My war with Rico that night had drawn an enormous crowd. All or a good part of the neighborhood in which we lived either ran over to see the spectacle or later heard about it from people who had. Rico, on the other hand, wound up with a nasty baseball-size knot on his head, and the whole fracas quickly became “the event” to remember. I came out pretty unscathed.
I really only remembered that the fight had ended with Rico’s older sister coming over to yank me off her brother who, in the heat of battle, didn’t appear to be responding while he received the pummeling of his life.
Actually my fight with Rico didn’t turn out to be the real challenge I had mentally worked myself up for in secret while I trained shadowboxing under the shower. In fact, since my time at the dental clinic was valuable to me I had planned most of my strategy in the shower stall of our tenement building, the same way I had done for most important things in my life.
Subsequently, for me the incident had been over within the next few days when I spied Rico down the street walking away from me as if he had never known me (nor wished to know me) in his entire life. I immediately ran down to confront Rico saying to him, “Come on let’s continue this thing that you wanted so bad!” But, disappointingly, the boy never turned his face to answer.
The incident, however, had somehow placed me in high regards with the neighborhood folks. It had been the chance I’d been waiting for to begin to prepare in earnest for the moment of opportunity that my mentor Maestra Ana Sanchez had dreamt of for me. It spurred me on to open myself to that great opportunity for me she had been so vehement about.
Then, right about that time, I finally received my golden smile. It had been such a long time that I had not been able to laugh or smile in front of people for fear of exposing my toothless condition that that day would stand out in my memory as a special moment in my life. Having my bright new white “smile” installed in the form of a fixed denture crowned with a bit of Panamanian gold seemed to immediately boost my self confidence. I looked great!
It was then that I set out to behave the part and become the young, distinguished and serious man that I had always imagined my deceased Uncle Eric would have approved of. Soon I was demanding that both my Uncle Clifford, who I had assisted in many of his projects and my grandmother who I had always supported in her enterprises, to give me the funds I needed to start the year at the prestigious National Institute, the government sponsored secondary school.
Of course, I continued doing my part for my grandmother Fanny, helping her with errands and her thriving laundry business and Susú. I also continued my occasional jaunts over to the Pa’riso bush in the Black Canal Zone to take messages to my extended grandparents the Juliennes. They were among the people who had seen me grow up and they always welcomed me as one of the many grandchildren they had. At that point I would be the only one of the group of extended cousins left to still be connected with those old people who had survived the opening of the Panama Canal.
If you recall my grandmother Julienne was Jamaican but her husband “Grandfather Julienne,” as I always called him, was a mulatto Frenchman from the Caribbean island of Martinique.
By this time in the early part of the decade of the fifties, it would be the last time that I would have occasion to be walking through the old abandoned Silver Cemetery right across Gaillard Highway that led to the City of Colon. I was also at the point in my life that I would be forced to curtail my visits over there as I got more involved in learning the trade of mechanical dentistry.
This story continues.