This is “P” Street
and I’ve placed a yellow arrow at the
corner where this whole scary incident
Standing at the back window of apartment number 44 in our Magnolia tenement building I looked down at the street filling up with kids congregated at the Chinese Shop right at the corner of “P” and Mariano Arosemena Streets. Looking at all those kids my age assembled together munching on something to eat and the movement of the crowd as they ate and then left for what I knew was the evening session at school, I felt drawn to join them. Without any further thought I absentmindedly ran my left hand into the side pocket of my short pants and, to my surprise, I pulled out an American dime, which made me extremely happy.
I rushed outside leaving the apartment unattended with the idea of getting something to eat for my lucky dime. “A slice of baloney and a ‘Micha’ (which, at the time, were a generous size for just a nickel), would do,” I thought. I hit the stairs sliding down the banisters until I hit the ground floor below expertly landing on my feet almost in one fell swoop.
Out on the sidewalk I greeted some of my school friends who happened by. “¡Hey, que pasa !” we greeted each other in Panamanian as I joined the group walking towards my destination, but before we could cross the street towards the Chinese shop we all stopped to chat for a while about things that could only interest me and the kids from my school.
While standing there with the group of kids as we chattered briefly and then said farewell I was suddenly aware that I was the focus of searching eyes. When I looked up I saw two policemen standing on the corner behind the group a way off twirling their night sticks.
One of them for sure had his eyes on me staring me down. By now, as an adolescent, I had come to learn enough common sense to look away when our eyes met. I had no fear, however, since I had done nothing wrong. The group I was with suddenly started across the street but before we could all get across the street the policeman who had singled me out reached over and grabbed me by my right forearm above the elbow.
“You will see now as soon as the patrulla comes and we take you in for disrespecting the authority,” said the officer with a vise grip on my arm which had started to hurt me. “I have done nothing of the sort. Let me go,” I protested. But, now both officers were dragging me across the street in full view of the children who were now alarmed at what was happening. The two policemen with the frightened and crying kid were now standing in full view of all the neighbors. People who had known me since I had come to live with my people in the building now gawked as if they were looking at something happening to a complete stranger.
There I stood imprisoned as time passed while I heard the neighbors on their balconies saying out loud, “The police got Juni!” Right then I was a terrified youngster crying out for help while at the same time I tried to convince the officers that, in fact, I had no reason to be disrespectful of them. “I don’t even know you,” I murmured out loud.
My cries and protests to the other kids who had been with me apparently had some effect since they all responded by telling anyone who happened to be nearby that, “We were all just talking. We didn’t see him do anything!” I again looked up at the people standing on their balconies in Magnolia building and to all the board buildings surrounding it as the sympathetic but powerless neighbors gathered to see what all the fuss was about.
So there the three of us remained at the corner of Mariano Arosemena and “P” Streets, right in front of the “Nueva Gloria Cantina,” well known to its Westindian clientele. By now the two policemen and their child prisoner were surrounded by sympathetic neighborhood schoolchildren. Some of them, who had seen the whole unjust incident take place, departed sadly leaving for evening classes.
Feeling alone and weeping profusely I felt absolutely abandoned as my pleas of innocence went completely ignored. Even under such dire circumstances I was keen to observe how the neighborhood I had grown up in was now passively, even sheepishly, going their way sacrificing their rights to self defense.
Absolutely no one amongst the myriad of people who had known me all my life had come down from their safe haven on the balconies to inquire, not even my Aunt Viola, my mother’s cousin whose mother, my grandaunt’s, funeral I had attended two years previous. Remembering back somewhat annoyed with her then, I had known Viola to be a fixture on that balcony in this San Miguel Barrio ever since I was a baby. But, she had not moved a muscle to rescue me.
This story will continue.