Welcome to America
I didn’t think that it would be this hot in America. When I was young, I didn’t even know America really existed. We were all told that America was this place where dreams came true. I thought that there was no dirt here, that there were just flowers and grass; that the people were friendly. I thought they made America up. Over the years, I have seen that there is a lot of dirt, and poor people, and many are rude and too ignorant to help.
America is a different kind of hot compared to Cuba. I wore my grey office suit that day, hoping that I would make a good impression. Little did I know, there was no one to impress. The air was moist from all the strangers’ sweat, and this make-shift airport was so packed that men were carrying their luggage on top of their heads. People standing shoulder to shoulder tried to push past me like it was actually possible to move comfortably anywhere.
I lost count of how many shoulders I tapped. I was in a sea of people, and not one of them turned around. Don’t they speak Spanish? Shouldn’t someone in this tiny box of a room speak Spanish? I guess it didn’t matter though. They were all in too much of a hurry to help anyone but themselves. As I looked around at the many faces, I really did hope that I recognized someone.
There was this one woman that looked like Rosa, the secretary at my work. Rosa wears her hair tight back in a bun and greases it with Caballero Gel. I decided to approach her.
Moving is not the easiest task at this airport. It took a deep breath to finally make a brave move and push past someone in such a confined space. I had to keep in mind that these people were probably going to push me too, sometime or another. I tried my best not to shove anyone too hard, mumbling, “Perdón, con permiso,” after every other person. As I got closer though, I realized that this woman was not Rosa. Not to be offensive, but this woman was too pretty to be Rosa. And her hair was much shinier than that of Caballero Gel. So I kept pushing past anyway.
People were everywhere. It felt like every inch of the room was occupied. I was probably in an old warehouse. Old, moth eaten curtains and lousy ropes in some areas were set up to indicate some sort of division from the different stations. Careful not to accidently hit or bump somebody, I finally made it to a sign that read, “Stamping” with a large red arrow pointing to a separate hall.
I ended up in some sort of a line. Everyone around me was inching forward, trying to gain the desk clerk’s attention. They were stamping papers. Hands were in the air amongst the yelling of “¡Date prisa! Ayúdanos también!”. I had never filled out so many forms to be somewhere I had no desire to be. Everyone else seemed to want it though, pushing and shoving their way to the front. I was more than glad to let them go ahead.
Just about every other minute I heard a loud, “Usted, ahora!” from the desk clerk. She was a white lady; you could tell by her strong white accent when she yelled. That was probably the only thing she knew in Spanish. She was a pretty lady, with brown hair and green eyes. I don’t know how she could have ever ended up as a desk clerk at a refugee airport. She looked like she should be a nurse or a doctor. She looked like she wanted to be anywhere but in this sweatbox with people even I knew she did not want to be around.
I watched her stamp papers as I inched closer to her desk. I filled out thirteen different forms, each with a little box in the corner for somebody to stamp in. I saw her hand fly up and down, red ink stained on the white cuff of her uniform. Avoiding to make eye contact with a scruffed-face man, she tried to make small talk, in a language the poor immigrant obviously did not understand. He was being polite though, nodding and smiling after every other sentence.
My turn came. She snatched the papers out of my hand, and started flipping through them, stamping the different forms I had filled out. She tried asking me questions, as if I could respond. So I mimicked that scruffed-face man: smiled and nodded. She looked up to see my face. Jesus, what a pretty face she had. Strands of her brown hair were sticking up out of her messy bun, but she looked well put together. Her head was cocked to the right, and her dangling earrings followed, making a shimmering noise amongst the chaos. She blinked a few times and gave one of those sympathetic smiles, like the ones you give to homeless people. Her ink stained fingers started tapping over my papers as she went back to skim-reading my application.
It felt so silent in that moment that I had to check to see if I lost my hearing. Sweat beaded on my forehead as my fingers felt my right ear. My shoes were glued to the floor and my eyes were secure on her hands as I counted the papers she stamped so far. Elleven. The noise started coming back. Not the airport noise, the noise in Cuba. It flooded my ears so heavily. The sound of clipping fresh flowers from my garden. The light clink when you set the vase on the kitchen table. Twelve. Water trickling into the glass vase, replenishing the beautiful flowers. Thirteen.
I wanted to cover my ears when she held out the completed papers. A rush of yelling and screaming filled my head as I was thrusted suddenly back into reality. Her eyebrows raised as she waved the forms in my face. As I grasped the papers with both hands, she cracked a smile and whispered, “Bienvenido a América”.