The day a boy learned about apperences and new shoes
|My first shoes
Growing up on a sugar plantation on the island of Puerto Rico taught me many things. It was a dirty job done in the heat of the mountains where the bugs were as relentless as the sun. The repetitive nature of the harvest could challenge even the sharpest mind. A harvester could not simply “space out” during the harvest as there were many things to watch out for such as sick or damaged plants, precarious footing, and the worst, dangerous bugs. Nevertheless as much as we languished in the field my family and I also had to be thankful to the land and crops. It was our livelihood and it kept us housed, fed, and clothed.
The latter had always been a point of contention. We lived in the mountains where the cloths of the common farmer or jibaro was pervasive and generally accepted. My family’s land wasn’t big enough to generate sufficient wealth for us to wear anything fancy. We wore a simple attire made of an affordable and durable cotton shirt and slacks. The cotton breathed and kept us cool in the blazing sun as we worked in the field.
On our plantation our status was dictated by a combination of age and work ethic. The older hard working man or woman was given high esteem despite his or her dress and the elderly were treated like heroes for having survived a lifetime of the grueling work.
It was a trip to the city of Ponce that swept this respect away and placed it squarely on the title you had, the land you owned, and the cloths you wore. It was a rude awakening for me. My brothers and I rode in an old wagon. My father was taking my two older brothers to see how he sold his cane to a Spanish trading company. I was there to sight see. I quickly wandered off
The city was beautiful with amazing architecture and stunning buildings that glistened in the sunlight. The structures were a mixture of colorful and white wash. Many had arches and high open windows. As I wandered down the street watching the people busily moving about I wondered what it would be like to live in the city. I noticed that many of the people in the city gave me a strange look. Some even snickered.
As he turned the corner onto Avenida 7 he saw a tall pink building with a sign that said Law Firm. Above the sign a young girl sat in a window. She was 16, about my age. She had long black hair that was as wild and as free. Her eyes were like almonds and her skin looked soft and of a caramel brown that only came by relaxing in the sun not working in it. My breath was caught in my throat. All I could do was wave.
The young girl giggled.
“Hello,” I said.
“I don’t talk to jibaros,” she replied. Jibaro to her meant hillbilly and not respected farmer.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Your not even wearing shoes!” she exclaimed.
She was right. I wasn’t wearing shoes. Jibaros didn’t wear them.
“If I get shoes, you’ll talk to me?” I asked. She shrugged indifferently and looked away.
I remembered seeing a cobbler not to far from where we were so I ran and asked him how much for a shiny pair of leather shoes. He said 5 reales, or 5 silver coins. No wonder we didn’t buy shoes. He could see I didn’t have the money so he offered to have me work odd jobs for his brother’s public works office.
I spent the next few hours running throughout the city doing odd jobs that were usually dirty. It occurred to me while I was shoveling pig waste that I had come to Ponce to enjoy the day. Now I was shoveling waste. My mind however were on how impressed the girl would be when she saw I was able to get shoes in such a short amount of time.
I painted a fence for 5 fichas, or 5 copper coins. I unclogged a water main for a few more fichas and a whole silver. I brushed a horse and moved ferilizer onto a wagon. Finally I had my 5 reales. I ran through the streets elated and shoved the coins into the cobbler’s hand.
“You sure about this? “ he asked. I smiled and he handed me the shoes. I quickly put them on with the socks that the cobbler had generously given me. I ran to the young girl’s house, dreaming of our wedding, our children, even our future. My mom would be proud for bringing home a good one. I would work hard and provide for our family
I got to her house and called out to her.
“Senorita, Senorita” I proclaimed in a loud and triumphant voice.
She looked out the window and laughed. I stood proudly displaying my shoes like a peacock his plumage.
“Now will you talk to me?” I asked.
She laughed even harder.
“No way,” she said, “now you’re all dirty. Now you’re really a jibaro, she said as she went back in and closed the blinds.
I was devastated. She had broken my heart. I felt empty.
I felt a shadow behind me. I looked and it was the cobbler.
“This is a hard lesson to learn young one, but it is an important one. Some people can’t look past appearances. The fact that you worked hard meant nothing to her, the only thing that mattered is how you looked,” he put his hand on my shoulder and handed me the 5 silver reales.
“Here, he said, “ you earned it,” and he started to walk away.
“You want your shoes back?” I yelled after him.
He paused and looked at me for a moment.
“No,” he said. “Keep them, as a reminder.”