Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

After two more nights spent on the road, the anxious travelers arrived in the large port city of Vigo, Galicia. Serafín and Rufino stopped at a gas station to refuel their cars. Fernando, explaining the situation, asked if he could use their phone to call the U.S. Consulate. After being assisted by a telephone operator, he was able to complete the call. The representative gave him directions to the office, recommending that they present themselves as soon as possible, with all relevant documents.

After navigating a complex maze of narrow, meandering streets, the two cars emerged onto a broad, tree-lined street with numerous government buildings. Luckily, a U.S. flag was prominently displayed at their destination, making it easy to locate. Rufino and Serafín dropped them off at the entrance. They would park the cars and wait for them at the building entrance. 

Two U.S. army soldiers guarded the entrance to the consulate. Normally this level of security was reserved for embassies, but the unstable situation in Spain warranted additional security. The eight Americans approached the soldiers. One of the soldiers stepped in front of the entrance, speaking to the group.

"Good morning. Are all of you American citizens?"

Fernando explained that with the exception of Ignacio and him, all were U.S. citizens. He added that he and Ignacio were Spanish citizens, but legal residents of the U.S.A.

After examining their documents, the soldier nodded, stepping aside and politely waving them through. He explained that they needed to go to the second floor and speak with the receptionist.

The reception area was filled to near capacity, with several people in line to register with the receptionist. The line moved quickly. The receptionist inspected the pertinent documents, making entries into a registry. Fernando handed her the documents for all eight of the Tampa people. She smiled, recorded their information, and returned their documents. She told Fernando that they were number 14 in line to see the consulate staff. She handed him a ticket with the number 14. She addressed the group.

" As you can see, we are extremely busy. We ask for your patience, as your wait could be several hours. I do hope you understand."

The Suárez and Prendes families acknowledged her kindness with smiles and nods of agreement. They were thankful to be on what was essentially "U.S. soil", at least in their minds. 

As they took their seats in the crowded waiting area, Ignacio turned to Fernando.

"Gaitero, ahora entiendo mejor que nunca esa sensación de seguridad que viene con ser un estadounidense."

Ignacio had commented to Fernando that now, more than ever, he understood that feeling of security that comes from being an American, referring specifically to the United States. Fernando responded.

"De acuerdo, Zapato, pero recuérdate que tú y yo no somos ciudadanos. Veremos que va pasar aquí."

Fernando reminded Igancio that they were not U.S. citizens, and wondered what would result from their meeting with the U.S. consul.

More than two hours passed, and the last number called was number nine. They were given permission to bring food into the waiting area. Luciano and Rafael volunteered to seek out sandwiches to bring back to the group. Their fathers cautioned them to not get lost, reminding them how easy it is to lose one's sense of direction in congested European cities. The boys expressed confidence but wrote down the exact address of their location. Soon they returned with substantial food for all. Their youth allowed them to view their situation as another great adventure. 

"Number 14 please."

After almost another two hours, their number was finally called. The eight Tampanians rose in unison, attracting some attention. Most other groups were no more than three people. After verifying that they were traveling together, a representative led them to the consul's office. They had been assigned to the consul himself, as opposed to an assistant. He introduced himself as Mr. Abernathy, greeting them warmly. He advised them that his Spanish was marginal and asked if he could speak in English with a consulate translator providing a Spanish translation. Everyone agreed.

Mr. Abernathy got directly to the point. The six U.S. citizens could return to the U.S.A with no problem, as long as they could obtain transportation. Fernando's and Igancio's status was less clear, and potentially problematic. Though they were legal residents of the United States, they were Spanish citizens. He explained that the civil war was only in its fifth day and chaos was everywhere. The U.S. currently was officially neutral, not taking sides in the conflict. This news was surprising, since it had been assumed that the U.S. would actively support the democratically elected Republic. The United States government was not officially accepting refugees, i.e., those Spanish citizens fleeing the war. Additionally, the Spanish immigration offices had been transferred from civilian to military control. Policies at the points of embarkation were inconsistent, depending on whether local military authorities had sided with the Republic or with the Nationalist rebels. This was particularly an issue in Galicia, where the military loyalties were split between the two sides. 

Mr. Abernathy apologized for not being able to give them a more precise answer, but this was the best he could do in a situation that was changing hourly.

Ignacio inquired about perhaps trying to get home via nearby Portugal, whose border was only 20 miles from Vigo. The consul advised them that only Portuguese nationals were being allowed to transit the border, so this was not an option. France was accepting some foreign citizens, including those from the U.S., but not Spanish citizens.

Fernando asked if there was an international telegraph office nearby. Mr. Abernathy explained that they had a direct link to Western Union in the consulate. Because of the current situation, they were allowing access to the service by U.S. citizens and anyone traveling with them.

"Zapato, podemos mandar un telegrama a Turiddu Licata. Creo que la familia Licata tiene algunas conexiones con el Señor Payne, el congresista de Tampa en Washington."

Fernando, addressing Ignacio, suggested that they send a telegram to Turiddu Licata. He remembered that the Licata family had some connections to Representative Payne, the congressman from Tampa in Washington.

Mr. Abernathy supported the idea. He commented that any help available should be utilized as soon as possible, due to the confusing situation. He asked the translator to take Fernando and Igancio to the communications station at the far end of the office complex. The other Tampanians could wait in the receiving area. They thanked Mr. Abernathy and filed out of his office.

Fernando and Ignacio composed a brief but clear message to Turiddu. They explained the situation was getting desperate, and any help would need to be arranged quickly. It was now late on a Tuesday evening in Tampa. Realistically, they did not expect a response until Thursday at the earliest. 

The translator generously offered to arrange accommodations at a nearby hotel. He said that as soon as a response was received, the consulate would contact them at the hotel. Ignacio asked the translator to also arrange a room for Serafín and Rufino. Within a few minutes the arrangements were completed. Fernando and Ignacio thanked the translator profusely for his help and returned to the waiting area to retrieve the others. 

As had been arranged, Rufino and Serafín were patiently waiting near the consulate entrance. Apologizing for the long wait, Fernando explained the situation. The two drivers assured them that they understood, and were concerned about their situation. The cars were parked nearby and not far from the hotel. They retrieved their luggage and proceeded another 2 blocks to the Hotel Pontevedra. It was an impressive property, built in the early part of the 20th century. There were few guests, and this resulted in the hotel having a somewhat ghostly feel. Nonetheless, the accommodations were superb, and they all relished the idea of simply relaxing for a few days. 

After an early breakfast, Fernando and Ignacio asked the concierge for directions to the Port of Vigo. They, along with Rufino and Serafín, would go in one of the cars to the main office of the port to inquire as to the possibility of obtaining passage to the U.S.A. They asked their wives and children to remain in the hotel, much to the dismay of Rafael and Luciano.

The administrative offices of the port were outside of the security zone patrolled by the militarized customs and immigration departments. The office was busy, and there was a line to access the information desk. After less than an hour, Fernando and Igancio were able to speak to a clerk. Apparently, there were no passenger ships scheduled to call on the port. However, several freighters bound for the U.S.A. were scheduled to depart within the next week. Many of the ships' captains were allowing small numbers of passengers for a negotiated fee. The clerk emphasized that all passengers would need to be U.S. citizens or in possession of official documents allowing them to enter the U.S.A. She also emphasized that this policy could change at any moment, and recommended that they obtain the necessary papers as soon as possible. Once this was done, she could put them in contact with the captains of the ships. Thanking her, they left the office and headed back to the hotel. Ignacio turned to Fernando.

"Otro ejemplo de cómo la desgracia de algunos son buenas oportunidades para otros. Por supuesto la señora con quien hablamos recibirá una comisión de los capitanes."

Ignacio had commented that here was another example of how the misfortunes of some were good opportunities for others. He was certain that the helpful clerk would receive a commission from the ship captains. 

Fernando agreed, adding that is the essence of capitalism. With controls, it was a good system. He added that the value of a service is whatever people are willing to pay for it. 

Soon they were back at the Hotel Pontevedra, anxiously awaiting word from the U.S. Consulate.

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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