Diane Dees Tobiason

 

The Cigar Factory

     Alina 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 Glass:

     "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 a half-smile.

     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.