by Federico Ellington Smith
A little girl name Mona and her grandmother Madeh lived in a village called Holy Cross in a land soon to be forgotten, except by the people who lived there.
Nobody knows exactly how and by whom Holy Cross was named, and exactly where this village is located. Some say that it is located on the banks of a waterway in the dense jungles of Panama. They claim that people from a continent beyond the Atlantic Ocean named this village Santa Cruz when they arrived to its location, after crossing the mighty ocean and the river Chargres.
Holy Cross is the English translation for Santa Cruz. So these people surmise Spanish speaking people must have named the village initially. English speaking people did its English translation when they came to Panama to build its great waterway.
Others maintain the people of Holy Cross were people of strong and deep faith. They were believers of a “one-god” and the right to express their beliefs freely. So they named their village Holy Cross and its center Church Square. Some say four different faith buildings (Catholic, Episcopalian, Baptist, and Seventh Day Adventist) grace this center square even today. They describe these structures as symbols and medium for the villagers’ expression of the diverse richness of their faith. Some of these devout people, they explain, even held expressive, holiness-praise services in their homes, which the village kids called “jump up church”. Others held Sunday School classes for children and adults in their homes. These classes were not only to teach the word of God; but also teach handicraft and be social gatherings for women. Some daytime religious meetings called “Cottage Meetings” held in different homes were designed basically for prayer and Bible teaching.
In addition to its Church Square, three other sections comprised this village: Front Street, Dust Bowl, and Parallel.
Holy Cross was a children’s paradise. All its adults were well versed in and practiced the African adage: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Every adult, in some way, contributed to the raising of every child. No child was orphaned. Every child, literally, had a thousand parents. So children roamed freely throughout the village—fully secure and confident that they were always protected, and under the caring supervision of adults.
One adult was called “Eagle Eyes” because children felt that he knew and saw everything they did. He would cite their behaviors to them that they felt no one knew. His stature in Holy Cross as a protector of children was sound, solid, and highly regarded by children and adults alike. Their parents never questioned or had concerns about them whenever they were in his custody. Parents even trusted him to take their children to events in other distant villages at late evening hours. All children developed into better and more complete beings as a result of their education under him.
Mona was a beautiful, curious and energetic girl about age 5. Her eyes were inviolate black like the depth of space. Their center sparkled like stars in its primary blackness. They were the centerpiece of her face, which only could have been divinely created. These precious eyes were her personal instruments for her interaction with the world.
Mona’s grandmother Madeh had similar eyes, but they were bigger and in perfect proportion to her robust body. They conveyed power, strength, knowledge and wisdom to even the most casual observer. Her silver hair reflected sunlight like a saintly crown, and a symbol of her longevity. Everyone loved and respected Madeh. Some learned not to cross her because she taught unforgettable lessons.
Mona and her grandmother Madeh were very close. Everyone felt that they loved each other so much that each could kiss the ground the other walked on. Some say that Mona was the spitting image of her grandmother. They even compared Madeh’s pictures during her youth with Mona’s current ones. Their resemblance was striking and unquestionable. Some villagers maintain that Mona will grow up to be just like her dear grandmother.
Mona and Madeh had daily routines from sunrise to sunset. At the crack of dawn, when roosters crow, Madeh would rise up, and kneel immediately at her bedside to give thanks for another day. She would make breakfast for the family after completing her personal hygiene, and wake up Mona’s older brother and sister instructing them to prepare for school. She would wake up Mona last to have breakfast with her siblings after customary thanksgiving grace.
When her siblings left for school, Mona would have the rest of the day with her grandmother until the others returned from school. This was her special time with Madeh. They would sit under the cellar of their village quarters. Her grandmother would bathe her in the wash tub, dry her body and hair, brush her teeth, rub her body with coconut oil, comb her hair and dress her in clean clothes. Mona especially liked the coconut oil fragrance, and how it made her body and face look silky black, clean and healthy. She felt fresh, vigorous, and loved. Her grooming completed, Mona always would hug and kiss Madeh, saying tenderly “Grandma, I love you.” Her grandmother gently lifting her up to where their eyes would meet always responded sweetly, “I love you too, my child.”
Mona, like all children in Holy Cross, would play under her cellar or in large and verdant open fields between the quarters, and roam freely throughout the village. She particularly enjoyed stoning mangoes from Mr. Simpson’s mango tree, way across a verdant open field from her family’s quarters.
Mr. Simpson was a blind, generous and gentle man. He maintained a quarters in Holy Cross, where he would stay at his leisure. There was a large and bountiful mango tree in the center of his yard. Some children would stone this tree for its fruits before the mangoes could be eaten safely. Their risky behaviors troubled him. He worried one could be hurt irreparably one day.
Mr. Simpson also had a small farm in a village named Frijoles. He would bring produce–yam, yucca, mangoes, tangerines, bananas, oranges, sorrel, cane and gun-gu peas– to sell at a small market under the cellar of a quarters on Front Street. He would give provisions, fruits and vegetables to anyone who had a need. Despite his quiet and benevolent demeanor, this gentle giant was a moral force to be reckoned with when one behaved in a way that could harm oneself or another.
One day, while playing near the village market, Mona saw Mr. Simpson. She quietly observed him as he walked using his walking stick. He tapped it repeatedly on the ground, swinging it from side to side, as if sensing his location and where he was going. Her curiosity intensified because she had not seen anyone like him before. She approached him quietly looking into his face. His eyes were closed. He could not see. She marveled at this man. He was dressed neatly in a jacket, which was distinctive and unusual for any of the vendors she had seen before. His hair was a nappy mix of black and white, and his body had an aroma of the woods.
“How could he be so well groomed and distinctive looking,” she thought.
As Mona curiously observed and smelled him, Mr. Simpson sensed her presence and coconut oil fragrance. It delighted him.
He gently said to her, “My name is Mr. Simpson.” “What is your name?” His inquiry surprised her. “How could he know I am here”, she thought. “He cannot see me.”
Sensing her bewilderment, Mr. Simpson explained that he is blind, but all his other senses are intact and functioning. He added some of his senses like hearing and smelling are even better than some seeing individuals, and that seeing with one’s heart is often more powerful than seeing with one’s eyes. He said, “I knew you were here because I could smell your sweet coconut oil, and hear your breathing and movement. I sensed that you are a young child because of your tender footsteps. Bless you.”
Mona felt relieved and encouraged. She thought that Mr. Simpson was not only like other adults in her village–caring and protective of children—but, he was very special, perhaps like the angels, of which her grandmother often spoke.
So she said, “My name is Mona”, took Mr. Simpson’s hand and walked with him to the market. When they arrived to his vendor’s stall, he gave her two ripe bananas, and said to her, “Go with God, my child.”
By the time Mona reached home, her contact with Mr. Simpson already had been relayed to her grandmother, perhaps by “Eagle Eyes”. Madeh asked sternly, “What were you doing with Mr. Simpson?” Mona was stunned. How could her grandmother know about her experience with Mr. Simpson–it occurred near the market on Front Street; and she lived on Church Square. Because of the distance between both locations, it would have been impossible for Madeh or anyone on Church Square to see anything near the market on Front Street.
Mona asked her grandmother, “How do you know I was with Mr. Simpson?” Madeh responded firmly, “Child, don’t let me have to scold you. Tell me the truth”. The little girl told her grandmother about her contact with Mr. Simpson. She also proudly shared the bananas with her. But Mona could never understand how her grandmother knew about this contact long before she returned home. This intrigued her.
Her next contact with Mr. Simpson occurred when she was stoning mangoes from his mango tree with a mixed group of children of different ages. When he approached them they ran, and he could not pursue them. He did, however, smell Mona’s sweet coconut oil fragrance. He did not want any of them to be harmed by throwing rocks, or getting sick with colic by eating his young unfit hairy mangoes. Some children would pick his baby hairy mangoes to make mango souse. Others would eat them with salt when the mango seeds are soft and white, and oozing a sticky milk from their stems. These children would become ill with colic. Mr. Simpson was concerned deeply about Mona because of her caring innocence with him earlier. He worried her eyes could be knocked out by the older children throwing rocks. Furthermore, he did not want her to be led astray by her older influential peers. So he told her grandmother about his impressions and concerns.
That evening as Mona and her grandmother sat underneath their cellar, Madeh said to her: “Mona, do you see the mango tree way over there in Mr. Simpson’s yard?” The child hesitated, wondering what is her grandmother upto now. It must be about my incident with Mr. Simpson earlier today, she thought.
She sheepishly responded, “Yes, grandma”, looking in the direction of the tree.
“Do you see the leaves on the mango tree?” grandmother inquired. Squinting her eyes almost shut, Mona looked at the tree. It was so far away that it was difficult, if not impossible, to see its leaves. The sunset was casting shadows that blurred her view. Yet she answered, “Yes, I see them.”
Madeh firmly lifted Mona onto her lap and pointed to Mr. Simpson’s mango tree. “Now my child, do you see the fly on the leaf at the top of the mango tree?” Mona winced at the question. She already had difficulty seeing the tree’s individual leaves. Now she is being asked to see a fly on one of those leaves at the top of this huge tree. She strained her eyes, moving her head from side to side, up and down, trying for a visual angle that would give an enhanced view of Mr. Simpson’s mango tree. After several failed attempts, Mona told her grandmother that she could not see the fly on the leaf. Madeh immediately responded emphatically, “I can” after lifting up Mona to where they looked directly into each other’s eyes.
That night as Mona prepared for bed, she prayed: “Dear God. Sorry about what I did today. Forgive me. I won’t do it again. Please show me how my Grandma Madeh can see a fly on a leaf so far away. She must be able to see everything I do. So I will do my best to be good. I love her and want to be just like her when I grow up. Take care of Mr. Simpson. He has been good to me. I will tell him I am sorry tomorrow. Amen.”