Santa Clara’s streets are narrow, flanked by single-story homes built so that no room is left for alleys or porches. It is horizontal space conservation to the extreme. Even in this tiny car, in which I am riding with my grandfather and father, it feels a little claustrophobic. We arrive in front of 84 Martí Street—a house that looks almost identical to all those around it except for a roof that has long since collapsed. Standing in front are two older women and several younger adults, roughly my age. We park the car on the street and step out. Within seconds I am smothered in repeated and unrelenting hugs; I am being kissed on the forehead and cheeks; I feel hot tears as they are dropped haphazardly. This is my family. They have been waiting for my grandfather to come home for almost 60 years. They tell me that I look like a Machado.
The following interactions seem strange to me. We fall easily into a familial atmosphere: welcoming, inviting, loving, accepting, and comfortable—as if we have known each other our entire lives. In reality, we are almost complete strangers, but strangers bound by something infinitely more profound than the politics, cultures, and countries that had separated us. Although I need to continually be reminded of names, the smiles and laughter of familiarity fill the small house to its capacity, straightening the old, wooden columns and raising the sagging roof for the first time in a long time. It is as if the walls and the rooms and my aunts and cousins and father and grandfather can all breathe a huge sigh of relief, 60 years in the making. “Home at last” sounds quietly on the breeze, lazily meandering its way through the halls.
My grandfather walks slowly through the home, here and there relating a story of things that he remembers from his childhood. The tile floors are the same; the room he used to sleep in seems so much smaller; the mango tree still curls its gnarled, prolific arms towards the courtyard’s square window of sky. It is a living artifact and yet a home still, being occupied by a family—our family—just as it was when my grandfather was a child.
I spend the night sleeping in the room that my grandfather once shared with my uncle Hilberto. I sleep in one bed while my aunt Marucha and cousin Yanet doze in the other. My cousin Yandy sleeps by the door. Someone snores all night, but I don’t know who. I dream about the past that surrounds me. —Mario Machado