his motorcycle. I don’t think that even he would
approve of the coward on a motorcycle that
forever drove a wedge between two childhood
Although my graduation from primary school had been marked by a sense of tremulous hope and expectation, the beginning of the year 1951 became for me a time of entering into an even more desperate period of my life. As I said before, it was a time of passage into manhood for most of us boys growing up in Panama City and it was full of uncertainty.
At times I felt that I would rather be living on any other planet but the one I had inherited. Still virtually an uneducated barrio street warrior I wished that I had never set foot on the street where I lived in the heart of Calidonia.
One morning the turn of events of that day would accentuate my feelings of isolation and desperation for someone or something to come along and just save me from my surroundings. It was still too early in the day to have to go anywhere on errands for my grandmother, so I wandered down to the other end of Magnolia Building. I thought to go visiting with any one of my age mates living on that end but I found myself on the east end of the building on the street in front of Him’s Chinese grocery store and sweet shop and started hanging out. Soon some of the other adolescent boys my age started appearing and we just stood around chattering about anything that came to mind.
For a while nothing special occurred until a guy on a motorcycle came up to the curb where our small group of teenage boys had gathered. The rider, dressed in the classic black studded leather jacket, turned off the motor and sat to chat with Donaldo, the son of Señora Dora who two years before had saved me from the clutches of the police and the unjust Panamanian law. He seemed strangely out of place against our Barrio street backdrop and it was even stranger to see him acting so familiar with my neighbor and childhood friend- brother really.
I asked myself what he was doing with this obviously well heeled guy who could afford to ride around in his motorcycle dressed like he just came out of a James Dean movie. Donaldo, on the other hand, was clearly a poorer version- a Barrio version- of the kind of kids who were enrolled in Colegio La Salle.
La Salle had always seemed to be one of those exclusive educational enclaves for people of the Panama elite at the time because during all the years of watching the independence day parades most of the barrio kids had noticed that Colegio La Salle at no time had any kids enrolled who represented any of the lower economic barrios of Panama.
I did notice, however, that although I had lived next door to Donaldo’s family ever since our young childhood days, they had never really engaged us in friendly conversation, always standing rather aloof from us. Donaldo’s sister and I seemed to bridge that distance occasionally, however, and we got along very well. His mother, as I said before, aside from her timely rescue of one scared little boy, pretty much kept to herself and I never saw her talking to anyone on our block. Donaldo’s father, I had heard, was a barber on Fort Clayton, an American Army Base.
So, there I stood gazing at the motorcycle rider as he chit-chatted with Donaldo about things that the rest of us knew nothing, things that were occurring at their exclusive school. Just when they seemed to have ended their conversation, the boy sitting on the motorcycle turns over his engine and just sits there.
All of a sudden the rider says to Donaldo, “Bet you can’t beat the shit out of that one?” while he points straight at me with a vicious grin on his face. I immediately look at Donaldo to see his reaction, whether he would be such a jerk as to follow up on this stranger’s odd request. I would soon be treated to a bitter surprise, however, with the first hard blow to my head and torso that absolutely stunned me. Surprise turned to shock turned to readiness as I heard the motorcycle and its pilot race away leaving behind him what he had started.
Dazed but ready for what I was about to do I crossed the street and, as luck would have it, I found a metal leg to a kerosene stove that had been cast away with the rubbish. I picked up what felt like a good weapon in my hand and turned to my new enemy who, moments ago, had been a childhood brother and neighbor, or so I had believed.
Facing Donaldo, who was now coming after me again to continue what he had started, he caught the first blow to his offending left arm which sent him to his knees. Whack! I hit him again driving lower to the ground. I was about to hit in the head when I heard someone shouting from afar off, “No, no, Juni, you are going to kill him!” It was an urgent call coming from one of the balconies surrounding the small side street that woke me out of my homicidal rage.
After Donaldo was able to pick himself up and hobble off holding his arm I started to feel sorry about the whole thing since upon arriving home I could just about hear the Señora, my guardian angel next door, speaking in her usual subdued tone to her son. Not once did she ever come over to ask me what had occurred between her son and me or to admonish me. I can only guess that she had seen the entire fracas from the vantage of the balcony. Later on, however, I did see Donaldo wearing a plaster cast on his left arm.
One thing was certain, our childhood had been visited by a cold breach of trust and I could never call any of those boys on my Barrio block “brother” with all sincerity and without the pall of treachery hovering over my thoughts.
This story will continue.