Saturday, January 28, 2006

Bonafacio and Jesus

As if timed by the clock of an irrigation system they arrive every Tuesday afternoon at 2pm. I look at them in awe and with great respect and at the same time with an unfathomable sense of dread and horror. These two ancient men arrive in an old blue pickup truck to mow and edge the lawns of two adjacent houses in a gated golf course community. I have seen them many times over the last five years but now my schedule closely matches theirs and I see them almost every week.

We have never spoken. I have nodded my head in acknowledgement as a hello over the noise of the machines and the passing visual contact created by the dance we do as we go about our chores. Most days a younger man, in his 40's perhaps, stops by to check in with these methodical and gnarled laborers. I imagine him to be one of their great-grandsons because the thought that he is just a boss to them is too repugnant.

They dress like my grandfather did when he worked in his yard. They are well covered by the work clothes of a time gone by and for a climate it seems of some other place. In long khaki pants, long sleeved flannel shirts, sturdy shoes and baseball caps one mows the grass while the other weed whacks the edges.

What they are doing is of no importance. That is not what catches my attention. It is the fact that it is them doing the same thing as me that makes my heart almost stop and that demands my mind to find a story to go with this sight.

Bonafacio and Jesus I have decided to call them. They are a pair of tiny exquisitely carved antique bookends. Two very old Filipino men who look to be in their late 80's and have those weathered and wrinkled tribal faces that you have seen looking out at you from the pages of National Geographic. Neither of them can be taller than five foot four and their combined weight might be about 180 pounds. Bonafacio works the trimmer and I watch for the weight of the commercial grade engine to pivot on the fulcrum that is this tiny little gnome of a man and pull him over with it.

I watched one day as the two of them together slowly lifted the mower from the old blue truck and even more slowly and gently set the mower on the ground, no ramp for these guys. Jesus, the smaller of the two takes the mower and with a shuffle that belongs in a nursing home mows the lawns. His steps do not lift his feet from the ground and his stride is the length of one foot. The mower is not self propelled but I still fear it may get rolling to fast and drag him away.

It is a mixture of magic and fear that Bonafacio and Jesus bring up into the chatter in my head. The fear is of course that I see before me my own fate. Do these two ancient men still have to go mow some rich persons lawn to feed them selves and pay their bills? Knowing a bit of Hawaiian history and of the immigrants who came here, I wonder are these men even citizens? Did they come here at the turn of the century to work the plantations and work their way up to be gardeners but never quite join a system that would give them social security? Is this my economic fate too, a laborer until the end? Oh God Help Me!

The magic is undeniable though. It is as if I am watching characters of some Asian fable I do not know. They may have been cast as statues and have sat tucked away and quiet for centuries like ornaments in some garden, now come to life before my eyes. They are like a pair of garden gnomes full of wisdom about the mysteries of nature. They are still at work, impervious to the changes around them and telling me in their quiet way that this is the work, gardening, that keeps them alive, that this is the kind of work that may keep us all alive.


Anonymous said...

I have read all your posts and wish there were more! I think your work should be published. Thanks for the enjoyment.

christin m p in massachusetts said...

Funny, sometimes I can identify better with people like Bonafacio and Jesus than I can with most native-born U.S. citizens. I know I was spared many of the hurdles people like them have had to face, but still, I know that somehow I see what they see and feel what they feel.