Thirteen year-old Paco Serrano is leaving his native Cuba for the United States. His parents exit visa has just been approved after an eight year wait. As part of the travel requirements, Paco has to go to his school and obtain a letter from Maximo Alarico. He is the much-feared, mean-spirited, dictatorial, school Principal. While Cecilia Sanchez, Mr. Alarico’s secretary prepares the papers, Juli Solanes, Paco’s first love, shows up. She is the daughter of prominent members of the Communist Party who did no approved of their young relationship.
I stared at the wall when Cecilia returned to her desk. I heard her pull her chair, stick the paper in the typewriter and start typing. She didn’t say a word and I didn’t look in her direction. I kept my eyes in the world map above her, my eyes falling in North America and focusing on the golden shape of the United States. Florida looked like an index finger pointing down at Cuba.
I didn’t know how much time had passed when Cecilia got up from her chair and walked to the rear of the office. She did not look at me. After a few seconds I heard her thank Maximo. She returned and was handing me the signed papers when someone knocked on the outside door. We both looked at the door at the same time.
“Who is it?” Cecilia asked.
“Juliana Solanes,” came the response from the other side.
I dropped the papers when I heard Juli’s voice. Cecilia and I bent down at the same time to pick them up, bumping our foreheads.
“Shit!” Cecilia squealed, rubbing her forehead.
“I am so sorry!” I said.
“Miss Sanchez, what’s going on?” Maximo yelled from his office.
“Nothing!” Cecilia and I answered at the same time, the same amount of fear in our voices.
Juli knocked on the door for a second time.
“Get the door then, Miss Sanchez,” Maximo yelled again.
When Cecilia opened the door I was standing directly behind her.
“Hello, Miss Sanchez. I am here to get my assignment for today,” Juli said.
I peeked from behind Cecilia, smiling. Juli opened her eyes a little wider and then she smiled back at me.
“Hi Juli. I’ll get the volunteer list. Come on in.” Cecilia said and she turned, finding me on her way. We moved in the same direction as we tried to go around each other. “Will you get out of my way?!” she whispered, exasperated.
When we ended our little weird dance, I saw that Juli was still smiling.
“I heard the news from Doris. When are you leaving?” she asked.
“I’m sorry,” Juli said.
I got closer to her and looked in the direction of Maximo’s office before I answered.
“Yeah, me too.”
Cecilia was holding a notebook and making notes as she spoke to Juli from behind her desk.
“Your team meets in the chemistry lab. Miss Lazo is your leader and she has the specifics of your assignment.”
“Thank you,” Juli said without lifting her eyes from mine, “Well, if I don’t see you later, I think this might be goodbye.”
“I’ll be around later, just in case you…” I said.
“Just in case I don’t see you later, I’ll say goodbye now.”
Juli moved a step closer and I realized she was going to kiss me. I closed my eyes waiting for her lips.
Before they landed on mine, I heard Cecilia clear her throat.
“Miss Solanes, come into my office,” Maximo’s voice came from behind me, unpleasant like a chill crawling up the spine, “I must speak to you. This minute.”
I didn’t look back. Juli walked past me. A fragrance, like soft piano notes, went trailing after her. I stood for a brief moment, looking at the papers in my hand. I took a couple of steps with no specific place in mind. Cecilia closed the door behind me the moment I stepped outside.
Across the hallway, the painter and his assistant were sitting across from each other, smoking cigarettes and talking about the job still to be done. I turned to the plaza without covering my head from the rain. When I walked past the window in Maximo’s office, I looked for Juli but only saw my own distorted reflection on the dripping glass slots. By the time I reached the street, I had slowed my steps, hoping to hear Juli’s voice reaching me through the raindrops, calling me to wait for her. When I got to the corner and turned towards Main Street, the belief that I would hear Juli call my name was disappearing with each step I took, as I walked on.