ARACELIS GONZÁLEZ ASENDORF
Outside the refugee center in Southeast Florida, the silver coins slipped out of a cracker-size manila envelope into my cupped eight-year-old hand.
“What are they?” I asked my mother.
Here’s what else I didn’t know:
Realitos in English are dimes.
A Red Cross worker had given them to us.
The ten coins in my hand were all the money we had in the world.
My young mother, exhausted, reeking of sea-sick vomit, had spent twenty-four hours not knowing if my father had left her a widow after we’d been separated at sea while crossing the Florida Straits in a storm.
She was willing herself to be brave even though she didn’t know what came next.
In Havana, the queue of people stretched from inside the antiquated José Martí Airport terminal to the entrance door.
“Is this the line for the Southwest flight to Tampa?” I asked the man at the end of the line in Spanish. His face the weathered tan of someone who’d worked outside for years.
“I think. I’m not sure. I’ve never done this before,” he told me.
Here’s what else he told me:
He was leaving Cuba with his wife and eight-year-old son.
He’d waited months to get an exit visa to see his dying father in Tampa.
The visa was granted too late. His father had died two days earlier.
They’d go to his memorial service.
He and his family weren’t coming back.
The uniformed woman at Cuban customs asks me if I’d left after 1971. The visas are different. I feel a ripple of apprehension, but nothing like the waves of anxiety that washed over me deciding to make this trip. To return and see as a woman the island I last saw as a girl.
“I left in 1965, when I was eight.”
“You didn’t leave,” she suction kisses the air, tongue to front teeth, stamps my American passport, and winks. “You were taken.”
I lose sight of the man and his family when we go through security.
Here’s what else I do:
I sit at the terminal gate tired and conflicted—I’m leaving the land I come from to return to the land I come from.
I look around at kiosks selling last-minute souvenirs to sunburned tourists: cigars, rum, tacky key chains, magnets, paperbacks and postcards of Fidel and Che that no one has any interest in buying.
I wonder about the man and his family. I walk the length of the terminal waiting area, and spot them sitting together, inching toward each other. The young mother’s arm around her son. At their feet is a small duffle bag, their one carry-on.
I open my wallet. I have American credit cards, left-over Cuban money, four shabby American dollars, and one ten-dollar bill.
“You made it through,” I say. “I was worried.”
“We were worried, too, señora,” the man says.
I ask the boy his name, and when in his shyness he presses his face to his mother and doesn’t answer, his father says, “Carlos Rafael, like me.”
I bend and place the ten-dollar bill in Carlos Rafael’s little-boy hand. I kiss the top of his head, and as I stand, I see my mother’s eyes in his mother’s face.
ARACELIS GONZÁLEZ ASENDORF was born in Cuba and raised in Florida. Her work has been featured in TriQuarterly, Kweli Journal, Puerto del Sol, The Acentos Review, Litro, The South Atlantic Review, Saw Palm, and Black Fox Literary Magazine. Her stories have been anthologized in All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color and 100% Pure Florida Fiction. She is the recipient of the 2016 South Atlantic Modern Language Association Graduate Creative Writing Award for Prose. A former English and Spanish teacher, she has an MFA from the University of South Florida.