As I said in my previous post, my two Westindian compañeros ended up assuring me about how they would speak to one of the foremen in charge of housing. These were issues that I really knew nothing about and they quieted my fears with their reassurances. I did, however, explain carefully to them why I hadn’t brought China with me from the very first time I came to seek work, that it had been because she had family in Bocas Town and she was safer there with her people until I was ready to go get her.
The first day that I reported to the office as Mr. Carballo, the chief boss of the Engineering Office, had ordered me to do, I entered the office and noticed that the guy in charge was Westindian. I sat at the desk at the far end and assumed the attitude of readiness- ready for any instructions that came from the supervisor. I said, “Good Morning!” but did not receive an answer. Undeterred, however, I remained sitting at that desk and waited for my first orders. It was nearing lunch time before the tall black Westindian man who had been silently looking me over all morning called me to the front of the office.
“You go upstairs and find a typewriter and type this letter with a copy and bring it back to me to check it out,” he barked, the first words out of his mouth. “I don’t want you to use any of the typewriters down here!” he said emphatically. “Yes, boss!” I said immediately.
I took off happy that I had something to do at last and roamed the offices upstairs noticing the white couple working together who acted as if I didn’t exist, until someone that I only could identify as a “China Man” said to me, “You can use this one here.” He then left casually to do his own work as I prepared to get acquainted with this modern writing tool in a real office. As it turned out, the letter took me the rest of the morning to get straight as I made one mistake after another. I finally got the hang of the machine and when I thought that I had gotten the swing of things, I checked the letter for typing errors. With letter in hand I then rushed downstairs with it and waited for the boss to read it. “Very good,” he said, “but… you put in the carbon paper wrong!”
He was so right. So, I rushed back to correct my error and make sure I got that part of the routine right this time. I took my time until the letter came out perfect. I would have to wait around that day until after lunch when the boss could check the letter I had placed in his in-box. In the meantime, lunchtime caught me arriving late at the dining room.
The Cook smiled at me as soon as she saw me and, like a proud mother hen, placed the plate of food before me, looking as if she was to become a proud grandmother. It was obvious to me that she had heard the whole story from the guys about the pregnant girl who would soon show up on the scene to become part of their community of women.
I came to enjoy my new routine of reporting back to the office after lunch and by the weekend I was ready to take off for Bocas Town to get my wife and also retrieve my cherished black and white shoes from the scallywag who had “borrowed” them from me and was now sitting in jail.
By the end of that week I was into the rhythm of the office and I learned how to help other people at the back window to do simple things like writing letters for workmen and hand out messages that came in for some people. I became very popular in a short time especially since I composed letters for mailing home to the different towns throughout the Republic of Panama. I had gone from peon to office worker in a very short time, it seemed to me, all because of my reading and writing skills.
This story continues.