live.” Saying those words, Cecilia’s throat began to close up, and she stifled a sob.
“Oh, Cecilia, I am so sorry…he is a fine man and he’s a fighter. Maybe it’s not so bad, si?”
Cecilia could always count on Mirabel’s eternal optimism, even in the worst of situations.
“But, on top of all that, Mirabel, he wants to go back to Cuba. Can you believe that?” Cecilia picked up her coffee cup and took another sip of the hot brew.
Mirabel replied, “So, what does that mean – how can you get him back there?”
“Believe me, I have no idea, but he seems to think I can work miracles, so I have to try to figure out a way. Any ideas?” With that, Cecilia leaned back in the love seat, closed her eyes and rubbed her furrowed forehead.
Mirabel said, “I don’t know, but the best place to start is for you to Google it. Don’t start going to all those different offices downtown – you know, you have a good heart, but not such good patience.”
Mirabel was right about that. A Google search: how a 50-plus-year Cuban expat can return to Cuba. Simple, right?
“Well, I suppose that makes sense. I’ll start on that this morning. In the meantime, can you move my magnet from In to Out for the day?” Cecilia was painfully aware of the Department Chair’s monitoring of that infernal white board with its colored magnets and taped lines to show his minions’ comings and goings.
Mirabel replied, “I moved it last night and wrote that you were involved with family illness in the Note section. You’re good for at least another day before the Señor Bow Tie comes asking about you. But don’t worry – I’ve got it covered.”
Mirabel was a good friend and an attractive charmer. The Department Chair, whom Mirabel semi-lovingly called Señor Bow Tie for his habit of wearing one of 7 different bow ties each day, trusted her completely.
“Thanks, you’re the best,” Cecilia said. “I’m going to go right now and take your advice about the Google thing, so wish me luck. Adios”.
Cecilia clicked on the red phone image on her Iphone and put the cell back on the glass topped coffee table. She sighed, stretched, and went into the small second bedroom she’d converted into an office/media/computer room. She punched into Google the words “how to get to Cuba”. A plethora of official, bureaucratic warnings popped out from the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury regarding the illegality of trade with Cuba. They were careful to point out that it was not illegal to travel to Cuba, just illegal to spend any money there.
“Coño,” muttered Cecilia under her breath. Her mother chided her often about swearing in Spanish, especially that particular word. But it seemed to fit the occasion, and reflected Cecilia’s particular lack of patience with all forms of government bureaucracy. She continued her search, subsequently stumbling on a site called cubalinda.com. On that site, it’s made clear that, while it’s illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba, there were hundreds of thousands doing so each year via Mexico, or the Cayman Islands.
“All you need is a passport and a Cuban tourist card, which can be picked up at the airport and filled out just prior to the trip.”
Easy answer! It was clear the Cuban government liked the American dollars that tourists brought to the island, and border officials knew not to stamp a passport indicating the visit had occurred. Piece of cake! Cecilia was excited and hopeful that what seemed like an impossible task was actually quite easy. In the kitchen, she took the last sip from her coffee, rinsed the cup and put it in the dishwasher. Going through her bedroom into the bathroom, Cecilia took a shower, and in record time, was dressed and ready to go.
Cecilia went to her designated parking spot in the Brickell Townhouse parking garage, and took the little Civic out onto Brickell Avenue heading south. There was little traffic this particular day, so the trip to Mercy Hospital was brief and uneventful. She parked and went through the front area to the elevators, and upstairs to the heart center where Dr. Ramirez told her Javier would be taken from the E.R..
She asked at the desk for his room, and was told it was 206. She entered her grandfather’s room to see him lying in bed with his reading glasses on, looking over a magazine. But as she approached, she realized he was dozing rather than reading Golf News. She carefully removed the magazine, and Javier awoke with a start. He seemed to have difficulty for a moment, focusing on her, until he removed his reading glasses and smiled.
“Cecilia, mi mejor nieta, ¿como está?” Javier seemed calm and in rather good spirits for a man recently given a death sentence.
“Bien, bien…Abuelo, I have good news!” Cecilia could barely withhold her enthusiasm. “I know how to get you back to Cuba!”
“See, I knew you could do it!” Javier looked at her expectantly. “So?”
Cecilia replied, “We just have to fly first to Grand Cayman and then to Cuba. We just fill out a tourist card with our passport numbers, and we are there!” Cecilia beamed with pleasure at how she’d cleverly figured out how to beat the hopeless bureaucracy of travel rules.
Javier turned his head to the side and looked at her curiously. “Passport? But Cecilia, I have no passport.”
Cecilia said, “Well, that’s no problem, we can get one for you on an expedited basis…it just takes a few extra dollars.”
“No, nieta, you don’t understand,” Javier looked at her calmly. “I have no passport because I am not an American citizen. I have a green card.”
Cecilia replied, “A green card? You never became a naturalized citizen in the 53 years you’ve lived here?”
Javier looked at her with a somewhat strange, faraway look in his eye. “No, I never did. I did not see a need to do so.”
“Well, then I have to start looking all over again. And, I am going to have to deal with the incredible bureaucracy of immigration and the State Department. Coño!”
Javier chuckled, and said “Cecilia, such language! I am shocked!” But he chuckled again. “Go try once more, and this time bring me back the right answer. I’ll be here waiting!”
Cecilia kissed her grandfather’s forehead and said “Get some rest, Abuelo. I’ve got this.” While her words sounded encouraging, Cecilia knew she was about to enter the gates of bureaucratic hell in order to satisfy his need to return to his homeland. She left his room and went home.