Finding Mañana, by Mirta Ojito (continued)
I found the Mañana at 12:31 p.m. on June 13, 2002, three years after I began searching for it. It was berthed at the end of a pier on New Orleans’s Municipal Yacht Harbor, gently swaying in the waves. I walked toward it carefully, tentatively, afraid to get close and realize that a coast guard historian had punched in the wrong boat registration number and led me to a different Mañana—there are about ninety vessels in the United States with the same name. No one was on deck, but someone was taking a shower. I could see soapy water gushing out of the hull. I boarded and looked inside the closed cabin, cupping my hands around my face to avoid the glare of the noon sun. On top of a table strewn with papers and what appeared to be photographs, I saw a rubbery arm. That’s it! I thought, and checked my watch, as I aIways do when I’m working to record the instant a story comes alive. Before I spotted the arm, there had been only the possibility of a story. Now I had no doubt that the man taking a shower belowdecks was the captain I’d been looking for.
The Mañana was less elegant than I remembered. less imposing. Smaller even. In my memory, the yacht that brought me to the United States was large, white, and spotless, with graceful lines and polished wooden panels. Instead, I found an old towing boat, with peeling paint and rusty corners outside. Inside, it had the frayed and rumpled look of an aging bachelor’s pad; dog hair covered the furniture and the floors. But it didn’t matter. The Mañana, I thought, was perfect. For after all, I was lucky to have found her twice in one lifetime.
The captain of the Mañana turned out to be an uncomplicated man who crinkles his eyes when he smiles, and he smiles a great deal. He seems unburdened by life. He lives alone, with his dogs, in his boat, the only home he’s ever bought for himself. Until I found him. Twenty-two years after the boatlift. He had not known the fate of any of the people he brought from Cuba. The trip to Mariel had been intense, he said, and then he repeated that word for emphasis. The return was emotional. “We wept when we saw you all walk away,” he told me.
He understood my need to reach out to him, because for years he has been searching for the woman—either a nurse or a doctor he’s not sure which—who saved his life in Vietnam. refusing to give up on him when the other medics had. When he finds that woman, all he wants to do, he says, is thank her, which is how I started the journey that led to these pages: by wanting to find the captain of the Mañana just so that I could thank him. Because in May of 1980, I didn’t know the words to express thanks and because even if I had, I wasn’t sure if I felt grateful to have left Cuba.
Finding Mañana © 2005 by Mirta Ojito Used by Permission. All rights reserved.
Illustration by Elizabeth Rosen