August 12, 1996
I saw him when I was seven and perhaps he is one of my oldest memories. We were at the Cuban airport Jose Marti International and he, like me, was alone. Unlike me though, he wasn't crying. I remember wondering if we shared more than our loneliness at the airport. Like, did he too lose his parents in an accident less than a year ago? Was he being shipped to another country because family members used their legal authority to take him over like mine had several months before? I wondered where he was going and what his name was.
We stared at each other for a few minutes, probably asking ourselves identical questions. For me, the sounds of the airport blurred into a giant whisper as I stared on. His black hair was gelled down and his shirt was unbuttoned at the top. He had a small suitcase beside him and I remember seeing his hands moving nervously on his lap.
"Vamos, nene," the air stewardess beside me motioned for me to follow her. I grabbed the large teddy bear that my papi had given me so many years before his accident. I've lost it now, somewhere amongst my past, but it once had my name, Mariana Enriquez-Perez embroidered into its chest. I pulled on my small rolling carry- on luggage and let my eyes connect with the small boy as I passed him. His surprisingly green eyes are forever burned into my memory because of the sadness they held. "Y tu," the stewardess smiled softly at the boy, leaving me standing near the gate. The vibrating echo of the voice through the speakers still plagues my memories as I watched the boy get up and follow the short dark-haired woman. She walked with a confidence that Cuban women are best known for and her shirt was too tight in the wrong places. But she was one of the nicest people I'd encountered since my parents' death.
"Y tu mama y papa?" I asked the boy where his mom and dad where when we were on the plane.
"Muertos," he answered that they were dead, before curling up in his seat.
"Los mios tambien," I told him that mine too were dead. He looked at me and smiled a very small smile before holding out his hand at me.
"Me llamo Angel," he said, "y tu?"
"Mariana," I introduced myself after he'd confided in me his name.
When we landed, I couldn't read anything that the signs said. I tried asking the other passengers on the plane, but they would simply smile at me like I was the cutest little thing. I tried to understand what was happening and where I was, but no one would tell me or Angel anything. A large sign down a long corridor read Canada, but I didn't know what else it said. I knew that it was a country, but I hadn't known that this was my destination. Almost every one I knew back in Cuba had gone to Florida or some other part in the United States.
Another woman, this one a lot more conservative than the one in Cuba, helped Angel and I through what I later learned was the Canadian Customs. By the time that we were through, Angel had taken my hand and in my loneliness, I had accepted. It felt so natural, even at that age, to depend on him. Even if I had just met him, it just felt right. Which is why I nearly screamed in surprise when they yanked us apart.
"Angel," I cried through tears as we both struggled to not be separated. Another air stewardess had appeared with several papers in her hands and she was slowly pulling Angel away.
"Sueltame," Angel begged the woman to let him go, "dejame!"
"No," I screamed, silently begging them to not separate me from the only person I'd felt comfortable with after such a long, lonely year. "Por favor, no."
"Let's go sweetheart," the woman said to me in English, but I couldn't and didn't care to understand her. In front of me Angel was getting farther away from me. "He needs to go on another flight, but you are staying here."
I only stopped struggling after Angel was long gone and even then, my tears flowed freely. He was gone, this stranger that I had so quickly connected myself with. I closed my eyes and put everything I had seen into a mental vault, where nothing could ever erase that day for me.