No Island is an Island: Chapter 23: A Tale of Two Cousins

Machete left us at the hotel, thankful, I'm sure, to slip away from our chatter and back into his normal peace.

Waiting for us at the hotel are both of my cousin's children - the petite psychiatrist, the much taller accountant, and her son.  Although I'd seen all of them yesterday, somehow everything today changed things, changed me. I felt like I was climbing down from Mount Everest and they were there, waiting, asking how was it, what did you see.

We go to the pool area and find a table. It's a little windy and chilly, not what I would have expected in Cuba. Mom goes off to find the only waiter and bartender working the whole area and we order our tiny glasses of Cuban wine -- white for her, red for me. Our Cuban family orders cokes. Mom asks the waiter for a plate of ham and cheese.

Minutes later we relax into ourselves and into the night. I tell them about the cemeteries, about the castle, about wanting to put a piece of architecture down my bra, sneak it home and plant it in my backyard.

I decide not to tell them the real reason I'm  here, the bigger answer I was looking for, but I do tell them about the other question, the one that found me.

My young cousin - the Dr's son - spins his bling-bling spinning dollar sign belt tells us about his day at school, and I piece together that he is in the same class as Machete's son.  A light crosses his face. He tells me, through my Mom (because he refuses to say or even try a single word of English although I know he is listening like a hawk) that he had asked his teacher what the difference was between a "hero" and a "martyr" but his teacher basically gave him the sit-down-shut-up answer. Did I have a better answer?

Yes, I did. Part of it depends on who is telling the story.  In one story, told one way, a person can kill 1,000 people and be a hero. But told another way, he could be the opposite. So that's subjective.  Oh, and all martyrs are dead. Jose Marti, martyr. Castro, not a martyr. Got it? 

Why couldn't my teacher have told me that, he asks and everyone looks at me like I would know why teachers do things like that.

 I took a wild guess and told him what I think he suspected and wanted an adult to confirm - that probably his  teacher dismissed his question because she didn't know the answer.

He liked that and spun his dollar beltbuckle again and again, savoring the precipice of pending adulthood and all its wisdom.


The drinks come before the food. We finish them, order more and work on those as the food arrives. 

The wind seems to be picking up, laughing almost, like it's pushing us toward something.

And I learned something else, I tell them, mostly telling my Dr. cousin, the one who talks fast like me, laughs quickly like me, I notice this even in the way she puts her chin up into the wind and smiles at it like I do.  The more we talk, the more we love each other. My whole life I didn't know she existed and now here she is, here they all are, and here is all this love that we didn't know and couldn't experience because of the Cold War.  


Through my Mom I tell her the story about Miriam, my cousin murdered in Miami. Tears well around the table but I shake those off with a sprinkle of gratitude for Miriam's generosity.  Over thirty years later I remember the little treasures she gave me - a ballerina doll; a makeup palette; a blue padded bra. The wind picks up again and my Dr. cousin shivers and rubs her arms.

I wish I had known Miriam she tells me through my Mom, and I shake my head at both of them.  Oh no, I can only imagine the trouble we didn't get into, you me and her on this tiny island.  The universe knows best, this is how it's supposed to be.

Dr. cousin winces a little at my zenism and says to my Mom, "Where does your daughter come from? Who made her with thoughts like these?"

My Cuban wine helps my Spanish immensely so I answer without needing translation, "God was in a particularly imaginative mood when She created me."

The entire table leans over for Mom's translation. Mom shakes her head. I give her my Translate THAT nod and she does. They laugh.

The waiter comes back and we order more, then as he walks away I excuse myself and go up to our room.  Mom had repeatedly admonished  me to pack lightly for this trip so I have only have my most favorite clothes and makeup, the pieces I would grab from the closet in a fire.

 I didn't imagine I would meet my cousin, a new wonderful delightful cousin, who would need a jacket, or lipgloss or mascara. Now that I know that, now that I know that I have another cousin, a new living breathing cousin, I have to take care of her just like Miriam would have taken care of me.

There, I pull down my navy swingy sweater from the Gap and decide to give it to her.

Then I look around for more. She is tiny, I can't give her my shoes, and even if I could, she and I both agree that the wedges and heels I left at home are far cuter than the flats I'm wearing.

In the bathroom I lay out my makeup. There, I can give her this brush, the one with a fluffy side and a liner on the end. I can give her this gold eyeshadow duo, this mascara, this brick of shimmer that makes skin glow.  Satisfied, I pack it all into my black clutch purse and dash back downstairs to present it to my Dr. cousin.

She accepts it thankfully,  pulls on the sweater and relaxes a little against the wind.


"I have a deal for you," my Dr. cousin offers me, through my Mom. "You teach me English and I'll teach you Spanish. That sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Deal?"

Before my Mom can translate, I throw my hands up and answer her in Spanish, "What mierda is your deal? I'm speaking Spanish already! IN CUBA! I win, I win, I win."

The wind died down, just a little, and yawns crossed all our faces. 

They had work the next day, school the next day, it was time to hug, time to let go for a little while. 

Mom walked our cousins to the hotel door while I moved us to a smaller table inside the building where other people sat patiently waiting on the sole waiter and bartender.

Good thing the waiter was so slow, because if I hadn't stood there so long in the quiet by myself right in that exact spot I would never had noticed the huge answer - a sign, quite literally - that was right in front of me, waiting boldy and patiently to tell itself to me.