Oceani - Part II
The worst thing that could have happened to me took place six months after Mauricio left. My parents came into my room one afternoon as I languished on my bed. I thought they had come to snap me out of my depression. I knew they worried. I wouldn’t eat. I barely slept. My grades began to slip. Even Ines couldn’t cheer me up. All I could do was think of Mauricio. I made a scrapbook using the few photographs I had of him. It never left my side. I fell asleep every night looking at the man my life belonged to.
“Samantha,” began my mother, “your father and I have made a decision.”
I planned on ignoring them as I had done before, but my mother’s words and demeanor captured my attention.
“We don’t think you will have as many opportunities in Cuba as we want you to have,” my mother continued. “We barely have anything to eat; there isn’t any real work. We want you to have a future.”
Something told me the rest of their message was about to transform my life. A chasm of anxiety began to form in my chest.
“Your third cousin will be visiting from Panama in two weeks,” said my father, picking up where my mother left off. “You will marry him and fly out of here as soon as you get your visa. You will live with him and his family in Panama until we can meet you.”
The fear in my chest expanded quickly, pushing my lungs aside, crushing them against my rib cage. I couldn’t breathe. My mind spun faster than my thoughts could keep up. I would have rather died. I would have rather heard that Mauricio vanished than dishonor what we had.
“What do you mean marry him?” I said, sitting straight up, anger flashing across my eyes.
“We knew you weren’t going to like the idea, but this is for your benefit. The marriage is simply on paper—just a technicality so that the government would grant you a visa,” said my mother.
“You’re kidding, right? I don’t want to marry anyone but Mauricio,” I shouted, “No, I’m not losing Mauricio. I’d rather die here.”
“This has nothing to do with Mauricio, Samantha,” my father said firmly. “You need to get off this island if you want to do anything with your life. Even if you want to see Mauricio again you need to get out of here. Pito will be here a week from Monday; we will apply for the visa the following Tuesday after you sign the paperwork.”
“I’m not signing anything!”
My father walked away without responding. His resolution scared me.
“Mom,” I pleaded, “you and Dad can’t be serious. This cannot be happening to me right now. Please tell me I don’t have to do this.”
“We’ve discussed this for a long time, Sam. I know you don’t understand now, but you will. Besides, you need something to uplift your spirits.”
“And you think this is going to uplift my spirits? Did you hit your head or something? I’d rather jump off a cliff. I’m not doing this.”
“Do not talk to me that way,” spat my mother.
“This is 1972, Mom. Arranged marriages don’t happen anymore,” I continued arguing.
“We are not arranging your marriage, Mijita. They’re just documents you need so that you could board a plane and leave. You can divorce as soon as you land in Panama.”
I screamed in frustration, storming out of the room. I couldn’t understand what was happening. In six months I went from being the happiest girl on the planet, to hating every inch of my existence. Anger toward my parents surged through my veins. I ran to Ines’ house just as night began to fall.
“You don’t understand,” I argued. “What would Mauricio think? He’ll never forgive me.”
“Listen, Sammy,” said Ines, “you have to do this. I would give anything to get off this place. Plus, I think your dad is right. Mauricio is not coming back to Cuba anytime soon. If you wanna see him, you have to leave.”
Every part of me shook. No one seemed to see things my way, not even my best friend.
“You don’t get it,” I said.
The days passed like months. I wanted to run away, but every time I thought about it, I imagined Mauricio looking for me, not finding me. I needed to remain where he could reach me, but Ines was right. Returning to Cuba would not—could not—be an option for him, no matter how much he still loved me. But I couldn’t see myself marrying another man, even if it was just on paper. I tried not to think about it.
I longed to call Mauricio. I would explain the situation and he would help me decide on what to do. Perhaps he would meet me at the airport in Panama. I would arrive and look for his face in the crowd. We would run toward each other like they do in the American movies. I pictured us kissing, our faces pressed against one another, but the image always conjured salty tears that washed it away.
I didn’t know what to do with myself the day of Pito’s arrival. I hid in my room, refusing to go with my parents to the airport. My dad threatened to find and kill me if I disappeared before they returned. I half believed him. Hiding my head under a pillow, my thoughts drifted, not settling on any one idea. No options existed for me. I felt like a slave to my parents.
The moment the door creaked open a pit grew in my stomach the size of a bus. I wished it would continue growing until it swallowed me up, but instead the unfamiliar voice of a young man jolted my ears, thanking my father for the ride. I pulled the pillow tighter over my head, breathing in my own steamy hot air. The sound of footsteps neared my doorway. Deep mumbling alerted me to my father’s treacherous presence. I hated him. That entire day I remained in the belly of my room, but the walls would not digest me.
The following morning I woke up to my father’s commands.
“Levantate!” he yelled, ordering me to get up.
He stripped the comforter off me and threw the pillows against the wall, coercing me to pay attention.
“I’m up,” I said, resigned to my inevitable fate.
“Get dressed. Pito and your mom are waiting for us at the courthouse.”
The previous night I determined to feel nothing, to think nothing, to do nothing but the minimum. Somehow new clothes appeared on me, but I could not remember how they got there, or whether I had bathed or even brushed my teeth. My father led me to the car. I leaned against the passenger seat window, staring at the waving-neighbors, refusing to let even the hint of a smile make itself known on my face. Their confused looks at my lack of response tickled me.
Pito could not have disgusted me more, though he behaved as politely as anyone could in that situation. His curly brown hair bounced like the headgear of a turkey. The barely-visible pockmarks on his light skin nauseated me. He had the nose of an Israeli, the sad eyes of a homeless person, and the jawline of a fish. He would have been perfectly hideous had it not been for his perfect smile, but I didn’t care. Although his teeth were as white as Chiclets, I kept my eyes averted.
The official took us into a tiny room. My dad slipped him a small wad of money. I knew that money represented five years worth of toil and labor. My parents worked hard for almost nothing, saving every worthless penny. They turned it all over to pay the bribe that would process my marriage papers within a week. I felt nothing despite knowing the heavy price my parents paid—no remorse or conviction. The last thing I remember feeling were the stress cracks of my frozen soul as I signed over my dreams of a beautiful marriage and a normal life.
Panama held nothing of interest to me. Pito and his family lived in the countryside, as far inland as possible. They inhabited a large estate—Pasa en el Sol—owned by his grandfather. The main building wore the architectural designs and age of ancient Spain. My eyes could barely consume its size. And despite the obvious wealth Pito’s family had somehow acquired, they greeted me politely—without pomp. I replied with heartless handshakes, hidden eyes, and limp nods.
I hated many things about that place, but Renault I hated the most. Renault was Pito’s first cousin and walked around like he gave birth to the place. He commanded the servants as if they owed him their lives. The smell of hair grease followed his every gesture. Long, slick black hair helmeted his sharp features. The picture-perfect Latin Casanova, everyone of his expressions sickened me, and yet, it seemed the moment he laid his probing eyes on me he found the calling of his life: to torment my every step.
Much of my first year I spent avoiding Renault, hiding in my room, and crying. I cried because I missed Mauricio. The worn edges of my scrapbook held a temporal record of my obsession. If I had paints I could recreate every one of those photographs. When I didn’t cry over Mauricio, I cried over missing my family and friends. Occasionally I received a letter or a phone call from my parents, but I heard much less from Ines. I missed her voice. I missed venting to her. I missed her laugh. She reminded me of my youth. The thought of never spending another summer with her, talking about boys, hanging out with Simon and Porky, or planning our future devastated me.
No human being could feel so sad without breaking. I hated the smell of Panama. I hated Pito who took me there. I hated his family who treated me so nicely. I hated the servants that met my every need. I hated Renault. I hated living. The anger transformed me.
I began to wonder whether Mauricio ever really loved me. I hadn’t heard a word or received even a single letter from him. My mind wandered. What if someone else stole his heart? After all, we were only seventeen when we started dating. How many young loves ever really last? Or what if he had died? Or what if he simply changed and was no longer the fresh-faced boy I used to know? My emotions dried up, sagged, and exploded. Then, one day, I received a package from him—a cardboard box.
The postman explained a short note with only a few written words accompanied the cardboard box, but had blown away and into the sea when the package fell off his cart near the pier. My heart sank, but hope rose within me, longing to see what the box contained. I expected to find promises, undying love, unconditional affection, and the musk of passion.
Running straight into my room, I locked the door behind me. Surely, a special religious ritual must exist for such momentous occasion, I thought, but because I knew of none, I resigned to offer God a hasty ‘thank you.' The box had no seal. Its flaps had been folded over in such a way to keep them from flying open. I tugged hard to reveal the contents. Inside was the plastic bag I gave Mauricio before he left to Nassau. Inside the plastic bag were all my letters neatly folded and stuffed into their original envelopes. Nothing else.
I had no idea what that meant.
As if God relished in my agony, the package carried no return address.
As if God relished in my agony, the package carried no return address.