was a cigar reader at one of the larger factories in Havana. Every morning,
she arrived at seven to read Dickens, Cervantes, Doyle - whatever would
keep the rollers and packers attentive. The room was a steambath, there
were no breaks, and the work was tedious. The bosses, unmoved by cultural
need, were nevertheless impressed by any scheme that increased production.
The striking, soft-eyed Alina was literate,
and she had a full, rich voice; her father had read to her from the
time she could walk. Overnight, her feelings about the factory had gone
from despair to excitement, though she was hoarse at the end of every
day. She worried that the men would get in trouble for staring at her,
so she tried to satisfy them with the seductions of pause and tone.
One day, standing in the thickness of
the tobacco-flavored heat, Alina began reading from Through the Looking
"A slow sort of country!" said the Red
Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can
do, to keep in the same place."
"Ha! Cuba!" a man hissed, not quite under
his breath. Alina kept on reading, the workers kept packing and rolling,
and Señor Bildano, the supervisor, twitched an eyebrow and gave her
The next day, Alina brought in The
Moonstone, and as she read, she looked out over the workers and
noticed that the man who had whispered too loudly was gone. She learned
later, in the café, that he had been taken from his home by Batista's
soldiers for questioning.
No one ever saw the man again.
Alina asked Señor Bildano if she could
be a packer, but he just snorted and walked away from her, oblivious
to the power of irony.