The incident with the cops and my neighbor Doña Dora had left a profound imprint on my psyche, as could be expected. So much so that the Cobert Junior I had once been would be prepared for another bout of mistreatment from my father, only this time I was ready to fight back at whatever cost.
It turned out, however, that I would not have to resort to any action that would mar what I, at that early age, considered my hidden plan, whatever that might have been. The scowling individual who I had never been able to figure out since my fourth birthday when I understood him to be my father did not figure into this last experience. The day of reckoning over this terrible mishap would never come and the brutal beating I had anticipated would never occur since my father was not around that time. Life did, however, continue as usual with the Senior Cobert.
Even when I would sit next to him in the front seat of his automobile, I’d already begun the disassociation process. He would begin his usual psychological intimidation, as if he were traveling with a grown man, a perfect stranger. “You had better thank your stars that I did not have to go down there to the police place to pick you up,” he said menacingly as he continued maneuvering the automobile through traffic on a trip that ended with both father and son sitting in night court over the divorce settlement that seemed to linger on forever. In fact, it had become a routine, something my father had been doing with me since the actual divorce.
For all the time we spent together Cobert, it seemed, still felt that no explanations to his eldest son were ever due or necessary, so that I normally remained passive. At any rate, for me patience would pay off since my father, for all intents and purposes, would have been out of my life later that year. But, at the time of my unfortunate encounter with the cops I had been praying to be of age already to free myself of him and of all of my family.
It had become a matter of great importance for me after the incident with the police to develop a reputation for a “clear and clean character.” I had started feeling guilty, in fact, about my wanting to be different from my progenitors; different, what’s more, from my entire Westindian race of people. I tried to assure myself that it was not that I did not love my paternal grandmother or my aunts because I did. But, I had enough reasoned evidence to believe that they were not and would not be prepared to be of any support for me in the future.
I was older and more seasoned than when I had arrived to live with the paternal side of my family and by now I was keen enough to find them wanting in some important aspects of life. They were weak, I reasoned, in moral character with a disposition to accept cruelty and the members of my family were the last ones to recognize that I had more experience and intelligence than they were willing to give me credit for.
We were living during a time when a “clear and clean character” was an important accoutrement to possess given the kind of things that could happen to a young Westindian boy like me with the police. For decades we, the Westindians in Panama, had been derided and belittled for our racial and cultural differences from our Panamanian counterparts. It wasn’t too long before when the pages of the Panama Tribune had decried the use of the terms “Meco” and “Chombo” in the headlines of the local newspapers to refer to Westindians.
Adderun Villegas Arango, the editor of “El Diario” (today known as La Prensa), had deigned it necessary to clarify in a letter to Sydney Young that these epithets were meant to point out the “diversity in manners and customs…religious, social and racial differences between white Panamanians and colored Westindians,” and that there was a degree of “envy” since the social and financial standing of Westindians was dissimilar to that of the “white” Panamanians.
Sydney Young was swift to respond that, at the time, in a community of 50,000 Westindians only one murder had ever been reported. The Westindian community was practically crime free as was the Canal Zone. The local police would come and arrest Westindian people indiscriminately when the real criminals were the slumlords who preyed on these people charging exorbitant rents to live in penurious conditions. Villegas-Arango was so moved by Young’s response that he offered to serve as liaison between his and the Westindian community.
Nevertheless, by this time in my life I was earnestly seeking models of manhood to emulate. I was done with seeking some resemblance of myself to my father and the two living uncles I knew. I promptly concluded that they too in nothing resembled the picture of quality of men I found in my deceased paternal grandfather, Joshua, and of my deceased young uncle, Eric Reid, men who always sought to better their destiny by cultivating a “clear and clean character.”
This story will continue.