by OSWALDO RODRIGUEZ
I remember Jenny, a nine-year-old boy with dark skin, big eyes and straight hair. He was very shy. He didn’t like to talk with anybody, and his big eyes always reflected worry and sadness. He had eight sisters. The five eldest left the house because of his father. Jenny was born into a complicated family. His father was a typical “macho man,” the only one who was allowed to talk at home.
Nobody could do anything without Jenny’s father’s permission.
Jenny was nine when his mother left his father, and took the children with her. Jenny’s life became even more difficult because he had to look after his three youngest sisters while his mother worked as a food vendor on the street. He had to cook and clean and also be the babysitter. His mother was a hard-working woman, but the money was not enough to support Jenny’s ambitions.
Jenny and his mother were very connected to each other. When he looked into his mother’s watery eyes, he understood that he had to go to bed without food. Jenny always wanted to go to school and graduate, but without money it was impossible. So one day he talked to his
mother and said, “Mother, I am going to school at night.” He was very young to take night classes; they were really only for adults; but he didn’t care about that. Jenny asked his mother to buy cloth so that he could make his pants and shirt by himself. And even though they didn’t
have a sewing machine, Jenny made himself a uniform. It was not perfect, but he didn’t care; he only wanted to go to school. Then Jenny had pants and a shirt, but no shoes, and he said, “Mother, just buy me a notebook and pencil; you don’t have to worry about shoes. I can walk without them.”
Everybody was surprised because he was the youngest in the class, but he thought that everybody was looking at him because he wasn’t wearing shoes. The teacher started to call the list of students, and when he called “Jenny,” everybody laughed, because “Jenny” is a girl’s name. Jenny looked around the classroom, saw everybody laughing, and he laughed, too.
He understood that it was not a malicious laugh; it was just unexpected and funny. Jenny had to walk one hour to get to school, and he never missed even one class. He didn’t get any presents for Christmas Day or even for his birthday, but he was so happy with his mother and sisters. The most important thing was that he went to school, and he finished it.
Now Jenny is 47. His mother died one year ago. He lives in New York City.
I know because I am Jenny.
A student of literature in Ecuador, Oswaldo Rodriguez has lived in New York City for 17 years. He previously attended the UTM (Universidad Tecnica de Machala) in Ecuador and now studies at the Consortium for Worker Education’s Workers United Education
Program. He thanks instructor Jackie Bain for encouraging him to improve his English. He likes to write poetry and enjoys reading classic writers.