which led them to open three more shoe stores. But then, in 1935, suddenly and without warning, Antonio Tinta was called back to eternity, and all at once things changed. The money that Antonio had earned from his first stores had, the family discovered, gone into opening the later stores, and Camilla, try as she might, could not make sense of the business. Two years after Antonio went into the ground, his beloved wife followed. Sofia went to stay with a cousin in Havana, an elderly devout who believed she could raise girls up into proper women. She did not have the same confidence when it came to boys, and so Tomas was placed in the care of a friend of the family, a country doctor named Ferrer. Dr. Ferrer was of high standing but not of high character. He beat Tomas when he did not listen to him or when he looked at him. Tomas endured a life of great privation and violence. Five years after coming to Dr. Ferrer, Tomas was finally able to rejoice when the doctor followed his dear parents down into the hereafter.

By this time Tomas was old enough to enter a trade school, and so he did. He began training to become a typesetter. As luck would have it, a distant cousin of his mother was a head operator at a company in Havana. The city was a tonic. Work kept his mind sharp, and he was reunited with his sister, Sofia, which brought him much joy. Pleased with his apprenticeship at the printing company, Tomas set his sights on becoming a full type operator, and as the law required an age of sixteen, he falsified documents to that effect. He was a printer, after all. He was awarded his certification.

In the early part of 1940, an event occurred that changed Tomas Tinta’s life forever. It took place on the last day of March, when Tomas, in search of work in Havana’s type shops, met a woman named Yamila Rodriguez. Tomas had a coffee in his hand and spilled it when he saw her. “My hand went limp with fear and hope,” he wrote to her in a letter that was composed on the first day of April. “The apparition had jet-black hair and a ripe little plum of a smile. I could not tell whether she was smiling at me or past me, and then I came to realize that they were one and the same, because I had been expanded by that smile.” This is the first known letter written by Tomas Tinta; it is also the first of more than two thousand letters he wrote to Yamila Rodriguez. In the second letter, written the very next day, Tomas confessed his unconditional love for her. “A man who has discovered love in his heart can pretend to wait before making his declaration,” he wrote. “But that would be like visiting a museum, standing before a masterpiece, and reserving judgment. What would be the point, apart from stubbornness and pride?” According to a letter of April 19, Tomas had revealed his new love for Rodriguez to his sister, who took the news with cautious enthusiasm. “She told me that she had always felt that my heart was a fragile vessel, and as such it should not be filled too quickly for fear of shattering it. I assured her that my feelings have quite the opposite effect, and that they are giving me a strength I could not have imagined. She then asked if she could meet you, and I told her that if she has met me, she has met you, so tightly woven together are our souls. This answer did not satisfy her. Perhaps you can come for dinner one day soon.”

It is not known whether Rodriguez ate dinner with Tomas and Sofia. What is known is that, in early May, she disappeared from Havana entirely. Tomas continued to write letters regularly, and these letters remained passionate and poignant. They were not, of course, mailed, as he did not know her whereabouts. On the first of July, Tomas boarded the ship Leandro and sailed for Miami, Florida. “I do believe I know where you are, my Yamila,” he wrote in a letter during the voyage, “or rather, I believe I know where you are in addition to being in my heart. It is said that a man cannot spend his entire life in pursuit of one goal, particularly if that goal is merely a woman. Merely a woman? This strikes me as a terrific affront. Better to say ‘merely a cathedral’ or ‘merely a gold mine.’”

Arriving in Miami, Tomas could not find a station in his given career, so he took work as a clerk in a shoe store, which was a bittersweet reminder of his youth. He continued to write to Rodriguez at a steady rate but did not mail his letters, as her location was still a mystery. The correspondence only occasionally reveals disappointment or frustration in Tomas’s tone. More typical is a February 1941 letter that reads, in part, “Today I spent some time by the water, walking along it, gazing across it, wondering which of these behaviors, each of which a mathematician would correctly call a ‘vector,’ most accurately reflects my position with regard to you. Am I walking alongside you, always, or looking across an expanse to find you?”

In the spring of that year, Tomas was badly injured in an automobile accident. For one month both of his arms were in a cast; this is one of only two sustained gaps in his ongoing correspondence with Rodriguez. When Tomas resumed his letter-writing, in mid-May, he once again did so with a regularity that did not ebb even when, in June, he struck up an intimate relationship with a daughter of the city of Miami named Eileen Ogham. The relationship had no discernible effect on the correspondence; in fact, Tomas even wrote freely to Rodriguez about Ogham. “Eileen and I are traveling up to Sarasota tomorrow, where she has an uncle. I think she expects me to romance her in the most obvious manner.” Tomas did so, evidently, because in July he wrote to Rodriguez that he and Ogham were to be wed. “I love her,” he wrote, “and I will tell you all about it when I see you, my dear Yamila. The two of us, entwined from the start of time and still in that most exalted of states, will sit at the shore and watch the waves recede like all that we have forgotten: I mean not that the waves will go away like the events that we have forgotten, but that they will go away like forgetting itself.”

At the shoe store, Tomas befriended several customers, including some soldiers. One of them had been a newspaper reporter before the war, and when he returned to his position after the war’s end, he recommended Tomas to a position as a typesetting foreman. He began his employ on the sixth of March of 1947. Three months later he and Eileen had their first child, a daughter named Julia. “She was a light to me from her first moments, just as you were,” he wrote in another unmailed letter to Rodriguez. “Do you remember how I felt when I first saw you on that Havana afternoon? Perhaps you cannot, and neither can my daughter. I held her in my arms and felt the rapid beat of my heart.” A second child, a boy, followed. “Thomas is his name,” he wrote to Rodriguez. “He is a scamp compared to Julia, who is something of an angel. I have spent some time imagining how they will look when they are older. Thomas, I think, has Eileen’s features. Julia has, I like to imagine, my sister’s. I imagine that you are curious to learn more about Sofia. In that, again, we are one. She has not written or called me since I left Cuba. I wonder if she is well.”

In 1949 Tomas lost his printing job and was forced to return to the shoe store, and the amount he was able to earn there was not enough to keep food on the table. Then the store suffered a small fire and Tomas was forced to take work as a busboy in a cafe, where the pay was worse still. “At least I can bring home food at the end of the day for my wife and children,” he wrote to Rodriguez. “Yesterday I was packing up the food, which consisted primarily of burned meatloaf that could not be served, and I found myself thinking of you. Inexplicable, perhaps, but the thought was strong and sudden and brought a blush to my face. I will tell you about it soon. Now, I have limited time. I am going to meet with Eileen’s father. In my time of trouble, her parents have not offered any help and in fact they have turned against us in a surprising way.” The meeting seemed successful. But this was an illusory success; before the end of the year, Eileen had left Tomas to take up with another man. “It is painful,” Tomas wrote to Rodriguez, “to imagine him raising my children as his own.”

Tomas passed through a period of extreme exhaustion, though he was still a young man. “I am passing through a period of extreme exhaustion, though I am still a young man,” he wrote to Rodriguez. He took as a girlfriend the daughter of a man who owned a diner. For a year, insensible to all but the most basic needs, he lived with this new woman, Anna, as man and wife. “Even though she is only nineteen,” he wrote to Rodriguez, “she is wise, and she has recently been telling me that I need to try to have my family again. I think she has no other reason to say so except her goodness, which was an idea I had stopped believing in, and was on the verge of killing in myself. I have even been thinking of stronger evils like robbery.”

“Yes, robbery,” he wrote to Rodriguez the next evening. “I know when the office is left unattended and where the keys are kept. I will never act upon it, because I am an honest man, and in my honesty I grow more and more certain of nothing except my sadness. And yet, there are glimmers of hope in this bleakness. I should have mentioned them yesterday. One night, in the dim days before Anna told me that I had to get back to my family, I slept outside in the street, dizzy and miserable, and I considered ending my life. Instead, I started to talk to a man who came to the restaurant who owned a cigar store. He knew a man who owned a cigar factory, and when I told him I was from Camaguey, I was hired immediately. There was a job that required setting type for the labels for the cigar boxes, and here my Spanish was useful. My boss at the factory is a terrible man named James Hooper who reminds me in every way of Dr. Ferrer, and I turn my head when I go by him for fear of being hit. Still, it is work, and work gives a man pride and money, and money is only dirty when you do not have any of it at all, and the little bit I am making these days is cleansing me somewhat, to the point where I can once again recognize myself in the mirror.”

He continued the following day. “My next step is to make contact with Eileen. I will let you know how it goes,

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