Escritorio Juan

Escritorio Juan

The dust choked me and the heat on a Mexicali afternoon was stifling. I did not trouble myself with these inconveniences. I had work to do and this involved being on a train in a couple of hours and needing to get some mail off at the post office. One more turn and I was in front of the post office. But just as I was about to climb the marble steps, something caught my eye.

Along the small alley that bordered the post office park, I saw them. Stall after stall of makeshift dwellings or at least he thought they were dwellings. But then the faint sound of the clattering grew in intensity as I came near. And I did come near. The sight was so foreign even for Mexicali.

These “dwellings” were hardly bigger than a refrigerator box. Made from whatever found material with a single door opened to the public. They had nothing as a protection from the heat and dust. In front of each opening was a quiet and orderly line of people waiting. What type of business was happening here?

Checking my watch and found that I had about two hours before my train to Culiacán. This strange site needed investigation. Approaching the first stall, the clatter of manual typewriters reached a crescendo. I stepped up to the stall and notice a small sign placed upon the wall beside the opening. It stated “Escritorio Juan” — Juan’s desk.

A short balding man with a broad smile steps out to meet me. Behind him on a makeshift table was an old but well-used Royal portable and behind the table was a folding chair.

“Can I help you sir?” Juan’s Spanish, almost as liquid over pebbles, enticed me to come nearer.

“What is it that you do here?” My own Spanish was accented with a northern drawl.

“Oh sir I make it possible for those who cannot, to be able to send their words far and wide”

“I see no telegraph or phone lines — how can you do this?”

Juan smiled “By the oldest form of communication know to those who can write and I provide for those who cannot.”

I was so fascinated by what I saw and heard that I could not help but continue the conversation.

Juan was a well-educated man with a degree in Linguistics. He taught in universities in several areas in Mexico. He had earned his degree through a scholarship. This was obtained by offering his services as a teacher in rural schools for nothing but room and board.

He had worked for influential companies and had traveled the world. He had married but lost his wife very early in their marriage. It was evident that he had had an eventful life with all that money and reward could offer.

I could not contain myself:

“But why have you come here? I can certainly see that this is not even a basic survival job”.

Again the infectious smile and the low calm words:

“With all that I have done, I recognized that almost all was to please only one person — me. I tell you sir that there is no happiness in this. But here, I give to others — those who cannot read or write. It is true they have very little to give me and sometimes nothing at all, but the act of giving is more than enough.

They come to me with letters to read or to tell me what to write in the letters they want to be sent. I act as a compassionate bridge between them and those that they love. What more could a man desire? To be useful to others — to give of oneself — this is reward enough”