And there it was—that distinctive smell; the one of a smoked Cuban cigar. Carmen knew it quite well. She held it close to her heart. You could ask her why, though she would never look you in the face and tell you the truth. She couldn’t tell you. Not without shedding a few tears first. Or trying to convince with a lie. She was sworn to secrecy. Besides, it was all just a complicated mess.
The silence spoke volumes as she sat right in the middle of it with her significant other. Carmen glanced outside the window trying to think of something to say. Anything, anything at all, just to fill the void in their conversation. The young man beside her gave an occasional glance as he drove past the city limits and into the suburbs. She could feel his eyes upon her. And though usually an uninviting ice cold blue, they softened when he sensed her hesitation to say a single word.
“Carmen,” he spoke with a hint of hesitation himself, “Everything okay?”
The young woman sighed in relief at the sound of his voice and turned to face him. She examined his features and noted the caution in his tone. His long hair swayed in the artificial breeze of the air conditioner. With one hand still on the wheel, he brushed aside his bangs and gave her a look. She saw the concern in his eyes.
“Y-Yes,” his girlfriend said with a stutter, “I’m fine.”
He sighed with the roll of his eyes.
She turned to him, but he was focused on the road.
“W-What?” She stammered.
The young man didn’t respond.
He knew by the shakiness in her voice that she had lied.
“W-Well,” she said with a sigh, “Actually…”
The car came to an expected halt at a neighborhood stop sign. The young man sought the opportunity to give her an understanding nod, letting her know that he was listening. She tripped over the words that ran though her mind. She winced in the conflicting pain within her head.
“Carmen,” he said with a sense of assurance, “You can tell me.”
Carmen felt her heart race and took a deep breath as she debated whether to tell him the truth. Would he tell the authorities? Could she trust him? Wait, could she trust her own boyfriend? Was she really wondering this? They had been dating for a little less than two years now. She loved him. And she knew that he loved her. She sighed as she readied her tongue to speak.
“T-That smell,” she said as her voice shook, “Tell me, is it from a Cuban cigar?”
The young man nodded, though he failed to see the relevance.
“W-Well,” she continued, “It reminds me of home.”
Again, he nodded. He understood. She was half Cuban after all. And again, the silence returned. Carmen turned to him and their eyes locked for a brief second, before she turned to face the window.
“T-That’s not all, Alex…” She said softly with a sudden outburst of tears.
The young man stiffened as he sensed the sudden change in her. The car stopped, and this time for good. Alex parked the truck in its usual spot behind his dorm. He then turned to her, but she had looked away.
“Hey,” he said gently as he placed his hand on her shoulder, “You okay?”
She refused to face him. Her eyes remained glued to the scenery behind the glass. He felt her tremble, and his concern for her heightened. She felt his hand upon her and turned towards him for a moment. Carmen was crying. Alex leaned in closer to her and she buried her face into his chest.
“Hey,” he whispered softly as he welcomed her with open arms, “It’s all right.”
She managed to dry her eyes to some extent and continued to wipe at them as they spoke in the quiet of his beat-up truck. There was only the subtle sound of the air conditioner to hum and grumble between the silences.
“T-That smell…” She cried with her face still to his chest, “It reminds me of my father.”
Alex nodded. He understood that the two of them were close. He often drove her to the post office to pick up a letter from her father. Nearly every other day to be exact. Though surprisingly, he had never met her father. In fact, now that she mentioned it, he began to wonder where he was. However, he knew better than to ask at this moment. How rude it would be to ask when she was in pieces.
“Did he smoke them?” He asked, as he ran his fingers though her hair.
She shook her head.
“I-It’s complicated…” She replied as her voice trailed off into a distant memory, “B-But if I do tell you, you mustn’t tell anyone.”
The young man agreed with nod.
“As you know, I’m half Cuban.”
He nodded again.
“And you know, the relationship between the US and Cuba. A-And well, my family’s initial method of coming here wasn’t legal…”
A silence fell between them.
“A-And my father, he was a smuggler…”
The young man didn’t respond.
His eyes widened
“B-But, he’s not a criminal…” Carmen stammered. “He’s helping people live the lives they deserve to have. A life under a democracy.”
And there was nothing but the hum of the air conditioner.