Throughout this period I kept up with my mechanical dentistry trade secretly hoping that I could learn enough to open my own small business at home. In this day and age, with so many people wanting to establish their own fairly lucrative home business, I can identify with their sentiments completely. I yearned deeply for a chance at independence.
I figured I would get up the courage to ask my grandmother for the seed money necessary to find out where to purchase equipment and I felt sure I could convince her. The ultimate hope was that I would not be forced into having to take my father up on any offer to go live with him ever in the United States. Foreseeing hard times ahead, however, my highest hope was to be able to foot my own costs in my plans to keep up my classes at the Institute and from there eventually continue on to University.
The five more years of secondary education seemed like an eternity, however. I repeatedly had visions that something unforeseen would happen to me- a foreboding of something ruinous to come- as had occurred to my uncle Eric Reid whose life and academic career had been truncated by death.
Back at the Institute I was experiencing the usual peer group pressures although I found myself getting better at sports since entering secondary education. Giving in to the pressures of after school activities I organized a class basketball team.
My leadership amongst my classmates became noteworthy as they all began showing improvement in their game and started winning some games. There was a definite camaraderie developing around us especially in celebrating our prowess after a victory. I started taking them on excursions into my old haunts in the neighborhood particularly to the National Olympic Stadium. We visited the weight room and the area where the boxers trained that I had visited from childhood. My classmates even tried their hand at weightlifting and then gravitated towards the basketball court to practice amongst themselves.
On a couple of evenings at the Olympic Stadium we met boys whom I had played against while attending primary school. I named our team Los Halcones Negros– The Black Hawks– which set pretty well with my classmates. We soon gained a reputation as the Instituto boys who were worthy of being challenged to games with local barrio boys who were eager to show how much better they were at the sport.
As the pivot man I started to show my strength and our class team gained in confidence as they won most of the games away from school. That first year we didn’t win the championship but definitely became a team to be reckoned with as the year ended.
By the end of year leading up to Panama’s November 3rd Independence Day celebration, however, the hullabaloo in the school over The Black Hawks of First Year B Class would be overshadowed by the Physical Education professor’s announcement that everyone in the class would be required to march on that day representing the school. “No one will be exempted,” he said as he dismissed the class.
He didn’t have to prod me as with all my classmates since we were all ready to march in the desfile. It was going to be our first time ever in our lives that we would be able to march in the country’s patriotic celebration. Even today most Panamanian school children have a passion for marching and showing off in the 3rd of November Day parade.
The silence in our usually boisterous group as we filed out of school was indicative of our secret excitement at the prospect of marching. Although we were all accustomed to seeing the marching and the parades since before many of us were old enough to talk, we had all dreamt of the day we would be able to follow in the footsteps of the sharp looking Secondary School marchers.
In my day dreams, however, I got to thinking about my Uncle Eric back around the year 1935 or so and how he had been one of the only young Westindian men who had marched proudly in that sea of young up and coming sons of the youthful Republic of Panama. My visions of my Uncle sent chills of anticipation all over my body and I readily and even sheepishly obeyed my grandmother’s wishes to attend with her Mother Lindo’s church.
I still hoped that my watch over the family’s intellectual advancement would turn out better than my ill fated uncle. But, I couldn’t shake off my adolescent concern for my own safety even following my attendance to the Beji-nite services at Mother Lindo’s.
This story will continue.