We got off the plane almost first and through the locked customs rooms that buzz you through. This time I had to go separately, and it was not a problem.
Mom and I rejoin each other at luggage claim. The turning belt has no bags yet, then some bags come and we hope for ours, to be first and out, but no such luck.
We wait and wait. I still have no story to write, I tell the universe and my Mom. I’m ok with this. In every book I’ve written I’ve been surprised myself by the ending, so I’m OK waiting for the story.
Then it starts. A Springer spaniel looking crazy silly dog bounces out onto the luggage turntable and bites at a bag. The worker ignores the dog and puts the bag in a pile with other bags.
I elbow my Mom. That dog’s not working. We agree. This dog isn’t really trained, it’s for show.
Over and over it shows great interest in a bag, and over and over the worker ignores the cues and tosses the bag on a pile. We decide the dog is hungry. Then another dog jumps out and does the same. Both dogs are skinny and bouncy. They’re the happiest dogs I’ve seen in Cuba ever, and I wish them well.
Where could our bags BE my Mom asks again when a man shorter than me (I’m so thankful for these heels; the difference between being 5’5 and 5’10 is substantial) gets in my face and calls my name.
Melissa Soldani come with me. He says it all in Spanish and I smile, OK, OK and we take two steps towards a table.
He starts to ask questions but his Spanish sounds drawly and slured like Honey-Boo-boo’s rotten English, and I wish for subtitles.
My mom joins us. He wants the name of every person I plan to see, their address, and what I am bringing. Am I going to a school? To see students? Am I here on a religious mission?
I shut up and let my Mom talk. Again she says I’m a Cuban refugee coming back to see my Aunt; this is my daughter, a professor of history and I’m taking her to see her roots.
He looks at us both.
He apologizes. I thought she was an American.
We look around the room of 50 or so waist-pack and flat sandal wearing Americans and shake our heads, no, no, not that kind of American. Not a tourist. I’m here for something else.
At that, I’m clear.
Before the man can walk away my Mom asks him his name. He points to it, “Iran” (Mom knew this, she wanted me to confirm it). Really? I shake my head. Now I can call this the Iran Incident I whisper to my mom and she giggles.
Our big huge bags arrive and we put them on these big rolling carts. Now we pass through some sort of customs that makes you pay some import fee on something. I see Boris, that guy in the white pants, from earlier. They are going through his baggage and he’s running his fingers through his non-existant hair.
Mom and I get in one lane. It doesn’t move. We get in another. They move me through, then a dark man looks at the tag on one of the bags. There is a huge Z written across the barcode.
Whose bag is this?
We both shrug. Both bags are ours my Mom says, knowing full well this is not how things are supposed to be done.
It has Mom’s name, so he calls her to the line where Boris is. I try to follow her but a guard makes this hsshhh noise at me like I’m cattle (what the F*&^?) and tells me to go through THAT door.
I can’t leave my Mom, I tell him, and he makes that ffsshhhh noise again and opens the door for me, waving me.
I don’t give him the stink eye; in his world he is king of that doorway. Whatever.
So now I’m outside the airport and the crowd makes a hushed rumble.
The first person I see is Machete, my driver, and I hug him fast and then am admonished by Mila, my mom’s cousin, who I’m sure was expecting a public regal royal hug in front of the gathered crowd. I fucked that up for her.
No one speaks English, so I'm on my own. This is what I was warned about and prepared for my entire life. One day you will NEED to know Spanish, said Abuelo, Abuela, Tiafifi, and every Spanish teacher I ever had.
They must have been psychic. Today I NEED Spanish.
I’m on the ramp, and the airport attendants say something to Machete about move me along get me off the ramp so I walk down with them a few steps but they need to know, where’s your Mom?
At first I told them she didn’t come, and my Spanish must have been pretty good because they believed me but then I said she was in there, in a different line, and she’d be right out.
Why were they holding her? I don’t know I said.
Then I hugged the cousins and (Mila, her husband, her son Joelvys, and NOT her daughter Mayulis but Mayulis’s 16 year old son, the one with the spinning dollar sign belt) we stood there waiting for my Mom.
There went the young Mom with a happy toddler who left a humongously obese husband in the US. I remember watching them.
There go the Americans, the tourist Americans, right onto their tourbus. The bus left.
Still no sign of Mom.
The man in the pink shirt from the documents line earlier exits the airport and is greeted by what look like his daughters.
The crowd of people waiting thins out. The sun starts to set. I have no way to call my Mom, no way to even know she’s still in the airport.
The dogs come bouncing out of the airport accompanying a pack of workers heading home. The lights in the airport turn off.
My Mom still hasn’t exited and there is no way to know why, just to wait.
I sit down on the grass. My cousin scowls and yanks me up. The sun sets lower. A man with a lot of keys locks a gate, then a door and hops on a funny looking motorcycle.
The airport looks dead and closed and I don’t know what to do.