From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

Truly Free

Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.

Life was hard in Cuba. In the early 1980s, hundreds of Cubans tried to reach United States soil aboard makeshift rafts. Somemade the trip successfully and were allowed to settle in America. But many more were not so lucky and were stopped and arrested before they could escape—or worse, they became victims of the sea. It is a long ninety miles fromCuba to KeyWest when your ship is an old tire.

One young woman, named Margherita, was persistent in her determination to break free. Margherita’s ambition was to practice medicine. She knew this dream could never become a reality in her Communist homeland, because most Cubans who hold medical degrees end up making better livings driving taxis. The rest of her family had all made it to the United States, leaving her alone in a country where she had little hope of a better life.

Margherita tried to escape on several different occasions, but always failed. She was a strong-willed woman, not a desirable trait in this Communist society. Soon, government officials began harassing her on a routine basis. She was often awakened in the middle of the night by police who were sent to check upon her whereabouts. She was discovered during one escape attempt and promptly arrested before she ever put her raft into the water.

As a result, Margherita was fired from her job in the tourism sector and forced to wash dishes for a period of one year, without pay. Often, police—who insisted upon checking her identification card—stopped her in the streets. There was no peace in her life, and her dream was slowly dying. Finally, the repercussions of her failed escape became too much for her to handle. She contemplated suicide.

But Margherita had too much spirit, too much hope, to take her own life. She decided to plan another escape, but this time, she enlisted two others to help her. She and her accomplices pooled their resources and bought an old truck inner tube, wood and some rope. On the appointed day, they met after midnight and managed to set themselves afloat, praying for a safe journey to freedom. But not far from shore, Margherita and her friends met with serious trouble. Not with the government, but with Mother Nature.

There were storms in the ocean, and their tiny craft was severely tested. They weathered the wind and rain for two days, and floated aimlessly for another. The three were severely dehydrated and beaten cruelly by the waves before being rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. They had traveled seventy-seven miles during their four-day journey. They were allowed into the country, where Margherita was quickly reunited with her family.

Margherita was free! She enrolled in college and began to work toward her goal of being a doctor. Although her studies were demanding, they were a welcome challenge. Margherita spent many nights reading until the early hours of the morning, but she was happy to do it.

About a year later, she was up late studying for a final exam. Resting her eyes for a moment, she sat quietly, remembering how life had been for her in Cuba. She felt her chest tighten as she recalled all her misery. Life had felt like a dead-end there, and worse, she had been treated with disrespect and cruelty. She felt her anger begin to rise as she thought of the injustices she had endured. She remembered the harassment she received from the Cuban officials—and from one man in particular. Although it was nearly two in the morning, she decided to call this official at his home in Cuba. She had called him so often when he had been her probation officer that she still remembered his phone number. I will wake him up from his sound sleep. I’ll give him a taste of his own medicine and see how he likes it, she thought.

Margherita did not allow herself time for a change of heart, but quickly dialed his number. She grew angrier, stewing in her unpleasant memories as she awaited the connection of the phone line.

When the Cuban official answered his telephone, she did not hesitate to speak. “It is me, Margherita, the young woman you harassed all those months. I am calling to thank you,” she said.

“To thank me?” he asked, surprised.

“Yes. I am now a medical student in the United States. It was your endless harassment that made my life unbearable in Cuba. You forced me to come to this rich country where a woman can make her dreams come true,” she explained, her voice triumphant with this small revenge.

She was surprised when the Cuban official let out a deep sigh. He was silent for a few moments, then said, “My own life here is very difficult. I must watch my daughter dying, a little each day, from a liver illness. The only advice I get from the doctors is to give her six aspirin a day—” At that point his voice began to break.

“You called to wake me, to repay me for my harassment, to make me suffer. But I tell you, I am already suffering as I stay awake each long night, trying to comfort my poor little girl. She is losing her life to this sickness because I do not have enough money to buy aspirin. And even if I did, there would be no aspirin available to me.”

The man was now sobbing into the phone, broken with grief. Shocked, Margherita did not know how to respond. In a daze, she mumbled her regrets into the phone and then hung up. She sat for a long time, staring at her books without seeing them.

It is only what he deserves, she told herself. He made my life miserable. But she could no longer find her anger, her fiery ambition. Something completely different filled her heart.

The next morning, Margherita hurried to the pharmacy. She bought as much aspirin as she could afford, packed it in a big box and sent it—with love—to her old enemy, the government official in Cuba. Now, she thought, I am truly free.

Elizabeth Bravo

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