My Chance Now!

This is an image from 1937 of some motorized Canal Zone Policemen.  I was grateful for the cop's intervention that day in front of the Commissary. Image thanks to

This is an image from 1937 of some motorized Canal Zone Policemen. I was grateful for the cop’s intervention that day in front of the Commissary. Image thanks to

Yes, they had closed in on me that night at the commissary until a Canal Zone policeman, who had overheard their taunts and all the commotion said, “Get out of here and leave that boy alone!” This was one time that I had been really glad to see a zone police officer because his instinct had immediately told him that they were about to attack me and steal all the groceries my Aunt had bought from the commissary leaving all of her packages strewn all over the sidewalk.

Thanks to the cop they had left but they swore they would catch me one day and finish me off. But, that night I vowed that I would be ready next time and one by one, give them the beating of their lives. My vendetta looked like it was unfolding that morning when, by happenstance, I encountered this one boy fom the “M” Street gang in Colon.

As I read the fear in his oily eyes that morning in the school yard I couldn’t help but feel a lift. This was my chance! As we stood there in the midst of our new classmates I fought back an urge to beat him to a pulp right in front of everybody as I listened to his cowardly wimpering. Again, my memory went back to my first encounter when they chased me with my two gallon Kerosene can in hand.

I had ducked into Vera McAlmond’s bakery shop for refuge. Vera was the only West Indian I knew at the time who owned a business. She owned and ran a small bakery where you could buy delicious Westindian style Easter Buns- well worth the nickel she charged for them. Vera was young and single and was also godmother to one of my cousins. Since she knew me, she implored the boys to leave me alone. I stayed put by Vera’s while the boys kept terrorizing me hanging around the bakery for a long time insisting they would give me my due.

“Why don’t you leave that boy be and stop bothering him? Go on home!” she told them as they waited outside, hovering like a pack of young wolves waiting for their prey to come out of hiding. After a while they got tired and left with a promise to find me some day and beat me. After these events they had carried out their threats on my poor cousin Conrado. Now, I had one of these boys right in front of me in my clucthes and my plan was to give this coward a sound beating and send a message back to his friends that he had been captured.

While I had him shaking in front of me, my plan was to first, get the names of the other members of the gang so I could go and stalk them. Standing there, I thought, “This little Rass! He can’t be serious! He now wants to forget everything?” I interrupted his pathetic apologies and said, “Look, we’ll talk about this after school!” Without another word that scared little thug quickly marched inside trying not to betray a cautious glance over his shoulder. The little coward learned that day that I wasn’t willing to forget any of those encounters from back in Panama City with those street bully friends of his.

Looking back on that chance meeting with this boy in the Abel Bravo schoolyard and my hard, pent up feelings of rage, I could see how it is so easy for street gangs to form in the inner barrios of a big city; how easy it could be for a normally obedient and school minded boy to turn thug and street bully just out of self defense.

This story continues.

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