Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño


Ignacio helped Fernando find his timecard and showed him how to operate the punch clock. It was Gaitero's first day at Sánchez and Haya. The two men parted ways as Ignacio walked toward the front stairway. Fernando continued to the rear of the building and exited onto the loading docks. The air was refreshingly cool, and he anticipated that he would find his work here to be less strenuous that unloading ships in the almost constant heat of Havana.

Julio was at his desk shuffling through papers. As Fernando approached, he looked up and smiled.

"Buenos días, Gallego. Estás listo? Esta semana vas a trabajar ayudando a Tomás. Así vas aprendiendo como hacemos las cosas por aquí. Está bien?"

Julio, addressing Fernando as "the Galician", had told him that he would spend the week helping Tomás. By "shadowing" him he would learn how things are done. The custom in Cuba was to refer to all Spaniards as Galicians, without regard to their actual place of origin, and apparently this tradition carried over to Tampa. Fernando's accent and physical features clearly revealed him to be a Spaniard. Rather tall, with blonde hair and blue eyes, Gaitero possessed what some considered to be the stereotypical features of someone from northern Spain. 

Julio called out for Tomás. He then turned and drew a bit closer to Fernando.

"Mira, Gallego. Tomás es inteligente, un buen trabajador, y buena persona, pero un hombre de muy pocas palabras. Cuando él está explicando algo, usa el mínimo de palabras posible."

Julio explained that Tomás is a good worker, smart, and a good person, but is a man of very few words. When he explains something, he uses the absolute minimum number of words. Before Fernando could respond, he became aware that a man was standing immediately to his left. The man was very dark-skinned, rather short and stocky, but powerfully built. As he and Julio spoke, Gaitero surmised that Tomas was an Afro-Cuban.

Julio introduced the two gentlemen. As Julio departed, Tomas explained that every morning Julio looks at the papers in his desk and gives Tomás a quick summary of the expected deliveries to, and shipments from, the factory. He then repeats the process after lunch for the afternoon's activities. Apparently, Tomás was known to have a steel-trap memory. This more than compensated for his apparent illiteracy.

By now, several large wagons were arriving at the docks. With minimal, but very clear, explanations, Tomás guided Fernando through the process. Cigar boxes, cigar bands, and bales of tobacco would be unloaded and appropriately distributed to the corresponding departments. On occasion, Tomás would instruct Fernando to accompany other workers as they pushed hand trucks onto elevators. He was impressed with Gaitero's strength as he helped unload heavy bales of tobacco. Fernando sensed that Tomás had a favorable first impression of his work ethic.

The morning passed quickly, and soon it was 12:30 noon and time for the lunch break. Workers were expected to self-monitor their allotted thirty minutes of un-paid mealtime. Depending on the weather, most of the employees would gravitate to the partially outdoor loading docks to enjoy their lunch. Long wooden benches had been provided to accommodate them. Soon the area was filled with workers, including Ignacio. Fernando noticed that Tomás had quietly slipped away to a quiet corner, away from everyone else. He was clearly a "loner", and Fernando was not offended.

"Bueno, Gaitero! Y qué, como fue tu primera mañana?"

Zapato was asking Fernando how his first morning had gone.

As Fernando began explaining that all had gone very well, his attention shifted to a group of young women seated nearby. He could hear that they were speaking Sicilian. He recognized one as the beautiful young lady he had seen speaking to Adela the previous day. He nudged Ignacio as he discretely pointed her out to him.

"Zapato. Esa es la chica de que te dije anoche. Sabes como se llama ella?"

Fernando told Ignacio that she was the girl he had spoken to him about last night. He asked if he knew her name. Zapato replied that he did not, but he knew that she worked as a cigar sorter and packer. He knew several Spanish girls who worked in the same department and he would ask them about her. Igancio cautioned him that Sicilian fathers were extremely strict with their daughters, and that he would need to proceed cautiously with any romantic overtures. Fernando jokingly told Zapato that he did not intend to kidnap her, but rather just get to know her.

"Igual, Gaitero! Ten cuidado, que estás jugando con candela!"

Ignacio smiled and advised Fernando that, none the less, he should be careful...and that he is playing with fire!

Fernando returned the smile. The lunch break was at an end and the workers began to hurriedly return to their workstations. While the foremen were not draconian about it, they were known to admonish those who habitually violated the thirty-minute limit on lunch breaks. As Ignacio scurried away, he told Fernando that he would do a little "research" on his behalf. Fernando acknowledged what he meant with yet another broad smile.


This is a work of fiction. With the exception of references to known and publicly documented historical entities, the following apply:

Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. ©Tony Carreño 2020