Iowa Writes

MAGDA MONTIEL DAVIS
Stepping into Exile


Our Pan-Am plane landed splat! in Philadelphia.  Streaks of ice hardened across my airplane window.  Just like that, in one quick second, the pretty powdery snow hardened into lines of ice, up, down, across my window.  I couldn't see through to the other side, but it didn't matter because there was no color, just a blank of nothing everywhere.  Like a blank piece of paper staring up at me right before a hard arithmetic test back in Havana.  Like my head.
         Through the skinny aisle, the three of us walked; my mother, my sister and I.  Out of the plane, down the metal stairs, heading to the runway.  There was ice under my feet and Mami yelled at me to hold on to the handrail but there was ice on the handrail too, and it was cold, so very cold.  It was so cold, my doll's hand cracked and fell off.  Just like that, in one quick second, my doll's hand fell and rolled down the icy line of stairs.  I stood frozen.  Then I ran through the runway trying to catch my doll's hand but Mami screamed at me,"¿Tu estás loca?"  Yes, crazy, I thought, and she pulled me back and made me walk a straight line into the airport terminal.
         It was so cold, my head hurt.  It was so cold, my heart hurt.

Our Pan-Am plane landed splat! in Philadelphia.  Streaks of ice hardened across my airplane window.  Just like that, in one quick second, the pretty powdery snow hardened into lines of ice, up, down, across my window.  I couldn't see through to the other side, but it didn't matter because there was no color, just a blank of nothing everywhere.  Like a blank piece of paper staring up at me right before a hard arithmetic test back in Havana.  Like my head.
         Through the skinny aisle, the three of us walked; my mother, my sister and I.  Out of the plane, down the metal stairs, heading to the runway.  There was ice under my feet and Mami yelled at me to hold on to the handrail but there was ice on the handrail too, and it was cold, so very cold.  It was so cold, my doll's hand cracked and fell off.  Just like that, in one quick second, my doll's hand fell and rolled down the icy line of stairs.  I stood frozen.  Then I ran through the runway trying to catch my doll's hand but Mami screamed at me,"¿Tu estás loca?"  Yes, crazy, I thought, and she pulled me back and made me walk a straight line into the airport terminal.
         It was so cold, my head hurt.  It was so cold, my heart hurt.
         Inside the airport it was hot but not a good hot.  Not a Havana hot.  It was a thick, unmoving hot.  Mami stood upended on her six-inch tacones and stretched her neck so far that her pearl necklace disappeared inside her tailored suit.  The three of us looked around but there was no one there, no one waiting for us, not my father's boss's family with whom we were to stay, stay temporarily, is what everyone said, temporarily till the political situation stilled.  In one quick second, I was made to board that plane.  And now there was no one there, waiting for us.
         The three of us stood, an island.  I watched everyone's suitcases go round and round in front of us and in circles, like the insides of my head, in circles.  Where were our suitcases?  The dark wool clothes Mami had sewn for us were in there and it was so cold out and we needed our suitcases; those three suitcases were all we had left of home.  We could not bring, nor would we ever again have, our old family photographs, or antique brooches passed down from tias and abuelas.
         The suitcases kept going round and round and coursed and banged their way against each other, and here were our suitcases, but when Mami tried to lift the first suitcase, she couldn't and the suitcase went past us and round the circle again.
         Where was the American man?  The American man who had sat next to Mami on the plane and had said in that funny way Americans spoke Spanish, "Oh, yes, Cuba.  Beautiful country.  Beautiful women."  It had felt so strange, a man who was not my father talking to Mami like that.  The American man was gone; there was no one to help us.  A man in white shirt and gray pants pushing a big cart headed our way.  He said nothing, pulled our suitcases from the conveyor belt and walked us through the gray double doors that were metal and cold and clanged hollow and the man gave us our suitcases and Mami said, "Gracias," and the man waited.
         My sister pulled at Mami's pencil skirt and said, "He wants money."  And Mami kneeled on one leg as if she were at Sunday mass at La Iglesia del Carmen and opened her purse and when she handed an American dollar to him, he went away.  And Mami said, "Qué país éste."  What a country.
         On the other side of the gray double doors, Mami stretched her neck again and looked around and still, no one waited for us.  Mami walked and my sister walked and I walked behind them and I wished I could help Mami and I wished someone would help me.
         And we waited outside, the three of us, my mother, my sister and I, in a cold I had never before felt, waiting for a train, a taxi, anything, waiting, to step into exile.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


MAGDA MONTIEL DAVIS

In her other life, Magda Montiel Davis was a lawyer, 33 years of it.  In her happier life, she's an MFA student at the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program and the Iowa Writes Coordinator for The Daily Palette.  She has 5 children, 6.5 grandchildren, 3 rescue dogs, and 1 husband.

This page was first displayed
on June 04, 2014

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