Juanjo´s story

09. Dezember 2014 | von


I have no picture to show you who Juanjo is… or is it more appropriate to say „who he was“? I don´t know… I remember him so innocent, so full of life, that I cannot come to good terms with words like life and death. This is not a story full of colors, it might actually seem pretty sad… in a certain way it is, but it is also a story of happiness, a story that taught me a valuable lesson.

Juanjo – Juan José is the real name – was a little boy who went to school with me, I think we were in first grade, or was it sencond grade? Im not sure, you know how our mind plays stricks on us. Was he my friend? I guess so… when we are kids, anyone who talks to us for five minutes becomes our friend and anyone who lets us use a toy becomes our best friend, right? I wonder why we stop acting that way as we grow up, it is a pitty. Anyway, to be honest, I have to say that I didnt know much about him, I knew that he was poor, so poor that he never wore shoes and instead of a backpack he carried his notebooks in a little bag he hung around his neck. I knew that he was very shy, and you could tell by the way he walked and spoke that he was a peaceful kid. Sadly, those memories come from only a few days I can remember. The image I have carved on my mind is that one of a rainy morning, walking by some old houses in our little town on the way to school. As usual, he wasnt wearing shoes, his small straw hat and that hand-made bag gave him a look that didnt correspond to that one of a school boy. Not having pictures is something that both bothers and relieves me. It is relieving because that means that I get to remember him the way I think he looked like and I can put a smile on his face if that is what I want to do; it bothers me, because no matter how hard Id try to describe him, I would not succeed.

The other images I have come from a sunny afternoon, when I got to know where he lived, who was his mother and that it was his birthday. Here is where my mother comes into the story. You see, I dont want to tell you that my mother is the best, almost everyone thinks that about their own mother, I even thought of writing this lines without mentioning that it all happened because of her, but it just seemed fair to tell the most honest story I could write. That being told, I am writing about her as a woman and not as the person I call mom… after all, this is Juanjo´s story.

That day, after school, my mother told me to get ready to go to a party. It was a bit odd because I hadn´t seen any invitation, plus, I saw that the piñata, the cake, the candies and all the other things one expects to see at a party, were actually in our house. I asked whose birthday it was and she said: „Mrs. Arana´s kid´s.“ I didnt know his last name, so the answer didnt put much light on my mind, but a party is a party and I was more than glad to have the chance to go. I helped her, we packed the things and started to walk. There was not much of every thing, we werent rich and actually, I didnt remember the last time I had a party for my birthday; cake yes, gifts too… but no party. Somehow that bothered me, and as I started to understand that my mother had organized the whole thing for that kid I barely knew, I tried to hide my jealousy. We left the main streets and walked through a green field where some cows and sheep ate grass calmly. The houses we saw werent exactly suitable places to live, they were more like sets of materials piled up together, blocks, sticks, wood plates, pretty much anything would do. In front of one of those faulty constructions I saw Juanjo, sitting on the grass with his hands around his knees, wearing his straw hat. My mom greeted him and asked if he knew why we were there, he said he didnt know. I could see his eyes shine as he stared at the little piñata that my mother had brought and the plastic ball I had under my arm. My mother knocked on a set of pieces of wood that served as a door, a woman came out and they started to talk, it was Juanjo´s mother. While they spoke I asked Juanjo if he knew how old he was… he didnt even know it was his birthday.

A few minutes later, my mom started to knock on many other doors and after talking with some parents, children would come out and join us. The grass field worked as a celebration area where we all played football, ran and laughed for a good while. I didnt know any of those kids, I barely knew Juanjo, but that didnt matter, we had a good time, actually a great time… that was something I didnt expect. You see, our neighbors used to invite us to their kids´parties, they did have money, so there was a lot of food, balloons, at least two piñatas, sometimes even a clown… but there we were, with a different version of a party, one that was just a as fun as unexpected. After we played, it was time to break the piñata: Juanjo was called to try to break it, but shy as he was, it took quite a while for him to finally try. He hit it so softly that it barely moved, I dont know if it was because he was so embarrassed to be seen by everyone or because he didnt want to break it. I dont remember who broke it, it doesnt matter that much, but I do remember that after it was emptied we got paper bags with oranges, apples, candies and chewing gum, I think there was a little toy, something like a marble or a whistle, I am not sure about that either. Finally, it was time to eat the cake: we sang „Feliz cumpleaños“ (happy birthday) and clapped as Juanjo blew the candles out. I saw that my mom gave him some clothes, the plastic ball I had and something else in a package he should open later. Slowly, all the kids went back to their houses, they were thankful and seemed happy, I knew I was… and I could tell Juanjo was too, although his mother seemed to be happy and sad at the same time, that was something I couldnt really understand. As it started to get dark, my mom told me that it was time to go home, that I should hugh him and say bye. Being a child, that hugging-a-friend thing wasnt exactly an idea I loved, but something in the way my mom spoke moved me to do it. We took our things and left.

He didnt come to school the next day, actually I never saw him again. He died a few months later, he had leukemia. My mom told me to keep the secret of that visit, she didnt want it be mentioned at home and made sure nobody around would hear about it; I didnt get the idea of celebrating and then keeping it secret. I cannot say that my childhood changed too much after Juanjo´s death, I didnt think too much about it for a while, not until the image came back and I started to analyze the whole situation from a different perspective and tried to understand what my mother had done, even though she didnt even want to talk about it afterwards.

That was probably the only birthday party Juanjo ever had, it didnt matter how big or expensive it was, it didnt matter that instead of a lot of gifts he got only two or three… all that mattered is that it happened, even though it wasnt his birthday. I remember it and feel a bit embarrassed when I think about my jealousy, and then I try to explain to myself that I was just a kid. Now I understand the look in Juanjo´s mother´s eyes, now I understand why my mother didnt want to publish the whole story and tell everybody what a nice thing had happened. I have learned from that experience, I know that a small thing you do for others can make a huge difference, even if the whole world doesnt understand, even if nobody sees it or hears about it. I just hope I have learned well enough to do what I can whenever I can, I just hope my mother feels as satisfied as I feel proud of her, even though we are not to talk about it. I just hope that, wherever he is, Juanjo still wears his straw hat and his funny bag… and maybe that pair of shoes he got in a secret package on his not-birthday.


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