I could afford to lose all interest in those Abel Bravo girls because now my little Chinese doll was available to me everyday especially in the afternoons when I was through with classes. The day would come, however, that I would have a good excuse to learn how to swim. Since I had been making it a habit of frequenting La Playita alone, it was time, I reasoned that I learned to swim in order to take my Chinita to the beach with me.
At first my incursions into the beach were to find solace away from my chaotic home life and my mother’s accusing eyes but, now I had a more encouraging reason.
Away from home I felt less frustrated over our cramped living conditions and I enjoyed my solitude and my time to study without being harassed. Learning to swim was just one of the things that a young man in those days needed to do because if you didn’t have this ability in Colon, it meant that you were totally out of the rhythm of things.
Most of my classmates, in fact, could hold their own in the deep waters of the Atlantic. I felt increasingly embarrassed whenever I would visit the beach with my classmates and they would attempt to give me swimming lessons, only to be disappointed with my own infantile efforts. I would end up withdrawing to shallower waters for fear of drowning.
I would observe my friends in that artful ways in which they swam around in the gentle waters of the Atlantic ocean. La Playita on Ninth street was our collective swimming hole and it held a great charm as one of Colon’s main attractions for all of us. You could always find a bunch of young people congregated there, both adolescents and adults, especially on the weekends.
I found myself in that little piece of beach making an effort to learn to swim without the benefit of any Inner tube. The beach was located in a cove protected by barrier of boulders that could be seen at a distance, where it formed a break water. The calm waters, was said to be the barrier to protect the entrance to Canal from the dangerous waves but for us it was the perfect place to learn to swim.
The beach community I noticed consisted of residents who had built their shacks of zinc and waste wood. Amongst them you could find the popular beach barbers, and even families and single men who turned their humble shacks into popular barbershops. However, barbering was not the only way they made a few dollars but their hair cuts were good for a modest price.
It seemed to me then that all the residents earned a good living even fishing in the evenings when there were no youngsters on the beach. On the weekends, however, the whole area was filled with people and customers enjoying the fair weather including the kids from even the Canal Zone.
Some folks came to purchase other things like lottery numbers. Others- a very small group- even bought marijuana which wasn’t a big deal then as most people were not really consuming drugs. Few people even consumed cigarettes. But the other families who lived in the shacks, some with kids, did whatever they could to honorably earn a living.
This story continues.