Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

The sounds of doors opening and closing, along with voices in the hallway, served as an excellent alarm clock. It was Monday morning, and the boarding house was as busy as a beehive. Fernando noticed that Ignacio was already dressed...looking quite dapper in his starched white shirt and tie. Ignacio turned to Fernando.

"Buenos días. Un consejo importante. Apúrate al baño, que ya hay cola!"

He had advised Gaitero to hurry up and get to the bathroom, as there was already a line of men waiting their turn.

Fernando was soon washed and dressed. After a quick breakfast, the two men began their brisk walk to the Sánchez y Haya cigar factory. Fernando could feel his heart racing a bit. He wanted to make a good impression. Ignacio detected his nervousness and stopped walking. He put his arm on Fernando's shoulder.

"Gaitero, por favor. No te preocupes de nada. Seguro que todo saldrá bien."

Ignacio had told Fernando that he shouldn't worry so much. He was sure that everything would work out well.

Gaitero was reassured, and a sense of relief came over him. They had arrived at the Sánchez y Haya factory.

Fernando was amazed at the number of workers that were filing into the factory. As they entered the large door, he saw lines of workers waiting to insert their payroll cards into a large time clock. He had never seen this before and was impressed.

Further down the hallway, Ignacio gestured to the left and they entered a rather large office. Ignacio addressed a woman sitting at a large wooden desk.

"Buenos días, Adela. Puedo hablar con Señor Castañeda?"

He had asked if he could speak with Mr. Castañeda.

"Hola Ignacio, como estás? Como no, un momentito, por favor."

Adela had answered that he could, and to wait moment .

Adela quickly returned, followed by a tall, husky man with a thick moustache. The woman returned to her desk. The man smiled and nodded in recognition toward Ignacio.

"Bienvenido. Soy Fausto Castañeda, el gerente de contratación y personal. Y como te llamas?"

The gentleman had introduced himself to Fernando as Fausto Castañeda, the manager of hiring and personnel. He was the one to whom Ignacio had spoken about Fernando. Gaitero noticed that Mr. Castañeda, like Maruxa and Aniceto, had introduced himself using only one surname. Spanish people normally used two surnames...their father's, followed by their mother's. He found this odd but refocused his attention on the present.

Ignacio exchanged greetings and then politely excused himself to begin his workday. Mr. Castañeda explained that he wanted to give Fernando a quick tour of the factory, then sit and talk with him. They exchanged personal information. Fausto explained that he was from Cantabria, Spain, the area that borders Asturias to the east, and is similar in geography and culture. Fernando immediately felt at ease and found the manager to be very friendly and engaging.

They were still on the main floor, and it consisted of the administrative offices and the shipping and receiving departments. This floor was where the tobacco bales were unloaded as they arrived from Cuba. Cigar boxes from the nearby box factories were also received here. Finally, the finished product, boxes of cigars, were sent out to be loaded onto railroad cars destined for points across the globe.

At the back of the main floor were large loading docks, partially protruding beyond the facade of the building itself. Behind these were several elevators powered by a system of weights and pulleys. These were used primarily for moving freight, as opposed to people, from floor to floor. Permeating the area was the strong aroma of tobacco. Fernando could see men unloading huge bales of tobacco off an enormous horse-drawn wagon. Fausto explained that these had arrived early this morning from Havana, having been shipped there from farms in Pinar Del Río, the westernmost part of Cuba. This area was known for growing the best tobacco in the world.

Fernando and Fausto descended a large wooden staircase into the sub-basement level. There, the young Spaniard could see men scurrying about, cutting open the bales and placing the loose leaves in separate bins. They were taken on huge hand trucks to the "stripping" area. Women grabbed handfuls of leaves and peeled off the stems, placing them in yet another bin. These were transported to an adjacent area where well-dressed, serious-looking gentlemen would sort through them, randomly taking some out. The samples were hung on a wire for close inspection. These were the selectors, verifying the presumed quality of the latest purchase of tobacco. Though called "escogedores" or "selectors", their job was really quality control. Certain areas and specific farms in Cuba grew tobacco of varying quality, and this was reflected in the wholesale price of the raw tobacco.

Fernando was fascinated by the constant, organized frenzy of activity around him. It was like a well-choreographed fast dance that seemed to flow effortlessly. Fausto gently grabbed Gaitero's arm and guided him toward another staircase. They ascended two levels and entered a cavernous well-lit room running the entire length of the building. The large multi-paned windows Fernando had noticed yesterday dominated the space. His senses were pleasantly overwhelmed by that familiar aroma of tobacco, a thunderous voice that could be heard across the room, and a strange, rhythmic "clickety-clack", not unlike a train traveling across tracks.

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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