The National Institute of Panama would have another Westindian Panamanian, another son of the Silver People from Calidonia, to display in the upcoming November patriotic festivities. For the adolescent that all the neighbors referred to as Juni, this would be a special event in which to collect the due admiration I thought I deserved.
In my mind I had dues coming to me from the whole family although they would never admit to it. Also, I was hoping to attract the attention I deserved for all the years that I had invested in being a dutiful and deserving virtual slave.
Of course this was a natural sentiment growing up with a bunch of women who had, every day, for the previous seven years sat back and permitted me to be mentally and physically abused. It was more than seven years, in fact, as I recalled all the gauntlets I hat traversed, fighting every street kid who thought he could ginnal me and get away with it. I had written it off as my right of passage or one of the many occupational hazards I had to overcome in order to get my grandmother’s Susú or Boxhand safely to its destination.
Then there was her laundry delivery and pick up business that required dodging all kinds of little street toughs and fending them off. In addition, I had to do all the chores in the house especially after my sister ran off to live with our mother in Colon.
I was absolutely trusting and trustworthy with my grandmother when I’d arrive home with those packages I had to deliver and pick up until, on one occasion, I decided to open one up. Even as I got home my grandmother would normally just say, “Put it in my purse for me, son.” But, that one day after opening the package I would discover that the package contained large sums of money, money that was only reaching its first destination to then move on to another lady’s home. This was the route of Mamí’s Susú network. I, nevertheless, continued collecting Susú money for her without even considering dipping into it.
Another one of my regular chores involved chasing down numbers as my Mamí was an assiduous gambler, especially with the lottery both legal and clandestine. I had become proficient at finding illegal chance women my grandmother knew, to purchase any amount of “bills” or billetes she had ordered previously. Throughout this whole process, however, it would always remain a mystery to me as to how in heck my Mamí had come to meet these women since I always perceived her as a fixture at her washpan day in and day out. She never seemed to budge from in front of her never ending pile of clothes to wash, much less have time to socialize.
The official lottery was another odyssey for me since I had to exercise great skill in finding the people who sold her preferred numbers by walking down the length of Central Avenue past all of Calidonia into Santana and the Big Market to find those special vendors who had the number my Mamí wanted.
I enjoyed doing these things for my grandmother because I would find myself on the streets often. My objection arose, however, in the fact that my family seemed not to care about us kids who helped them. They had an ingrained sense of taking us for granted and they were implacable. I not only helped my grandmother with the many and sundry things I did, but my errands included things I did for friends of the family who would specifically ask her to send me to their home to help out with some painting or repair job they needed done without it costing them anything at all.
While marching in my school band it seemed to me to be a perfect way for me to kill all the negative “birds” in my head, all my resentments, with every big bang on my kettle drum. It was my chance to feel entitled to the paltry sum they had had to shell out to buy me my parade uniform so that I could really show off as I paraded before all the Westindian community, including all those who had aimed rejection and offense at me for some reason. “Take a good look now,” I thought as I proudly marched in line with the boys of the National Institute of Panama.
I had hoped to rectify some of the shame I felt for years when the news of my mother ran fresh in the Westindian black community of Calidonia and San Miguel. I had also hoped to bring some pride for the Reid name that I had inherited. I wanted to show that determined spirit that day that one young member of the Reid clan was marching ahead together, representing the Panamanian Westindian community at large.
As I marched, it also buoyed my spirit to feel that I too represented my grandparents whose stories had been so well received by my Pen Pals as far away as the South American countries of Argentina and Chile.
This story will continue.