The intrepid girl who appeared to take me out had surprised me if only because she had previously rejected me. Although she had been in love with me for quite some time, her aunt, whom I was helping at her restaurant business had been violently opposed to our “noviazgo.” Somehow her family had been alerted to our attraction for one another and had suddenly become cold toward me. Despite the rejection I acted quite cool and didn’t pursue the issue, turning my thoughts to better things and not thinking of going out with any girl.
I focused all my attention on school and my trade and wouldn’t see Betty again for a long time. My last bout with jealousy over the girl next door that had caused me to be involved in a street fight convinced me that the whole thing had been my fault although it had been sparked by the treachery of a false friend, a friend whom I had almost thought of as family.
That evening I had not planned to go out but, as it turned out, there she was- Betty- a good looking Westindian girl who was my age and ready for romance. She showed up at my house and waited for me to finish dressing. While I dressed to take her out on the town I had been at a loss for any ideas as to where we could go and not be seen by someone who would take the story back to her family. Besides, I was thinking of a place where we could just sit and talk- a place where we could be alone and talk openly about our feelings.
This would be my first serious date with any girl and I remembered seeing some of the Westindian couples, way in the back of the upstairs gallery of some of the local movie houses. During those times the Silver Clubhouse had no movie hall, and even if it did new couples could not go there to make out. For Betty and me the Clubhouse was out of the question anyway since it was located close to where she lived. Finally, I walked out into the receiving room to meet what I considered a morsel of a brown skinned girl.
She brightened upon seeing me dressed so sharply in my special two-toned black and white shoes just to be with her. We walked down “P” Street, the street that characterized our Calidonia Barrio and headed for the seawall in silence. When we finally crossed the avenue next to the “malecón” the inviting fragrance of the sea breeze hit us full force. The closer we came to the seawall the faster the sun seemed to descend below the Bay of Panama.
The evening was now perfect for a stroll and we looked as if we were telling the world that they were in love. Betty moved closer to me and grabbed my right arm for comfort. “Juni you like the Institute?” she asked me all of a sudden knowing how timid I was to initiate a conversation. “It’s OK so far,” I answered and then returned to my cautious silence.
“You know Juni…” she insisted, “I see you walking home from school everyday.” “You do?” I said, surprised that she would be looking out for me as I passed by with my Institute friends. “You walk as if you were marching all the time,” she observed and smiled, as if she was making fun of me. “That’s what you see in me, a military man?” I said having prodded me into talking. “Well…not exactly, but you seem so…I don’t know,” she responded.
“You know that I don’t know either?” I said. “For me sometimes things seem so confusing and perhaps that is what you perceive in me.” She held her peace thinking that those words were the first serious thoughts about me that she had ever heard coming from me. Then she said, “What have you been doing lately?” At last we seemed to connect about something other than family and rejection. I told her about my work at the dental clinic that belonged to my father’s friend.
Betty seemed even more attracted to me now and I, for once, was glad to be alone with her. For years she had had seen me palling around with her only cousin, and helping her aunt in her little “Fonda” on Fourth of July Avenue in our neighborhood of San Miguel. Suddenly I became talkative as the chill of the evening breeze coming from the sea made me aware that we were both sitting under the Vasco Nuñez de Balboa Monument.
Suddenly the evening chill took the romance out of the moment. “Come on let’s get out of here!” I said getting up abruptly and taking her by the hand. The evening wouldn’t be a total loss after all, however. Our evening stroll, I figured, would be more enjoyable down by the familiar vicinity of the Olympic Stadium. Before we had an opportunity to cross the Fourth of July Avenue, however, we ran into the Chesterfield Building with its art deco motif and suddenly it seemed more inviting.
I quickly spied the perfect spot for romance. It was a spot behind the recently completed building beside the Chesterfield Building. The area was clean and deserted and seemed perfect for spending a short time alone with the girl I loved. One innocent thing led to another and the evening was well worth our scramble for privacy making it a night to remember.
“I’d like to sing you a song that reminds me of you,” said Betty jus as the calming effect of the evening set in. “Oh, sure,” I said acting like an interested lover as we both had seen it done in the popular Mexican movies we kids all loved to watch. When she sang a Spanish Bolero she sounded just like the Mexican movie actresses of the time. I responded by singing her one of my Boleros that I had always wanted to share with that special girl. We then decided to walk home at a time that would not raise suspicion.
It would be a little before nine o’clock that night when I got home pleased that we hadn’t been seen, but sure that we were in love. Although those tender moments were never to be repeated between us again, they remained a beautiful memory of a puppy love affair with my first Panamanian Westindian lover.
This story continues.