Although my father had taken ship and had pretty much left my life for the rest of my childhood, I was still the thirteen year old kid in search of those all important “good memories” of him. As cruel and heartlessly as he had acted with me, I could not help but reflect fondly upon my father. He possessed some qualities that were worthy and dignified to be useful to a growing man child as the year 1949 approached marking the end of an eventful decade as much for my people in Panama as for myself.
Cobert had been gone for about three years and my mother had stopped exercising her visitation rights for about as long as that; so that, my sister and I were left with those raw feelings of abandonment that had never quite healed.
Whenever I wondered about my father I recalled when he would talk about his father, Joshua. On one occasion when he and I had been sleeping over at the chicken shack he had built on a small parcel of land in the far away village by the name of Pacora he took me by surprise when he unexpectedly revealed something of his childhood. Those were the days before the divorce between my parents had become imminent.
“I spent time just like this with my father,” he said suddenly that evening as we prepared to go to bed after spending the whole day together looking after the chickens and eating a rustic but filling country meal. I could pick up the longing in his voice for the days of his childhood spent with a loving father who would often take him into the bush to work the small piece of land that had been loaned to him to help his family.
In that year I was simply going through the motions at school daydreaming most of the time in my second round of fifth grade classes in Spanish School. My teacher had tried to redeem herself for keeping me back a whole year for my one and only sin which was having kissed a white girl as we prepared for the year’s Christmas party.
“Who will volunteer and take on the decorating of the classroom this year for Navidad?” asked the teacher. The incident that followed would be one of my most unforgettable memories of school. Three of four other youngsters and I volunteered to become the contingent of kids to stay over and work to get the job done. It was me, three other boys and one little white girl about my age who resembled my Nicaraguan next door neighbor and who could pass for one of the elite Panamanian nobility.
We all stood around the blackboards talking about what we would draw and the different colored chalk we would use. Some of the boys went off to one side and I, the competitive Westindian, started drawing a Santa from memory. I had been working alone, glancing from time to time at what the other boys were doing, for the space of about a half hour. The other boys were trying to start at the other side of the classroom so we would cover the decoration of the entire room. I was working silently feeling self assured of my abilities as an artist as my drawing started to unfold before me like magic.
Suddenly, I was interrupted by the only girl in our group who had started following my progress from one side of the board to the other. I was energetically trying to avoid her questioning which was now becoming more like pestering. I really wanted to be alone and she, in her enthusiasm and admiration for my work, had interfered with my thoughts.
In my irritability I stopped answering her silly questions, as I said to myself, “Why can’t she just go back to where she had been and leave me alone?” This only incited her and she came closer pointing to some area of the drawings that, by now, filled the blackboard.
This story continues.