A Chichero who sells cold coconut water to passengers on the buses.

I would have been grateful for someone like this, a Chichero who sells cold coconut water to passengers on the Diablo Rojo buses.

Quickly walking up Calle Estudiante I reached The National Institute with every intention of returning to Colon as soon as possible, encouraged that I would have a place in that new school. But before I could think further I was rapidly ascending the stairway leading to the Grand Hall or “Aula Maxima.”

Although Panama City had been the place of my birth, I hadn’t wanted to visit any of the old hangouts at the school or in my old neighborhoods. I was intent upon returning immediately to Colon. The National Institute had brought back a mixture of feelings for me,  some of them fond and some confusing and even resentful, as if I had never really belonged there.

I wasn’t there very long before I was handed my credits and was about to leave when I noticed an art exhibit displayed on the wall hanging over the large staircase. The art were works by students like myself who the art teachers had chosen and some were even of work that I had delivered in my freshman year to my Professor Ramos.

I suddenly felt excited over this exhibit and hurried my steps in search of my old art teacher who had encouraged me in my earliest inclinations to study the art of painting. He had always approved of my work  As I got to the second floor, I found the room locked and I became disillusioned for I would have liked to converse with him and maybe even entertain returning the following year.

Instead, I went back downstairs to ask around for my old teacher. Back on the stairway I once again stopped to admire and examine my old works of art in more detail and considered that the display had brought out the best in my ability. I remembered distinctly that these were some of my old drawings that the teacher continued to admire enough to exhibit with the best of his art class.

The old feelings of nostalgia for The Institute took hold of me, as I admired the drawings and the job I had done almost two years previous. Feelings of optimism and hope buoyed me into hoping that I might go back and comtemplating being an artist. For the first time since I had left my grandmother’s house I had been filled with flashes of joy. But my joy was quickly replaced by my real feelings as to why I was in the dilemma I was in. As quickly as the flash of joy came, I was visited with despair and thoughts of impossibilities.

However, wisdom stepped in to show me the possibilities and how it might work out by some miracle, that I might be able to finish and graduate with the class. I factored in all my past sufferings at the hands of my aunts and my mother and even my grandmother, all of whom had an aversion to keeping a home for I recognised that it was what I needed to stay in school, a home atmosphere. I knew that they where not the kind of women who were inclined to like cooking or cleaning and who would leave me no other choice but than to take up the slack.

All of a sudden I remembered how hungry I was; but it did not detract me from returning to Colon. Unlike today, in the Panama of those times it was rare to find street vendors selling food and chicha of all flavors, including coffee, at all hours of the day or night. As a student in those times it had always been very difficult to find food on the streets.  It was even harder to find study spaces at school, in the neighborhood or at home to have some quiet time for studying or doing art work. There were practically no libraries to speak of.

Fighting back depressive thoughts I was determined to become all that I could be. I decided to return without visiting my grandmother, my beloved Mamí, in Panama and just forget picking up the rest of my clothing. I went directly to Cinco de Mayo Plaza and boarded the first bus for my return to Colon. The train ride had been all right for coming to Panama, but by evening the thought of being hungry and also broke and not able to even pick up a sweet bun at one of those nearby Chinese shops, and then run to the nearest water faucet to drink water and appease my thirst as well, made me step up on the bus.

I needed the distrcting scenes from the bus. The two cities of Colon and Panama were the only urban areas in the country by then still carrying that original historic look of the times when they had been cleaned up and dressed up by my ancestors to become a showcase for tourists to come and see the story of how our lives had evolved.

This story continues.

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