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Voyage of Independence


Omar Couceiro II

Eighteen years. Who would have thought I would have even been around eighteen years? A lot of people including myself thought I would have been dead by now. My whole life has been a near death experience. From the moment of my birth to this very day I have been around death. There are even gunshots going by my window as I write this. Shootings in my city are so common that the local Catholic school is trying to make bullet proof vests part of the school uniform.

Let me stop. Iím getting ahead of myself. Iím going to take it back seven years. The day was March 16, 1996. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the day before my 12th birthday.

That day I woke up to my mother crying. Since I was the only man in the house I thought it was my job to protect the house and everyone in it. So I got out of bed and went over to my motherís doorway. I stood there and took a look at my mother. She was sitting on her bed looking at a picture. A picture of my dad with his arms around my mother and I. My father died in the Cuban army a year and a half ago.

She looked a mess. Her hair looked as if she put her finger in an outlet. She had lines of mascara running down her face.

I walked over to my mother, sat down beside her, and in a sympathetic voice I said, ďEverything is going to be ok. I miss dad too.Ē

My mother wiped her face clear of tears. In what sounded like a mumble she said, ďNo, mi hijo. How could you forget? Do you know what tomorrow is? How could you forget what tomorrow is?Ē

I sat there thinking. I didnít understand what she was talking about. I replied,
ďTomorrow is my birthday. I donít know what youíre talking about.Ē

She looked in my brown eyes, said loud and clear,Ē Tomorrow you join the army!Ē I was shocked and in disbelief. How could I forget such a thing?

In the country of Cuba at the age 12 you have to join the Cuban army. You have no choice. If you try and fight it you are shot dead. No prison, no fine, just  death.

For countless hours I sat there on my motherís bed. Crying like a little baby. Thinking of possible ways I could get out of this. But I thought of nothing. I was thinking of my father. Wishing he was here. When I was young he used to always get me out of trouble and make my problems go away. But I guess that wasnít going to happen this time.

My mother told me to go lay down on my bed for a little while. As I walked to my room I heard the door close. I guess my mother had to do something. About a half an hour later she returned. She walked in my bedroom and told me to get ready to go. As I was getting dressed I could smell my mother cooking up some food. It smelled good.

My mother called me over to the kitchen. I sat down at the table. She gave me a big plate of food. As I was eating we spoke a lot about things. Including my Aunt Cookie.

My Aunt Cookie now lives in America. Florida I believe. She is one of the few our ďgreatĒ dictator, Fidel Castro, let leave the country. That is very rare. You have a better chance of winning the lottery and getting struck by lighting twice on the same day. From what I hear, she went to school and then on to a local college.

When we were finished my mom told me to put my shoes on cause we had to do something. As we were walking down the road my mother started to cry again. She told that she wanted me to leave Cuba and go to my Auntís house in America. I tried to argue with her but I had no luck.

As we came closer to the beach I became nervous. And it increased with every step. As we were walking I was trying to wake up. I thought I could possibly be dreaming. But that was a failure also. You could tell if you'd seen all the black and blue marks on my arm. Due to all the times I pinched myself trying to wake up from this nightmare.

By the time we reached the beach it was nightfall. In the distance, I had seen a wooden log raft. I guess that is what my mother went to do. When we reached the water my mother gave me a compass, a picture of the family, twenty dollars and directions to my auntís house. After she gave me everything she gave me a big hug. I thought my head was going to bust because she hugged me so tight.

She told me to go. And that sheíd see me later. The both of us knew we wouldnít see each other again. I turned around and looked at my mother. It is a sight I could never forget. My mother, on her knees crying, in front of a picture of Fidel Castro. With the Cuban flag above her flapping in the wind.

I jumped off the raft and swam back to my mother. I had to give her one last hug and kiss before I left. When I reached her, I ran into her arms and gave her a long hug. She told me I had to go or Iíd be caught by Castro. So I swam back to the raft.

I started to paddle. It was not easy. I had to get the raft over the waves. I nearly fell over twice. But I made it. I paddled late into the night.

It was now sunrise. I was tired and I could barely move my arms. I figured it would be best to rest now and continue at night. I tried to sleep but I couldnít. All day I sat there staring at pictures of my family. Wishing I was still with my mother. It was my birthday and I was here stuck on a raft. Every once in a while I would look at my compass to make sure I was going straight.

It was mid-afternoon and I decided to get going. It started to drizzle and it would not be easy to paddle in a storm during the dark. I paddled past nightfall.

It had to be around one or two in the morning. The rain was coming down hard. The wind started to pick up. Waves were getting bigger. Then out of nowhere, Bang! I started to drown but I was able to get myself over one of the logs from the raft. I fell asleep.

When I woke up I found myself on a beach. I was shocked. I looked around trying to see if I could see any clues of were I was. I didnít see any Cuban flags or big posters of Castro. I walked off the beach and saw a long row of houses. They didnít look one bit like they did in Cuba. Then finally I saw an American flag. I was so happy; I dropped on my knees and kissed the ground.

For hours I walked around the street until someone drove up to me and asked me if I needed help. I told him I was trying to get to my auntís house. He offered me a ride. When I reached the door of my auntís house I didnít know what to do. I knocked on the door and she answered. She knew what I had just got finished doing.

That was years ago. Since then I became a citizen. I have gone to school. And Iím one of the top people in my school. I have dreams of one day getting involved in the government so I can help my fellow people.

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