By then all I could remember of Ma Bea was that she was Albert’s mother,” and how she had always said to me, “Albert not home son!” For me she was the only one who could find Albert, or tell him that I had been looking for him. I remembered how I used to pester her about finding Albert to have him look over my art home work before I handed it in to my third year Art professor at Instituto. Albert Santerbury was my favorite person at the time ever since I could remember being a little tadpole. In fact, he and the rest of my neighbors from San Miguel, were all proud when I attended secondary school at the National Institute, and they especially glowed with pride in our neighborhood when I marched in the large musical band on patriotic holidays.
I got to know the very maternal side of old Ma Bea, and she would marvel and tell me how much I had grown. But, that day I had dashed towards the back alleyway that led to their home to see if I could find that old saintly grandmother whom I had always pestered about wanting to see Albert. But as often as I visited her she would remember as always to tell me stories of how she had held me in her arms as a baby, and how much I had grown up. I finally reached Ma Bea just from memory and hoped to find her without startling her after so many years of not seeing her.
“Ma Bea!,” I yelled! “Who that there?” she answered in a more hushed voice than I expected. “It’s me, Juni Reid, Ma Bea!” I answered somehow knowing she would recognize my voice. “You come in here chile!” she said as if no time had passed since last we saw each other. I was so pleased to be with her again after so many years. To my eyes she was as fit as when I was a young boy. As I sat and admired her, she reached out and grabbed my arm. Her fumbling around made me want to help her but aging had brought its blindness and frailty. Nevertheless, she reached around the old wicker chair she was sitting in and felt through the many plastic bags which she had bundled up there. I was hoping she would ask me to help her but I just waited. She eventually brought me back to reality. “Come here son for I asked Albert to look for you since now six months ago,” she said. “But he keep telling me, ‘Ma I can’t find that boy no wheres!‘”
After failing to find what she had been fumbling around for she complained, ” I got the letta here but now I can’t find it!” By then she was half talking to herself as she tried to convey to me the importance of that letter. “Look Chile you fada looking for you,” she said as she groped desperately frustrated that she could not find that letter.
By then I was ready to leave and have her quit her search promising I could return another day knowing that she would persist until she found that all important letter. But Ma Bea had aged and, in deference to her limitations, I wanted to give her time. I truly could not stand to see her desperation but I thought it better to sit and be patient rather than try to help her search. I was sure that the piece of correspondence was there if she said it was there. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to traveling to a place I secretly disliked from the reports my grandfather Seymour had read from the pages of the Panama Tribune about all the terrible lynchings and horrible things they were doing to Black people in the United States.
That letter, if my hunch was correct, would confirm for me the notion I had foreseen while working in the fields of Bocas. Before I could say another word Ma Bea happily cried, “I find it! Now, you come here son!” Handing me the letter she said, “You write your Fada!” As I had stood near her trusted rocking chair she handed me the correspondence, then held me by the hand as though she wanted to really see me through her half blind eyes before I would disappear again. But she had been correct for I would never get another opportunity to find my Ma Bea or her son Albert again.