Being a hippie in the 1960s wasn’t easy. Had to go to Pochutla from Puerto Angel and the only way to get there for free was by hitching a ride and hop on whatever vehicle was willing to scoop you from the dirt road. So, when it came around, I quickly jumped on the transport already bursting with field workers and braced tight for the short but quite uncomfortable trek you get in the back of a lorry.
At our destination, the truck stopped on the outskirts and the human cargo began to alight in a hurry. The younger ones jumped the top of the railing while the others, like me, even when I was only eighteen, climbed perilously to the ground.
Then, a fleeting but terrorizing sight made me look twice: an older man climbing down over the rail with a huge hole on the bridge of his right foot. Already on the ground, I aimed to aid him to set foot on the pavement and try to find out why had he obviously never had received any medical treatment for a wound so terrible.
He was a pretty calm man and barely spoke Spanish if any. He didn´t look concerned about his dangerous condition and with a huge smile and mostly hand gestures let me know that he had been burned while working the field and then fired by the foreman that same day with no right to compensation or medical treatment whatsoever; not even a thank you.
I was appalled in the face of such an injustice. He looked so defenseless and innocent that he won my heart right then. His personality was that of a holy man, humble, good-natured, discreet, respectful, and joyful. And right then I took it upon me to getting Juanito the medical help he needed. I knew he had no home, nowhere to go, and that he was traveling to Puerto Angel every day in search of work with no luck. No one dared to glance at him. The transients were impervious to his plea as if he were a stray dog sick with mange. We both were dirt poor.
I was fuming but nevertheless took him under my wing and to a grumpy doctor only to be led out his office and have the door shut on us. And I don’t blame him. Just imagine a young, carelessly dressed, long-haired hippie angrily reminding the doctor of his oath of Hippocrates, and a badly battered and physically destroyed man dressed in rags, both asking for costly help. No way!
The doctor suggested me to see the city Mayor for a permit to solicit money on the streets lest we aggravated residents with unjustified panhandling. So, that’s what we did and to my surprise, the Mayor agreed! It was an instant hit. All I had to do was to show the document and jot down the names of contributors for a list that was to be made public at City Hall. Boy, that worked miracles!
Next visit, the church, and even though the padre tried to pretend to be unaware of Juanito’s predicament, reluctantly and under my irked insistence, he agreed to my petition of including Juanito’s tragic condition in the sermon to ask the churchgoers for help. As I anticipated, the padre chastised the entire community for having been so callously unconcerned while we waited by the portico readying the hat to gather contributions from a seemingly endless parade of nervous citizens whose beatific demeanor held under the energetic gaze of the priest.
In contrast, next, we visited cantinas and bars where I sang with my guitar in exchange for funds. Seemingly, it was the novelty and surprise, instead of compassion or piety, what propelled the parishioners to hand over their contributions, amused by the odd duo soliciting them. They tried to justify the past indifference swearing they had never seen Juanito on the streets ever because if they would, they would’ve helped him before now.
A moment came when people were already waiting for us. We became instant celebrities and now everyone was concerned about Juanito’s health. They would friendly scrutinize him from head to toe pretending it was the first time they had seen him (and maybe it was), oddly enough for a town so small.
Juanito was now the beneficiary of all kinds of blessings, goodwill, cash, and job offers for the time he rehabilitated, all this besides being the center of attention never before known by him. They insisted on having their names written on the City Hall´s list so everybody could see just how compassionate, good citizens they really were. Some families even offered to lodge as soon as they knew of our transhumant status.
Luckily, Juanito slept now under a roof in a hotel room and could eat whatever he wished, although I was puzzled that, at bedtime, he would pull the blankets and sheets down to the floor where he slept. For food, he would combine white onions and ripe bananas. Maybe that was the only food he knew and of course, I wouldn’t intervene for I could see him happy and satisfied.
It was time now to head for the city of Oaxaca and to the General Hospital. He got admitted and quite soon, for my peace of mind, started a treatment that lasted for 15 days. Time is taken advantage of by Juanito now to get to know the city since not even a paved road had he ever seen before. He got discharged with a mild-to-serious case of osteomyelitis and a heavy load of medicament; then, we merrily went to the bus sta.
Back in Pochutla, I knew who the employer was that so cruelly had forsaken Juanito: the same sanctimonious lady who prepared my food along with devout sermons every time I visited the market! I knew her very well because I enjoyed eating there, where her beautiful adolescent daughters flirted while served food. Every visit, while I ate, the mistress nagged at the young ladies while taking baths of purity talking about the love of God, compassion, divine justice, and various topics I didn’t even listen to, especially when I was hungry.
On purpose, I took Juanito to lunch at her eatery and she was close to fainting when saw him. She couldn´t believe her eyes and almost yelled vade retro, her eyes popping. I chastised her for her lack of compassion, racism, and arrogance; I reminded her about her religion precepts while she just nodded cowardly, red-handed, at a loss for words to defend herself. I was exultant by the hecatomb I had brought about throughout town, mostly for the benefit of Juanito and the fact that every individual was forced to change their attitude. And now the time had come for the culprit of Juanito’s disgrace to face the music; I knew no one would want to be seen as an indifferent hypocritic and the mistress was no exception.
Disguising my emotion for having the table tilted on our favor, I told the lady to call her two princesses to serve us food first. Then, proceeded to order them to wash Juanito’s feet, apply medicament, and change bandages. I paid the check, said farewell to Juanito with a big hug, and threaten to come back to monitor advances (never went back in 50 years) and the last I saw of them was the two beautiful young ladies doing what they were told without glamour poses: wash Juanito’s feet while he waved good-bye showing a big smile.