It’s a story that tells of the persecution of Christians in today’s Cuba and of one boy’s determination to stand firm against the forces of evil.
Like his mother and his sister, little Jaime had a love for music. From the time he was a toddler, he loved to perform. Standing before an audience, he forgot the hunger pangs that sometimes danced in his stomach. He forgot the hurtful words that Cuba’s governmental officials used in their abuse of Christians. He forgot how his feet ached in shoes too tight for a growing boy. New shoes were unaffordable luxuries; old shoes were handed down through families like inheritances. But Jaime had no older brothers. Music made Jaime forget.
But Jaime would not forget the one morning when he awoke to his father’s sad voice speaking in hushed tones outside his room. Eugenio was saying, “The soldado was sneering when he said, “The fine for your church’s cracked window is 90 pesos; it is another 90 pesos fine for the crumbling mortar along the doorstep. All in all, your church owes 6,000 pesos.”
Jaime heard his mother gasp. “But Eugenio,” she said, “the church can not raise so much money. There is hardly such an amount in the whole city.”
“That’s the point,” Eugenio said. “Castro’s government is doing this to all the churches. It wants the truth of Christ silenced everywhere.” “What will we do?” Jaime’s mother was sobbing quietly as she asked the question. And Jaime knew in his heart that he would find a way to get his church the money. He knew in his heart that Jesus was calling him to help. And Jaime began his plan.
It’s a story of a boy who must find courage beyond his years as he struggles to defend his faith.
Jaime was the first boy out of the schoolhouse door at dismissal. He jogged down Ortega Boulevard, scooting past palm trees and startling the little lizards into hiding deep within the old fronds’ crevices. “Baseball, baseball,” his shoes seemed to say as his soles scuffed the island’s sandy soil.
Four boys stood in the dugout’s shade when Jaime arrived at the field. “Roberto, Pablo, and Ricardo,” the big boy said, introducing his friends. Jaime nodded to each. “I’m Alex. And now some batting practice, eh, friend?”
“I’m catcher,” yelled Pablo.
“Infield,” yelled the other two.
“I’m pitcher today, Jaime. Batter up!”
Jaime smiled as he hefted the bat to his shoulder and leaned over home plate. But his smile soon faded. The first pitch Alex threw was a fastball, which rocketed just inches past Jaime’s eyebrows even as Jaime jerked his head back.
“Man! Sorry!” Alex said. And then he said, “God must’ve been watching over you on that one.”
Alex’s tone bothered Jaime a little. Alex seemed more mocking than apologetic. And when the second fastball dusted Jaime back from the plate and everyone laughed, Jaime picked himself up from the dirt and yelled, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” Alex walked toward home plate, saying, “Guys–Jaime’s upset. Let’s calm him.” And before Jaime could step away, the four boys had him trapped against the backstop. Jaime wished he’d picked up the bat from the dirt beside the plate, especially when Alex pulled something long and shiny from his pants pocket.
Alex’s brows bent so deep that they seemed to cover his eyes. He yelled, “I saw your little show of love for Jesus that you pulled in the school cafeteria today. You believe in that son of God stuff, Jaime?”
Jaime swallowed hard. “Yes,” he said as his mind worked to find a way to escape the field.
“Well, we’re going to do a little experiment,” Alex said. “We’re going to kill you, Jaime. And then we’ll use this knife to cut your body up into little pieces. We’re going to toss those pieces all over this ballfield. Then we’re going to wait and see if God or His Son will put you back together again.” Jaime sensed the other boys moving toward him as Alex growled, “So what do you think about that, Christian?”
It’s a story of sacrifice.
“Home sweet home,” the soldado said as the transport truck rumbled onto the Cuban army base. Jaime looked in disbelief at where the family would spend their time awaiting official word that they could leave Cuba. The wait would not be easy. Inside the huge tents erected to house Cuba’s dissidents, cots stretched in double rows, spanning the width of a soccer field. Some people sat on the edge of the cots and talked, while others seemed to be sleeping with their arms flung across their faces. Sweat and food stains dotted everyone’s clothes.
Jaime felt that the falling plaster, the peeling paint, and the worn screens of his former home in Santa Clara was a palace compared to this.
Dissident families were permitted to bring onto the army base only those belongings that could fit into one suitcase. Food and medicine were scarce. Trouble was not. It came in the skin rashes, the hacking coughs, the diarrhea, the parasites that spread like wildfire among humans crammed to tightly together for proper sanitation. It came in the spiders, roaches, mosquitoes, scorpions, flies and gnats that made the tents’ canvas crevices their homes. And one day, trouble came in a hurricane.
And it’s a story of love.
Jaime saw the empty mesh bags marked “Concrete” laying at his mother’s feet. He saw her fingers working the mesh, searing it with the candle’s flame and dipping the raw materials into a red, glistening fluid. She laid the work on the table, then repeated the process. “Home-made flowers? For what?” Jaime asked.
“Aren’t mother’s flowers as pretty as God’s?” little Maydele asked. “Mama makes them then tries to sell them at the rich people’s houses. It’s how she’s getting the money to pay for our musical instruments and our lessons, Jaime.”
“Hush, Maydele,” said Mayda. But it was too late. Jaime knew his mother’s secrets. He knew that money was now so scarce in the Jorge household that Mayda was scavenging construction debris for material to make these flowers. He knew that she squeezed herself into the overcrowded, stench-filled buses for long rides into the neighborhoods of the rich, where the favored laughed at the beggars who came to their doors with little crafts. He knew now why the household labors that Mayda once had finished by dusk were not completed until after he went to bed. Mayda was earning pennies a day so that Jaime could learn to play his violin. Jaime saw God’s love for him in his mothers’ eyes and work.