Monday, May 30, 2011

Chavela and Jhoanglish

            Chavela is Altagracia’s sixteen year old daughter. She is cocky and confident and energetic, well known in the neighborhood and the source of nearly all my gossip. She comes home daily from school at noon, cooks lunch of rice with beans with a side dish, sweeps and mops the house and galleria, washes the dishes left from the six lunches and does the laundry. Last year in Pizarete, Chavela had had a novio (serious boyfriend) who was in his twenties and was a police officer, one of the ones who take the risk of shooting and arresting tigueres and so eventually a small band of them chased him down on the Autopista Duarte and killed him. I was living in the States at the time carrying on a telephone courtship with Altagracia and it was in all the Dominican newspapers. Less than a year later Chavela's father, who is the father of all four of Altagracia’s children, Luis, 74 and divorced from Altagracia for three years, was killed by a night watchman, or watchy-man, who knew him and who had broken into his apartment to steal a hundred dollars. Luis evidently woke up during the robbery and got a couple of licks in with a machete before the robber clubbed him in the head and then left, locking the door from the outside which prevented Luis from crawling out for help. Kiki showed up at the apartment the next day to visit his father and Luis died only hours later. After the robbery the watchy-man, a drug user, went to work still covered with blood and so now is in prison awaiting his unscheduled trial.
            Chavela’s first novio here in Villa Mella, Andres, was glum, taciturn and unsmiling, but handsome, and came to visit Chavela on the galleria nearly nightly to whisper and make out but began to arrive later and later each night until Chavela figured out that, as she put it-- she was not the first dish of the evening and so she dumped him. Chavela is now seeing Marwell who is charming, hardworking and large and has a motorcycle. One evening Marwell invited Kiki to take the bike for a short spin and before Altagracia could discourage the generous gesture, Kiki took off with it, not coming back until more than an hour later dragging the exhaust pipe behind him. Altagracia said that if he had not broken the exhaust  that he would have ridden until it was out of gas and left it. But Marwell and Chavela are still an item; although he does not come around quite as often, he did bring her a large stuffed bear with lots of candy on Valentine’s Day and he calls.

            Jhoanglish, 19, is tall and thin like his older brother but lacks Kiki's dangerous physical presence; his nickname in a high school in the States might be Ichabad. He is an inveterate fictionalizer-- if he told me it was raining I would have to be getting real wet before I believed him. He sings rap and regetón and sometimes does his own laundry and sometimes finds work but never sticks to it. When he landed this job as a watchy-man we were all very happy. But the next day we found out that he would need 300 pesos as a security deposit for the uniform. And then that he would need to take two guaguas each way to and from work which comes to 40 pesos a day. And that the Clean Conduct Certificate from the Police Department would cost 50 pesos. But we loaned him the money on the promise that he would pay it back out of his first paycheck. His second night of work he fired the shotgun into the air two times outside the bank he was guarding which meant that the supervisor had to schedule him for a psychiatric exam. Evidently many watchy-men work for years without ever discharging their weapon but during his third night and before having the opportunity to see the psychologist he emptied the pistol shooting over the heads of some suspicious looking people outside a different bank . Before going in to work the fourth night he woke up from a nap in the marquisina with a fever, a boil on his upper lip and his right testicle swollen to the size of a lechoza (local word for papaya--a football shaped fruit about the size of a grapefruit) and so we took him to a clinic where they prescribed antibiotics and no work for a few days. The next time Jhoanglish left for work the phone rang about an hour later and it’s him saying that he forgot his hat and if someone doesn’t bring it to him right away he will be fired. So we tear the house apart, find the hat (and the tie) and realize that no one knows where to take them except for Kiki who got hired once for almost a full day by the same company but who is too hungover from something to go or just doesn’t feel like going and so we figure out the name of the company by reading it on the front of the hat, find the phone number in the phone book and when Altagracia calls for directions the supervisor tells her that there is no problem, that Jhoanglish can borrow a hat for the night but that, by the way, did we know he is about half crazy? But we are relieved to know that there is someone there who knows him and that he didn’t just borrow or steal the uniform so that we would give him guagua and lunch money every day. So it is about a week later and Jhoanglish is still borrowing the guagua fares and going in to work every day, sometimes at 4 in the morning, sometimes at 4 in the afternoon, but almost inevitably returns about two hours later saying that they had nothing for him that day. Tomorrow there is no work because there is a general strike but he tells us that payday will be the day after. I can’t wait.

            On payday Jhoanglish went back to work at the bank for Guardianes Marcos, the watchy-man company, and somehow, the story is still a little blurry even after a week of clarification, during a shift change, the shotgun he was responsible for disappeared. He was promptly thrown in jail, well not exactly in jail but handcuffed to a bench behind the Mirador del Sur Destacamento (Police Department). He looked pretty scared when we went to visit him but the police did not treat him badly although we had to bring him his dinner, a warm shirt and a sheet to sleep under on the bench. He was released after a couple of days when it was revealed that his supervisor had taken the shotgun from where Jhoanglish had locked it up and had since returned it into circulation. Perhaps the supervisor borrowed it for a quick side job. Why the supervisor or the succeeding watchy-man were never locked up or questioned I will probably never know. Guardianes Marcos is now insisting, not only that they not pay Jhoanglish his wages of about 1500 pesos for his total of five days of work, but that he pay 500 pesos to be reinstated although he, evidently, did nothing wrong. As well, the Mirador del Sur's finest would like 5000 pesos for processing and for the three days room and board but we figure it will all be forgotten long before we ever get around to paying. Our total losses, on paper, to keep Jhoanglish working would come to 1200 pesos daily, not counting meals and medication. I would still like to hear the story from another angle, there are two guys about the same age as Jhoanglish who live nearby and who work for the same company and they have had no problems with Marcos Inc..

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