February 24, 2010
“I would like to buy a ticket, please.”
The volunteer teacher pronounces her words carefully, inviting us to dutifully repeat the phrase. I can look at anything mechanical — from the hand-cranked pencil sharpener to the subway clattering along beneath our feet — and know how it works. But the English language escapes me.
“Where is the train to Grand Central?”
Five minutes in a junkyard in Havana, and I’d built a mini-plane that got me as far as Florida. I just know how pieces fit; what they want to do to support each other. Engineering, physics, mathematics — their secrets are mine to command.
“These are my demands.”
I look up, startled. No one else reacts — not the doctors turned landscapers; the day laborers with master’s degrees from universities with exotic names. All of us trapped because there is no one to speak for us.
There was no place for someone like me in Castro’s Cuba. In Miami, I was just another brown face in the crowd. My mind brims with ideas, but no one expects them from an uneducated woman with broken English. I could destroy this whole building using the teacher’s mobile phone and a screwdriver. But without the words…
“You will all kneel before me.”
I scan the room, but no one has spoken. Does the ancient VHS player in the corner dream of escaping obscurity, or is it an echo of my own thoughts? Maybe the time has come to start speaking up in my own way.
— by IVY BOHNLEIN (Chandler, Ariz.)
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