Two days later, at 7 A.M., Tori is filling the trunk of a taxi with three large suitcases and a carry on bag. Due to heavy traffic, it takes a half an hour to arrive to JFK Airport. She finds her way to her flight gate, checks her luggage, and waits until the plane is set, then she gives a stewardess her ticket and boards the plane.
Tori finds her seat quickly and gets settled in. She takes out her laptop and puts The Lord of The Rings: Fellowship of The Ring to start off her four hour flight. She waits until the attendants go through their safety speech, then as the flight takes off, she puts in her earbuds and starts her movie.
Tori luckily got a window seat, that way she can avoid people climbing over her. The couple sitting next to her is thankfully quiet, too absorbed in each other to be disrupted. An attractive male attendant comes around with some white wine, and Tori gratefully takes some, along with some of the classic airplane peanuts.
She’d only ridden on a plane once before, and it had only been a twenty minute flight. Tori doesn’t mind flying, she finds something about it calming. When her movie is over, she takes a few minutes to just stare out the window, watching the world go by beneath her.
She decides to watch Ratatouille next, something that takes less focus than watching something as in depth as The Lord of the Rings. Before she knows it, the four hour flight is over. The plane lands at José Martí International Airport and Tori deboards, finding her way inside, where she sees Mari wearing a fake limo driver cap, and holding up a sign that read “Ms. Tori Jackson”. Tori rushes over to her, eagerly pulling her into a hug.
“Chica! It’s so good to see you.” Mari says, squeezing Tori extra hard. Tori is unsurprised at how pretty she makes the chauffeur cap look. Mari’s the type of woman who could make a potato sack look elegant. Tori had told her that once and Mari had just scoffed and said “Chica, you could too. I don’t know why you don’t see it.”
“Come on,” Tori says, slinging an arm around Mari’s shoulders. “Let’s go get my luggage and get out of here.” Tori’s beginning to feel overwhelmed already, seeing all of the signs in Spanish, but luckily, most of them had small english translations.
The two women find their way to baggage claim easily and Mari helps Tori carrying her bags.
“We’ve got to go to Playa Baracoa Airport to pick up Chester, I couldn’t convince that airline to ship him.” Tori laughs as they stuff her things into Mari’s small trunk.
“Perfect,” Mari says, getting behind the wheel. “I’ll give you a little tour on the way there.”
Two hours later, they are at Mari and Abuela’s house on Calle C. After a long introduction and many forehead kisses from Abuela, Mari shows Tori to the room where she’ll be staying it’s as big as her bedroom back in Queens, and there’s a full sized bed, a beautiful dresser, and a small closet. “Get settled in,” Mari says, carrying around a very happy Chester. “Afterward, I’ll give you an in depth tour of the house, then we’ll go get some dinner. You must be starving.” Tori’s stomach growls, as if on queue, and both women laugh.
Once Tori has her clothes in the dresser, and some hung up in the closet, she slides her suitcases under the bed. She walks over to the window and looks out at the city. A smile crosses her face, and she realizes how good this is going to be for her. Mari appears in the doorway a few moments later, and takes Tori around the house, making sure she knows it forward, backwards, and upsidedown.
“Abuela and I want to take you to El Jardin, a restaurant not far from here. It’s one of our favorites.” Mari grins, then becomes serious. “I’m glad you’re here, Tori. It’ll be great to have you. Plus, I’m looking forward to this book that you’re procrastinating on.”
“I’m not procrastinating,” Tori complains as they pile back into Mari’s car, Tori in the backseat this time. “I have writer’s block. It’s a thing.”
“Uh huh,” Mari says, looking at Tori in the mirror as she drives the three of them to El Jardin. “We’ll talk about it later, when you’re rested. And don’t think I’ll forget.”
Tori rolls her eyes affectionately at her friend, and moments later, they’re pulling into the parking lot for the restaurant. Tori tries her best to converse with Abuela, who only knows a few words in English. Abuela doesn’t laugh at her too much, and tells her in time, she’ll be speaking Spanish fluently.
Mari tells her that she must order Ropa Vieja, black beans, and yuca-whatever that stuff is- and when it comes, Tori is sure someone threw up on her plate. Once she tries it though, she takes back her first judgement of the authentic Cuban dish.
“You know,” Tori says, “I think this is going to be a good journey of self discovery.” Mari smiles so brightly at her that you’d think Tori just gave her the best gift in the world.
Read the next part!: Havana: Part Four