Perhaps he was signing his own death sentence, thought Jose Ananya. Or maybe he would shortly find himself on the dark side of a Cuban prison.

When he slipped into the Peruvian Embassy April 4, Anaya couldn't be sure he was stepping into freedom.

"But the embassy," he says, "was the only door that was open."

A month later he could sit back and reflect in the relative luxury of his cousins' Silver Spring bungalow. He made it to The United States. But the taste of freedom in his mouth was bittersweet.

"I am happy and sad at the same time," he says, waving hands that are thick and muscular, stained black around the fingernails from work on diesel bus engines. "I am very happy to be on free soil.But my wife and my son and my mother, they are still in Cuba."

Anaya had been trying for years to get out of Cuba, any way he could. In 1962, when he was 12, his father, he said, was imprisoned for engaging in "activities to overthrow the government" and died shortly after. Two older brothers, involved, said Anaya, in intelligence activities for the United States, were imprisoned in 1964 and executed the same year.

In the years that followed, Anaya said he was subjected to social scorn as well as official recrimination. He was denied entrance to public universities. He was unable to take English lessons. He was forced, with his mother, to live without public asistance and was unable to advance in his work.

When he heard a group of Cubans had forced their way into the Peruvian Embassy, he took his chance.

"I would not have gone back to the Castro regime for anything," he said through an interpreter. "I would have had to be dead."

Anaya spent 12 days in the embassy with 10,000 other refugees, sleeping on the group and making do with meager rations. Finally he was issued a safe-conduct pass and allowed to return to his home and wait some more.

Nearly two weeks went by that Anaya and his family remained hostages in their own house, afraid of hostile crowds in the streets. On the 13th day, shortly after 2 a.m., Anaya was awakened by state security police and told to dress for the trip to Mariel harbor.

Initially, Anaya feared subjecting his wife, seven months pregnant, his son, 3 years old, and his 77-year-old mother to the ordeals of a desperate flight from Cuba. But he hoped that somehow her relations in suburban Maryland -- an aunt, uncle and grandmother -- would have already sent a boat for them.

They had.

While Jose Anaya was waiting n line to board a boat for Key West, Jesus Capote, his wife's uncle, was on his way from Washington. Somewhere in the Carribbean they crossed paths.

But Capote, who arrived April 30, sometime after Anaya left with 19 other refugees in a small cabin cruiser, waited nearly a week without seeing his niece. Illness forced him to return to Miami, where he found Anaya waiting.

Like Jose Anaya, more than 30 Cubans, most of them veterans of the Peruvian Embassy experience, have found their way to relatives in the Washington area since the exodus began. Carmen Alonso, community liaison officer for the Spanish Speaking Community of Maryland in Silver Spring, says the organization expects as many as 3,000 to 5,000 Cuban refugeees to settle here within the next six months.

An estimated 16,000 Cuban Exiles already live in Maryland, Alonso said.

Like Anaya, some of those will find jobs already waiting. Before his arrival, the organization had received an offer of a job in Edgewater, Md., working on diesel buses. Alonso said the Spanish Speaking Community has been receiving 20 or more phone calls per day with similar offers, most of them from non-Cubans.

"What we're doing right now is getting letters out and making phone calls to make people aware that many of the refugees are without relatives in the United States. At the moment, the response has been greatest from the Americans," she said.

Hispanic organizations are working, said Alonso, with federal, state and local officials to make available such relief services as English classes and low- to moderate-income housing.

Also, Cubans still hoping to find relatives can bring names to the Spanish Speaking Community at 8519 Piney Branch Rd., Silver Spring. The number to call for assistance is 587-7218.