No Island is an Island: Chapter 8: A Young Bride and a Magic American Mirror

Our sacred lunch ends with a knock on the door.

Olgita leaves us and comes back with a young man and a little girl with pigtails and a contagious giggle.    Don't ask me her name, I just know it ended with "ita" like so many loving Cuban nicknames do.

I think she is Olgita's great niece, but I'm not sure about that, and again I still don't know if we are related, but even if we aren't related by blood, we are related under this roof and by these walls.

The conversation among them switches to Spanish in an excited cadence that races too quickly for my brain to keep up. 

Out of duty and courtesy I pile a few dishes on my arms and carry them to the sink. Olgita fusses at me with such a fierce tone I give up immediately and slip away to the find my purse and fetch my iPad.


I took pictures of the front rooms of the house for Abuelo.

I took pictures of the delicate wrought iron.

I took pictures of the bronze statue. I took pictures of the long hall.

I took pictures of the first garden, the one where the laundry hands. 

Then I went out to the back garden where Ita was playing and took pictures of the roses, the bananas, the rainbow-colored spinning yard decoration from the $1 store.


She wanted to look at my iPad so I sat on the cool shady steps in the garden and played back video clips for Ita. I let her touch the screen and take pictures of herself and she loved it.


"What is it?" she asked in Spanish. "iPad" I tell her, and she frowns, frustrated. My answer makes no sense.



My Mom has now joined us and strolls down the garden steps that are a little further over and down lower. This is where I pretended to be a bride at my grandparent's house, she tells us, and holds imaginary flowers as she steps down the stairs.  Ita joins her.

 Hold your flowers like this, look up, look pretty, and walk down the stairs like a bride.


Mom smiles at me and I see her better than I ever saw her before.

She's told me stories about these steps, but now, seeing them, this is different.


Until now, I until I sat on this cold hard old stone step and smelled these roses and felt this silent heavy air I didn't understand that my Mom and so many refugees didn't just lose the future they thought they would have (a quinceaƱera at the Liceo de Cienfuegos, stuff like that).

They also lost having a past they could touch.


Refugees bring pieces of their history however they can - stories, clothes, pictures, pins, candlesticks. Not a backyard in a Spanish colonial house with gorgeous steps leading into a grand hallway where you can lead your children and say this the desk that, this is the sofa where, this is the room that, this is exactly the spot that holds a piece of me that I want to give to you.


So as I'm having these deep thoughts, Ita rejoins me and wants to see the video and pictures.

I let her tap and swipe and pinch and zoom and she asks me again, "What is it?" in Spanish and again I answer in Spanglish, "An iPad" and she frowns at the useless American.


Her father who was watching quietly next to us tells her in Spanish, "It's a mirror" (espejo) and she looks at me and tells me "It's a MIRROR" like I needed to know the word.

I repeat the word and thank her. She nods and we continue for a few minutes until she finds a pair of bunny ears and goes off to play, elsewhere.


Meanwhile, I wonder what her life will be like as she tries to pinch and swipe and zoom on plain old Cuban mirrors.

Perhaps one day she will make a huge decision to leave this island and this garden because she got an idea in her head at an early early age that everything -- even the mirrors -- are magically better in the United States.