I’ve been in the gas station line. There was certainty there. Whether with just a little or a lot, you would leave there with gas in your tank. I’ve been in the supermarket line. Eventually, you go in and you buy whatever’s available, if there’s anything available at all. I stood in line at the bank. And I was able to withdraw a bit of cash, even if it wasn’t very much. I’ve lined up on the shoulder of the highway and, with great patience, I managed to get enough bars on my cell phone to make an urgent phone call. And this is how it’s been for me, waiting in line, just like the entire country.
But this line is different. This one kills me. It’s the line at the airport. People wear anxious expressions. They don’t want to look back, they can’t; like those who fled from Sodom and Gomorrah. There are many, many elderly people. There aren’t enough wheelchairs for everybody who needs one. I am reminded of images I’ve seen of people fleeing Syria. I think of the Cubans who risked everything to make it to the Florida Keys, to Miami. And the Dominicans who set out to sea on precarious boats that would capsize off Isla de Mona.
Now it’s our turn. María pulled the cloak from us and left us naked. We always were naked; we just didn’t realize it. I see a young woman reading the Bible while standing in line at the airline counter. A young father drags a suitcase along with one hand and his three-year-old son with the other. The boy carries, and sometimes rides, a little wooden hobbyhorse with a blue mane. A woman cuddles a small, nervous-eyed dog close to her chest. Pets’ cages mingle with suitcases. I am moved by the faces of an elderly couple, staring off into space, waiting.
The people in line who recognize me are cheered at seeing me. “You’re leaving too?” they ask. I feel bad when I tell them, as if apologizing, that no, I’ll be coming back, I’m just leaving for work and I’ll return in a few days. They smile at me nostalgically.
It’s a different kind of line. Heavy with the grief of a funeral parlor. We exude sorrow for the Puerto Rico that we thought we were. The diaspora reaches out its arms and plucks from the sea all those it can: the nearest, the dearest, the most vulnerable.
I can’t help it. I take out my computer and I sit down on my suitcase to write. I finished it on the airplane. When we landed in Orlando, there was thunderous applause. Before, the applause was always when we came back to the island. Immediately, an emotional drama began to unfold: relatives from this side greeting relatives from that side, tears, hugs, kisses and sighs of relief.
A table awaited the new arrivals, with water and information to help them find services such as health care, schools and jobs. No one watching from afar could ever imagine the tragedy underlying those first encounters.
As I said, it was a different kind of line.
This is the first of a series of 24 chronicles that will be published weekly in English and Spanish
Translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell for Cronicas www.24semanas.org Puerto Rico-Mexico Resilience Fund
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