Chapter One, page 15
men and women who wore the olive green fatigues favored by Fidel and
who performed important but drudging work for the country. I had the best
grade-point average in sixth grade but no brilliant older sister or family
as my mother would often remind me. In the days leading up to the announcement,
the three of us were nervous but tried not to show it. We knew that
only one of us would be chosen, and yet we continued to study together. Now
that we were certain to graduate with top honors, Carmelina had relaxed her
rules and allowed us to play on her vast terrace, from which we could see
rooftops of the entire neighborhood. She even made us cookies and allowed
bang on the old piano ourselves.
But my mother remained wary. They’ll never pick you. Remember that, she would say, and then add for good measure, If you expect the worst, you won’t be disappointed when it comes. You’ll be prepared. And if it doesn’t, you’ll be thrilled.
At the end of the school year, when the principal called out the name of the sixth-grader selected to go to the Lenin school, I was prepared for the worst, as my mother had taught me, but also hoping for the best. It was not to be. Marta’s name was called. Everybody rushed to congratulate her, including me. When the time came to register for middle school, my student record had been sent to the wrong school. I had to retrieve it personally and carry it to the school I had been assigned. I was told not to open the package or dare peek at the pages of my record.
The first thing I did when I got home, of course, was to figure out a way to read my records. It was easier than I’d thought. The white notebook with my name printed in bold black letters was inside a plastic envelope sealed only with a simple staple. I carefully removed the staple by separating the two legs with a kitchen knife and pulled the notebook out, trying not to smudge the immaculate covers with my fingers.
I had been told many times by my teachers that from kindergarten on, a detailed year-by-year record was kept of our grades, our strengths and weaknesses, our disposition. What I had never been told was that my record as a student