School work at Abel Bravo College coupled with our choir practice was taking over much of my time. However, thanks to a special competition, I would radically change my perspective on my classes, my vocation in life and on my classmates.
One morning, Professor Coite, the music teacher, announced that he was about to return our essays on the great German musician Johann Sebastian Bach, which he had asked us to write. He started to read off the list of the three best writers in our “Cuarto B” class who would be required to read their work before some visiting dignitaries from the Ministry of Education within a few days.
I had really lost interest in what he was saying until he called the names of two girls and then said my name “Señor Cobert Reid.” To my great surprise the Westindian boys in the class all exclaimed “Reid?!” in unison. The entire class then took over in discussion like a shockwave over the surprising “writer” who had transferred from the National Institute of Panama. I was just as surprised as they were but had made up my mind, then and there, that I wasn’t going to read any paper before all those people- professors or not – from the Ministry of Education.
I was about to receive another surprise coming from Panama that afternoon, however, and the class broke up still chattering about “that Reid” who had beat them all at writing in Español but, in my opinion, I really thought that I had written even better than the girl who happened to be the Spanish professor’s daughter and who was one of the members of our class.
I had just left my group of classmates on the corner of 12th Street when I heard someone hailing me. When I turned around to see who it was, I noticed it was my old pal Gustavo Barcia from the Instituto Nacional saying out loud, “Come on let’s go back to Panama! My Mother is waiting for you so you can graduate with us!” When we stopped to chat I couldn’t get over my amazement that Gustavo cared so much as to come looking for me in Colon.
“Dont worry,” he said, reassuringly, “I talked to her and she is waiting for you. She has a room for you and everything.” In shock I let the boy talk and said nothing until he became insistent. Then I said with pride, “l love you and respect your mother very much but, I am OK here.” What had triggered this response to an old friend from the National Institute was my assurance that I was now employed on a new job that I was about to start for sure that afternoon.
This expectation had buoyed my confidence enough to reject this golden opportunity in my life to board at the home of my good friend. Gustavo left saddened but convinced that he couldn’t talk me out of staying in Colon. I changed my clothes and headed for Cristobal.
When I reached the cool shaded area under the Gold Roll bachelor quarters I noticed a black sedan waiting for me there under the building. “Ahh, my first assignment!” I thought. I rushed over eagerly to look the automobile over. Simeon soon approached me and the car and said, “This is the car. The guy is supposed to come for it later.” Looking over the vehicle more closely I could see a couple of areas needing special work so I ask Simeon, “Do you have any rubbing compound?” He then walks off saying half to himself, “I’ll see what I can do for you before you finish, Juni.”
My first paid job would become my salvation on many-a-day when I didn’t have anything to eat at home. With what I earned from Simeon’s car wash I could at least afford a meal at the local mercado or the nearby fonda where this small women ran an economical eatery.
This story continues.