Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

Gaitero and Zapato found themselves almost anxious to return to the relative calm and predictability of their workweek. Though the weekend had been enjoyable and, in many ways, fruitful, they welcomed the familiarity of the Sanchez y Haya cigar factory.

Just as Fernando had punched his timecard, Julio approached him.

"Buenos días, Gaitero. Por favor, venga conmigo a la oficina del señor Castañeda. No te preocupes, todo bien."

Julio, Fernando's immediate boss, had requested that he join him in Mr. Castañeda's office. He assured him that all was well.

As they entered the manager's office, Fernando was somewhat surprised to see Belarmino Pedroso seated at a small table, along with Mr. Castañeda. He remembered Belarmino from his arrival at Port Tampa. Though only ten days prior, it somehow seemed like an eternity had passed. Belarmino stood and extended his hand toward Fernando.

"Fernando, encantado verte. Espero que todo va bien contigo."

Belarmino warmly greeted the puzzled young Spaniard, and the two men shook hands.

Mr. Castañeda also extended a greeting and handshake to Fernando. He went on to explain that Belarmino had contacted him on behalf of some of the other employees. Apparently, word had gotten out about Fernando having been paid for an extra day the week before. Though Belarmino was not employed by the factory, he was well-known in Tampa as a community activist and labor organizer. A group of employees had contacted him, protesting what they considered preferential treatment of Fernando. Sanchez y Haya prided itself on having an excellent relationship with its employees and hoped to avoid the unionization of its workers. Belarmino was affiliated with the Cigar Makers' International Union (CMIU) and had successfully organized workers in some other factories. Sanchez y Haya had agreed to informally allow Belarmino to be a conduit through which employee concerns might be passed on to management. Though at times a bit awkward, this arrangement was generally working well for both the factory and the workers. 

Mr Castañeda explained to Fernando that he had done nothing wrong and would not be forced to return the extra day's pay. Julio apologized for having suggested the extra pay to Mr. Castañeda. The general feeling in many of the cigar factories was that the Spanish workers were often given preferential treatment over others because most of the owners were themselves Spaniards. Several workers were demanding an extra day's pay and there was concern that Fernando would now be labeled as an elitist by the other employees. 

Despite the efforts to convince him otherwise, Fernando felt responsible for having offended his co-workers. He insisted on returning the extra money to the factory. His sense of fairness caused him to be embarrassed that he hadn't refused the extra pay in the first place. He was concerned that his reputation within the community was forever compromised. 

Belarmino suggested that rather than returning the money to the factory, perhaps Fernando could donate it to an employee relief fund that the workers had organized. This fund was established to assist those workers who faced financial difficulties due to illness or injury. Belarmino was entrusted to administering and dispersing these monies. Fernando enthusiastically agreed. Additionally, Belarmino asked for Mr. Castañeda's word that this type of situation would be avoided in the future. He assured him that it would.

As the men were leaving the office, Belarmino, intuitively sensing that the young Spaniard wanted to speak with him privately, gestured to step outside the main factory entrance. Concerned that he was already late for work, Fernando turned to Julio, who was standing a few feet away. Before he could speak, Julio, aware of the situation, gave him a "thumbs up" sign of permission. 

"Belarmino, tanto lo siento por todo esto. Me siento muy mal."

Gaitero had expressed his regrets to Belarmino for having caused a problem. Belarmino most graciously assured him that all was well, and that he would personally speak to those workers who had complained, explaining how Fernando had generously donated to the workers' relief fund. Fernando immediately felt relieved. It was clear to him why Belarmino had become such a trusted figure and honest broker within Ybor City. He understood human nature well.

To Fernando's relief, the morning passed quickly and without incident. Tomás was cordial, never mentioning the incident that had attracted such attention. However, he remained apprehensive about facing Ignacio during the lunch break. Certainly, his best friend had, by now, heard about what had happened.

Ignacio, already enjoying his lunch, called out to Fernando to join him. As Gaitero was unwrapping his sandwich and wondering how to broach the subject, Zapato smiled broadly.

"Gaitero. No hay ningún problema. Ellos que se quejaron saben que no fue la culpa tuya, y saben que diste el dinero al fondo de emergencia para los empleados. Un punto importante. Yo sabía lo que había pasado antes de ti. En estas fábricas de puros de Tampa no hay ningún secreto."

To Fernando's amazement, Ignacio told him that all was well. The employees that had complained know that it wasn't Fernando's fault, and that he had given the extra money to the employee emergency fund. Finally, Ignacio confessed that he had known about the extra pay before Fernando himself knew. He wanted Gaitero to know that there are no secrets in the cigar factories of Tampa.

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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