I breezed through immigration with three magic words (‘I’m a journalist’) and headed straight to the bay marked oversized baggage. In flawless Cuban Spanish (that always touches officials in Miami, the overwhelming majority of whom hail from the island), I asked after my crate; within minutes it was on a cart and I was on my way towards US Customs.
“What’s that?” they asked.
“A piece of art. Do I need to declare it?”
“How much did it cost?”
“Nothing, it was a gift,” I said, pulling out another magic answer at just the perfect moment.
“You don’t need to declare it or pay duty.”
“But you do need to have it inspected. Proceed to Area 15.”
As I wheeled my way to Area 15 (naturally – or perhaps dyslexically – I was thinking of aliens and top secret shenanigans), my confidence grew that everything was going to work out. Just one more step and I will have fulfilled my obligation.
I entered the large, brightly-lit section known as Area 15; several Customs agents milled about and there was a giant X-ray machine. A strapping Latino officer approached. He circled the crate, asking me what was inside.
“A piece of art. It was my friend’s who died and I’m bringing it to her brother.”
Delivered in my Cuban Spanish, I knew this would tug at the heart strings since every Cuban with family divided has experienced the problem of wills and politically-complicated property transfer.
He nodded non-committally. “It lacks the proper paperwork. It hasn’t been fumigated.”
‘Fumigated?!’ I thought, missing a few beats. Of course fumigation is a logical and necessary factor in this globalized, bug-infested world – but a factor I hadn’t accounted for.
I smiled. “I hadn’t even thought of that.” I didn’t add that had I thought of it, Adam and I would have invented some kind of fumigation markings for the crate, a lo cubano, back in Havana.
The Strapping Agent went to get the jefe.
I started to fret (and sweat).
The jefe arrived, the situation explained. He was short and made me nervous: a pint-sized Latino jefe is ripe combination for a Napoleon complex. I added that Angela’s brother was waiting for me and Yemayá just on the other side of those glass doors. He took a turn around the crate, pried a corner ajar and peeked inside.
He paused, took a step back, and waved me through.
I wheeled my precious, unwieldy cargo through the doors and out of the terminal. There was Angela’s brother, in a big yellow rental truck, idling at the curb.
As I write this, Triunfo de Yemayá hangs in David’s house, testament to our collective aché.