It seemed to me that that beach neighborhood had its own bohemian look. I had become sympathetic to the whole atmosphere of freedom that existed there. I had never heard too much bustle or noise such as disagreements or dissatisfaction. The only fighting among the residents was the impromptu boxing gym where any brave soul could spar with anyone his size and weight, and even participated in the fray taking on some of the bigger boys than myself.
That distraction made it possible for me to see my uncle Cirilo Green, whom I had not seen since I was a small kid of four, and even then he had been my hero. But when one first approached the neighborhood of La Playita, the only noise was usually the cry of a small child or a heated discussion amongst men about some mundane issue like politics or some popular event sponsored by the West Indian black community.
Usually the place was filled with bathers on the weekends, and becoming one of the regulars made me able to tell the most lucrative illegal trade on the beach was that of Ganja-weed. Though I had had the experience of observing this secretive trade before in my native Panama City, I had developed the habit of appearing not to be interested in what was occurring with these young men and their doings. And so, I never had any problem with ending up at the beach frequently while keeping up with my studies. At this time I still had not discovered the small library at school. By then I had made sure not to make the small group of young ganja smokers at the Playita feel threatened by my presence during the evenings or at anytime.
Although the Ganja peddlers pretty much stayed to themselves, just as I wanted to be left alone, whenever I would meet those boys and men on the streets of Colon, they acted as if they did not know me. They were respectful and never spoke about any of the things related to smoking Marijuana. In fact, they never once approached me to encourage me to join their group or offered to sell me grass or to use it. They obviously sold the Ganja to one another openly there on the beach before my eyes but I acted as if I never noticed anything wrong.
The little fishing that was done was primarily for subsistence, as fishermen left their wooden canoes, or Cayucos, parked upside down in the sand. But when I wasn’t in the water I could be found sitting among some of the turned over Cayucos studying, under one of the few coconut trees near some of the shrubs that could still be found on the beach. I would sit in the sand by the sturdy boats studying when, suddenly, I started to notice the suspicious glances of some of the residents, who still didn’t know me. By then I had started to draw the attention of some fishermen who were West Indian blacks, who started seeing me regularly on the beach when I started my pathetic swimming lessons on my own.
Day in and day out I frequented the beach when the weather was good, and it was wonderful that year; even the wind was gentle and not too cold on cloudy days, and when the sun came out, it was better than the cool days of summer. For me it was never too cold for a dip in the sea. The tide, as anyone who knows Colon can confirm, never rose too high. These ideal conditions were due, in part, thanks to the artificial breakers built by the Americans. It was an ideal situation even for a newcomer and a loner like I was. For these times when I still considered myself as an outsider, I felt safe in my fledgling attempts at learning to swim.
By then, having a place where I could hang out all day if I chose to and to learn to swim, was ideal for me. However, it was also true that my visits had become unpredictable and as inscrutable as my hidden looks behind my very oriental, slanted eyes. I had begun hearing with great interest, some really fascinating conversations between the more outstanding inhabitants of that La Playita beach neighborhood. They had adopted me into their circle in their own manner, including me in their conversations. They started by talking about me and my surreptitious presence on the beach, some of them referring to me as “that one is a college boy,” or just “college boy.” It was, then, in this posture as a shy and studious young man, that I listened to my neighbors and some of the regular beachgoers who visited their West Indian friends recognizing me with respect.
This story continues.