“How can they believe in Him if they’ve not heard His message?  How can they hear if no one tells [the Good News]?” Romans 10:14

The tinkle of a bell greeted Lindy Mitchell as she entered the boutique, “The Painted Snail,” and closed the door behind her.  Bright displays of housewares on shelves and airy clothing on racks beckoned.  Her fingers itched to hold, to touch, to examine.

She did have that birthday gift for Sommer’s birthday she needed to buy before next week.  Maybe when she finished, she could browse around, find something a nine-year-old girl would love to have.

She breathed in. Coffee was brewing.  Very strong, aromatic coffee.

The owner of the store appeared from the back of the shop. “Hello, Lindy.”

“Hope I’m not too late.”  Lindy removed her backpack.

Conchita Alvarez, whom Julia Peters introduced her to not long after moving to Hope Springs, smiled, accentuating the laugh lines around her brown eyes.  “Not at all.  How’s Julia?  I haven’t talked to her lately.”

“Julia?  She’s fine. Getting geared up for a new Bible women’s Bible study at Beal Street.”

“Sounds like Julia.  Always busy with the Lord’s work.  Let’s go back here.” The sixty-something woman moved with grace amongst the aisles, and Lindy found herself at an iron table and chairs tucked into a corner. “I thought we’d talk better here. Would you like some coffee?  I’ve got Cuban coffee in the back.”

You’d never know the woman was born in a foreign country, Lindy marveled.  Her English was flawless.  “I’d love some.”

“Do you want cream?  Sugar?”

“Yes to both, please.”

“Be right back.”

Lindy took out a pad and pen.  When she visited the Painted Snail, it was like she’d stepped into another world.  One where conga music pulsed in the background, where blue water lapped along white-sand beaches.  A place where banana, guava, and mango trees grew tall along the roadsides, where tropical flavors and colors meshed into the fabric of everyday life.

Conchita set two small cups of caramel-colored liquid before them.  Lindy picked hers up.  “Umm. This is really good.”

“It’s café con leche.  Cuban coffee with boiled milk and sugar.  I’ve been drinking it since I was knee-high.”

“Conchita, thanks again for agreeing to this interview.  When I got my assignment to do a piece on the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban exile, I knew you were the person I needed to talk to.”

“My pleasure.”  Her head lifted, and the silver threaded amongst the dark curls glistened.  “And you must promise to call me Connie—like my family and friends do.  Now, what it is you would you like to know?”

Lindy consulted her pad.  “How old were you when you came to America, and what was the exile like?”

“My father, in Cuba, was what you call a self-made man.  He owned several pieces of real estate and rented his buildings to various businesses.  He was a very strict, very quiet man.  He made sure we were educated in the best schools, and he always paid attention to my grades.  I was thirteen years old when we left.  You were allowed to leave Cuba with only a restricted amount of personal goods, which had already been inventoried by the government by the time you applied and got your papers.  My mother actually came with her wedding rings hidden under her tongue, and I had an extra $10.00 inside my one of my socks.  This was a very dangerous thing to do, considering if you were caught, you would be detained and not allowed to exit.”

“What do you remember upon entering the United States?”

“I remember getting off the plane in Miami, where some of our extended family had relocated.  Everything about America was strange—the language, the food, the music.  Our family got my parents jobs, took us in and let us live with them for a while.  I remember going to school and feeling very lost and lonely in the beginning.  We were the ones with ironed skirts, white blouses, and hair ribbons, the school outfits we’d worn to school in Cuba, and we stuck out here like sore thumbs.  Eventually though, little by little I  became accustomed to the American food, the American way of life, even the American way teenagers talked to their parents.  This was very different than my original upbringing where you didn’t dare disagree with an adult.”

“How do you see yourself now?  Do you ever  think of yourself as an exile?”

“No, not really.  I am Cuban-American.  But I chose to become a U.S. citizen because the United States became my home.  The old people, like my mother, if you talk to them, they still murmur of returning to Cuba when Castro is gone.  To them, I think they consider themselves exiles here and are still deep in their hearts, fully Cuban.”

“Your mother is still living?”

Si, she lives with me and my family.  She will be ninety-five on her next birthday.   She is a precious old saint of God.  I’ll have to introduce you to her sometime.”

The phone interrupted.  “If you’ll excuse me.”  She went to a telephone located near the register.  “The Painted Snail. May I help you?”

Inside her head, Lindy heard a familiar Voice.  Invite her, Lindy.

To what, Lord?

To the Bible study.

Lindy stared at the ceiling.  Lord, you want me to ask her to the Bible study at Beal Street? I don’t even know what church she attends.  Why would she consider a study at our church?

 Just ask her.

She could choose to obey, or not to.  As she watched Connie talk animatedly on the phone, Lindy tried to see her as Jesus would.  An older, successful businesswoman certainly, but also one who might desire a deeper walk with Him.

By the time Connie hung up, Lindy had screwed up her courage.  Connie stood behind her chair, her eyes bright.  “Is there anything else I can tell you for your story?”

“That’s about it.  You’ve given me lots of good stuff, thank you so much.  This was great.”

“No, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my story.  Not many people remember what Cuban-Americans went through back then, especially the young people.” She laid a hand on Lindy’s arm.  “I don’t include you in that group, Lindy.  It’s just that most don’t understand what a turbulent time it was, unless we remind them. History tends to repeat itself.  Your article is a good chance to do that.”

“If you’ll excuse me again,” Connie continued, “I’ve got a few things to unpack in the workroom before I open shop.”

“Connie, do you mind if look around?  I wanted to buy a gift for my niece’s birthday—“

She smiled.  “Help yourself.  I’ll be back there if you need me.”  She exited through a door and was gone.

Lindy could’ve kicked herself.  Why didn’t you ask her when you had the chance? She looked up.  I know Lord, I blew it.

She hated to bother Connie so soon.  Instead she let her fingers caress the colorful glassware, linens, and unique items in the boutique.  She let the breezy fabrics of the long skirts spill over her forearm, admiring their cheerful colors.  Next she wandered to the jewelry display, where she found a pair of sparkly crystal earrings, not too grown-up and not too expensive, that she knew Sommer would love.

She browsed a bit further.  She came across a ceramic rooster, hand-painted in her kitchen colors, his proud neck bowed, his beak open in a crow.  She turned the piece over.  In her price range too.  With the money she’d been paid for a recent article, she could afford a little whimsy.  It would look awesome in her kitchen, lend it a bit of a tropical flair.

She took her purchases to beaded door and knocked on the frame.  “Connie, I’m ready.  Can you ring me up?”

“Come on back.  I’ll be with you in a second.”

Lindy went through to an immaculate storeroom, each shelf packed and organized.  Connie was opening one large box on a butcher-block island in the middle of the room, box-cutter in hand.  She pulled out a few fluttery tops in bright colors, glanced at their labels, wrote something down on a clipboard.

Ask her, Lindy.

Connie looked up.  “Here, let me get those for you.”

Ask her.

 Lindy held up a hand.  “Wait, Connie.  Before you do that, I have something to ask you.”

The brown eyes widened.  “Yes?”

She gulped.  Her words rushed forth in a torrent. “You know the Bible study I mentioned?   The one Julia’s starting?  It will be focusing on women’s roles inside and outside the home as it says in Titus 2 and other biblical passages .  The older women have a lot of godly insights to share with younger women, and in turn, we might have a few things we can share too.  Anyway, I wanted to know if you’d consider coming, that’s all.”

Connie’s face twitched and she blinked, once.

Great, Lord, I hope she’s not offended.  She might have things going on at her own church.

The corners of Connie’s mouth went down, bounced up.  “When is it?”

“It’s all on this flyer.”  Lindy set her items on the island, pulled a folded paper from the backpack.  “As you can see, all the information is right there.  I hope you can make it.”

Connie studied the flyer, her eyes roaming the document.  “Well, I’ll have to see.  Perhaps Pilar can come in early that day and open the shop for me.”

Lindy grinned, her heart slowing to its normal pace.  Thank You, Lord.

 “May I keep this?” Connie asked.

“Sure.” Connie carefully shelved the paper in a ledger, held out a hand.  “Now, let’s go ring you up.  Ah, I see you’ve found el gallo de bodas, a very good choice.”

Lindy tried to make her lips cooperate.  “El gallo. . .”

El gallo de bodas,” said Connie.  “It means ‘the bossy rooster,’ just like the Cuban children’s story my mother told me many times over.”

Lindy leaned across the counter.  “Never heard it.  How does it go?

Connie pantomimed. “Un gallilito is on his way to a wedding.  When he gets his beak dirty from eating corn he finds in a mud puddle, he demands everyone he passes to clean his beak.  They each in turn refuse to help.  He makes one last plea to el Sol, the sun, up in the sky.  The sun makes those who once refused, to help un gallito.  The happy rooster then proceeds to his uncle’s wedding on time.”

“And I suppose the moral of the story is. . .‘Don’t expect cooperation from the people that you boss around?’”

Connie laughed and took the earrings from Lindy.  “Si—that, and ‘It pays to have friends in high places.’”

While Lindy waited to pay, she peered out the window, up into the cloudless blue sky.

It does pay to have One Friend—she thought–in the Highest Place of all.   

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