By now my Sundays had turned into a self imposed ritual of attending Sunday school. As I mentioned before I had definitely outgrown the babyish Sunday school at St. Paul’s and sought a more adult like Sunday school environment. I was finding it hard to find more substantial fare in the Protestant churches as it seemed to me that whoever planned the lessons for Sunday schools only considered the small children and offered nothing anywhere near appropriate for older children such as myself.
At any rate, I tried looking around one more time and found the Salvation Army Sunday school in Wachipali to suit my needs a little better. That year of 1950 had been evolving into a landmark year in our history as a Republic and by then I was seeking in earnest the real story of my people, the Silver Westindian people of Panama. There were no libraries, as such, that were accessible to me and my attempts to exact any information from my teachers on the subject of even the Spanish speaking Blacks had been entirely fruitless.
They simply knew nothing about them and, understandably, they were reluctant to show their ignorance on the subject. As during my early childhood when I had assumed the task of preparing myself for school life I likewise busied myself with the thought of learning to read the English Bible.
My purpose, when I think about it, was to demonstrate my dexterity in the English language but I knew, for example, that all my attempts at getting my aunts and uncles to explain anything to me on any of these important matters had proven futile in the past. In fact, I discovered that I had one more barrier to overcome whenever I thought of approaching these things with them, which was the castrating personality of the women I had been forced to live with.
I felt by now that I had evolved above the mundane qualities of my contemporaries and this had started a chain reaction that made me cognizant of my own pulling away from my Westindian-ness and, by extension, my people. The whole search for a more mature environment in the Sunday school setting, in fact, would actually start the psychological separation that I would later come to dread.
It was something that I had discovered in my own character that was forcing me out of perceiving the model of womanhood I had grown accustomed to in childhood. I therefore found myself seeking the company of more mature women, wanting to engage them in conversation. However, I would come away from such encounters remembering their condescending smiles as they had thought me precocious for my age.
It was around this time I would encounter the beautiful brown skinned girl by the name of Beryl Clooney. For me she was the model Westindian girl- and then some. She was a stunning tribute to her name- a gorgeous gem. But then, she was much older than me in her seventeenth year of life, to really take me seriously. I nevertheless persisted in trying to engage her in conversation and at one point it seemed to pay off because Beryl started acting as though she had found me knowledgeable about the subject of our conversations.
So then, I started visiting her regularly using her younger brother, who was my friend, as an excuse to get closer to this beautiful, perfumed model of young womanhood. Any time I would find myself in her company I would feel a slight swoon coming on and I couldn’t help but stare at her adoringly, getting lost in my own thoughts as she would carry on “our” discussions as though she had finally found someone she could share her true feelings with- someone interested in her point of view.
One sunny Sunday evening I went looking for Beryl’s brother as I usually did and, disappointingly, didn’t find his sister home. The Clooney’s home was on the other side of Magnolia building and just as I decided to leave and perhaps try again later on, Beryl arrived through the front door. She immediately greeted me with the prettiest smile showing real pleasure in seeing me at her home. So, as usual, I waited patiently for the girl to settle down so we could just talk.
She started chattering happily feeling completely comfortable with me there, so much so that she absentmindedly began disrobing. Now, if anyone knows the climate in Panama, this is the first thing most anyone does when he or she arrives home from the street; everybody takes off their hot, sweaty clothes to put on more comfortable gear.
Beryl was just starting to slip out of her petticoat when, to my chagrin, she noticed me looking at her beautiful thighs. It’s as if I was suspended in time and space and all I could see were those beautiful legs and the one thigh she had unconsciously revealed. I held my breath at such a sight- it was too much for me and, I suppose, my eyes started to pop out.
She suddenly dropped her hand and covered herself while all the time commanding, “You get out of here and go home! You’re too damn fresh!” Embarrassed, all I could do was apologize. “What I do now? It’s not my fault!” I said vehemently. However, the spell had been broken with Beryl’s sudden realization that she had felt a little too comfortable with little Juni there.
It was quite a while, maybe weeks, before I went over to Beryl’s house again. I refrained from going over to see what I considered to be the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my life. Next thing I know is that some kids are telling me that Beryl had died suddenly. My only thought was, “What a waste of good womanhood.” Gone was her blessed beauty from the face of this earth.
I attended her “Ni’night” although I did not grieve or cry over her, but fondly remembered the lovely Beryl.
This story continues.