The dust blows around us as the car bumps over the potholes and unpaved roads. People on bikes and horse-drawn buggies are left behind and the heat presses down on me as a reminder of what I'd left. My cousin is driving, his hands constantly shifting the gears on the car. The hot wind picks up his black curly hair, making it wild with an unseen excitement. His dad, in the passenger seat, is telling him about a baseball game that was on last night and his voice covers the sound of the busy Cuban streets. My aunt sits to my right and is looking out the window, occasionally muttering, "It's going to rain, Pancho," to my uncle.
My friends from before I'd met Scott left in a van before us and I can vaguely see the white mini-van swerving around bicyclists and pedestrians. My mother is the only one that is silent and I try to not look at her.
"Mami," I say, trying to keep my voice calm. "I'm coming back."
"Que?" she nearly yells over the long-distance line.
"I can't do this anymore," I plead. "I don't love him, and he doesn't treat me right."
"Mi amor, por favor," my mom's tone is indignant, despite her words. "Scott is a good man, why would you come back here?"
"I don't love him mami, please," I say once more.
"Esta bien," she says. "Come back, but don't say anything if you regret it."
I stare at her and remember our phone conversation. She'd sounded so disappointed that it had broken my heart, but Scott was more than I could handle and I missed home.
"Que?" My mom's voice is harsh and I flinch.
"Mami," I say. "Don't be mad."
"I'm not," she says. "Your life is your life."
I look away from her and focus on the road ahead.
El Granma is a massive eleven-storey apartment building near the heart of Havana. Its pebble-lined outer walls gleam in the sunlight and several floors are decorated with freshly laundered clothing, towels, and bed sheets. The rustling sound of wind playing with trees reminds me of the many childhoods that I spent here. A kiosk to my far left is open and I can hear music blaring from the radio.
"Come on," my uncle says while grabbing my luggage from the trunk of the car. "We have to get these upstairs."
"Okay," I respond. "Thanks."
I recognize some of the kids playing in the small park and several of the other older kids playing a match of soccer. One of the boys, a tall and tanned teenager, kicks the old soccer ball under one of the stone benches in front of me, before breaking out into a loud cheer.
"Careful," I hear my aunt whispering to the oldest of the teens behind me. "Julia is in a bad mood."
"Si senora," the boy answers.
I see that my mother's attitude has not changed towards the local boys, no matter what their ages may be. We climb three sets of stairs before reaching my mother's floor and I feel the shiver of remembrance as I walk down the dark, slim hall. Echoes of television sets, voices, and dogs make me realize how much I regret leaving in the first place.
My mother unlocks the gate to the apartment and quickly unlocks the door. Immediately, I am assaulted by the view of the outside streets and blue sky after years of not admiring it and the smell of food cooking in the kitchen makes me smile.
"You know where your room is," my mother says after sitting in her favorite rocking chair. The breeze is blowing the lace curtains up and the sound of the children playing outside is a nice escape from the silence of Canada.
"Si," I answer. "I do."
I walk through the kitchen and tell my oldest cousin, Marcella, that the food smells great. Her blond-dyed hair swings in a tiny ponytail as she hugs me and lets me know how good it is to have me back.
I find my room easily. Out of three girls, I'd been the only one with my own bedroom. My grades in school and my helpfulness around the house had earned me the spot of favorite in my mother's heart. I open the door and see that nothing has changed in the last three years, when I had left at the age of twenty. My double bed is still in the corner, bright purple bed sheets covering the mattress. Old products sit on my dresser and even older posters decorate my walls. I walk over to the metal window shutters and pull them open, letting in the sunlight and giving the dust a chance to escape.
I put the smallest of my three suitcases up on my bed and cough as the dust rises in swirls. I turn, still coughing, to face the closet that is part of the wall. I open it and immediately see MGF, LGF, and CGF engraved on the door. My older sisters, Lydita and Claudia, had never shown contempt towards me, even after our mother's decision about this bedroom. I wonder if their married life is as adventurous as mine had been.
After putting most of my clothes into the closet, I leave my room for dust free air. I stop behind the wall separating the kitchen from the living room when I hear my mother and aunt talking. Their voices are hushed, but I can still make out what they are saying. I sit down on one of the worn, black chairs in the kitchen and place my elbows on the glass dinner table.
"Julia," my aunt is pleading. "She is your daughter, por favor, god knows what that girl's been through!"
"It is her decision," my mother says calmly. "I know she is making a mistake."
"But," my aunt says. "At least give her a chance."
"I didn't raise her to be like this," my mother's voice is rising in anger. "I raised her to be a good esposa and madre, not to be a coward!"
"Laura, por favor!" My mother finally yells. "It isn't your business!"
"Do not, Julia," my aunt responds quietly. "Do not let this get out of hand. Do you want what happened with Lydita and Claudia to happen with Maria?"
My mother says nothing.
"Julia," my aunt sighs. "She is your youngest; your last chance. Please, don't be this way."
"If I treat her like a princess, she will believe that she is one." My mother's voice is quiet once more.
"I know," my aunt says.
"I am disappointed."
"I know," my aunt repeats.
"So very, very disappointed."
I close my eyes as their conversation dies and feel the burning of incoming tears. I can never escape the world in which I am nothing, but a disappointment.