The Gangs I Worked With

Sixten Tons album cover.  Image thanks to wikipedia.

Sixteen Tons album cover. Image thanks to wikipedia.

Suspicion followed me at home in Bocas Town for my recent habit of trying to stash away some money every week in order to have enough cash to contribute to Pug’s upkeep. Her Aunt and the rest of her family were imagining all sorts of things I figured , that I was doing with my money as there was a lot of prostitution going on in Baseline catering to the workforce.

I insisted, however, on holding out until I had enough to make a worthwhile trip back to Pug’s family mainly to shut their mouths. I worked all the overtime opportunities I could to accumulate a respectable amount towards the purchases for the soon-to-arrive baby’s needs in this world. I did, however, as my conscience dictated and horded the money.

My own urgent needs were still pending as I needed to buy work clothes and boots, which were expensive, and covering my $12 a week that went towards my 3-meals-a-day food bill. It was on one of those days that I had been feeling morose working out in the fields despite the good weather that I ran into this very strange guy, a black Westindian, who could yodel. Not only yodel but whistle a song made popular by “Tennessee” Ernie Ford, I Sold my Soul to the Company Store. After hearing the lyrics of that song, I was determined not to allow myself to get into hock with the Company Store, something many workers were accustomed to doing.

Thanks to my habit of hording the Company Store did not get all my money. After praying over that money which was earmarked for the baby, I knew I was doing the right thing. “Hey guy,” I asked the yodeling stranger. “What’s your living situation?” “Why?” he said. I went on to tell him how I was looking for a situation to get out of the single men’s barracks. He responded that, as partners, we could share expenses and, after work, he would take me and show me where he lived.

So that evening he took me home to show me his place. The house was well made and seemed all right, so I rushed to the boxcar and collected some of my stuff to go spend a night to see how I would like it. But night came and I was alone in the house, and I lived the experience of my life. That is when the rats came out scavenging. I couldn’t believe such large rats could live with human beings.

I had not seen anything like that in all my life! These creatures were so bold that night that I freaked out at their size- as big as cats- and their audacity. They were absolutely fearless and roamed about the shack freely, balancing themselves gingerly as they walked along the wire strung up to divide the room with only a white sheet for privacy. The experience left me terrified and so by morning I rushed out to eat my breakfast, then made it to the platform to meet the truck which would take us to work. The boxcar seemed like a palace after the past night’s experience.

I had been notified that day, Friday, that I would be working with a new gang. So, I vowed that I would not sleep in that house ever again because of the various obstacles involved like being too difficult trying to get to breakfast and evening dinners. I had to return at noon to pick up the rest of my stuff.

And so by evening I made it back to the yodeler’s house looking for my beautiful black and white shoes that I had parked there to find them gone. So, I locked up the place and moved back to the single men’s barracks, vowing to get my shoes back.

I got lucky some days later, however, as during the day my friends reached me at work and said, “Hey Juni your friend got picked up by the cops last night and is in jail in Almirante.” So, I took off for the house that I had not seen in over two weeks, vowing all the way that I was going to that jail and demand that he give me back my shoes that I had never given him permission to wear.

During the long ride I considered asking the boss about how to go about getting another housing arrangement. I had,in reality, never spoken about my wife or her pregnancy to him but I was trying to handle things like a man. By now I had worked alone some, worked with different professionals during the day, and had been asked to work a couple of days as a time-keeper who delivered time cards from the various supervisors to the Engineering Office.

I loved the freedom some of those opportunities gave me, but Carnaval had come and gone and all my friends had left for Almirante to see the parade while I remained in my boxcar barracks. Presently, I had not been home to Bocas Town for some time trying to save my money.

This story continues.

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