*This story will be available to read until March 18th.
“Mario! Why you such a jackass?”
“Hee Haw! Hee Haw!” replied Mario, happily kicking his feet out behind him. Two little boys laughed and cheered while hanging on tightly to Mario’s shirt. “Hee Haw!”
“Get up from the street...you are such an embarrassment!” Papa waited impatiently while Mario reluctantly removed the giggling boys from his back and bowed to the bystanders who applauded him.
Papa cuffed Mario lightly alongside the head. “What’s the matter with you? Fifteen years old, a man, and you act the jackass –the clown –the fool! I am tired offeeding you from my own pockets. You need to learn a trade...and NOW!”
“I have a trade Papa. I make people laugh!”
“Exactly what a fool would say! How does that put bread in your mouth, I ask you?”
“I go into town to do funny things, tell jokes and sing silly songs. People throw coins into my hat.”
“Humph! A fine living that is!” Papa mumbled.
“I make almost as much as you, sometimes.”
Papa’s hand reached out...Smack! “Impertinent! Disrespectful! Idiot boy!” Papa tried to smack him again, but Mario danced lightly out of the way, sticking his tongue out playfully.
“I thought you said I was a man!”
“That was before you spoke like a foolish boy.”
But Papa knew Mario was speaking the truth. Papa earned money where he could, working at the docks, loading and unloading cargo from all over the Mediterranean Sea. But as Papa had a fondness for drink, and several mouths to feed, he was constantly and desperately poor. Mama had died just two years before from the pox, the same disease that left Mario’s face and body scarred on his otherwise handsome features.
Papa often called Mario a jackass, but the boy did have a gift of mimicry, juggling, magic tricks and humor of all sorts. And it was true that Mario could entertain a crowd and earn many coins on market days or the times sailors were freshly paid and freshly drunk.
But what kind of work was that? Really! Mario was a very bright boy and could earn a good living if he would just apply himself. “Maybe,” Papa thought, “I could help...”
“I found a job for you, Mario!” Papa announced, “I been asking around at the docks and there is a ship leaving soon for New Spain. They need a man to work the decks and rigging. You, nimble as a monkey, could easily be a good sailor!”
“Papa, I don’t know anything about being a sailor –but a monkey, I am expert at!” said Mario, pushing out his jaw, bowing his legs and scratching under his arms. “Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!” Papa tried to kick Mario in the seat of his worn pants, but he scampered away. “Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!”
“You think I am stupid, heh? Some men I know can teach you how to be a sailor. Names of ship things, tying knots, how to behave like a sailor.”
“Oh, I know how to behave like a sailor, Papa! ‘C’mere wench and show me your treats!’ ” leered Mario, imitating the drunken sailors he often saw.
“Do that and you will either be drowned or hung!” warned Papa. “There is a ship bound for New Spain in two weeks. I already got you signed up. 100 Reals a month plus a share of all the gold, spices and jewels they bring back.”
“Arrgh! I spilled my wine!” growled Mario, pretending to lick the street.
Papa hauled him up by the arm and gripped both shoulders. “I’m trying to help you, son! Teach you a trade. Maybe make you rich. I call you El Burro, Jackass, idiot, but you are smart and clever. USE your smarts...I beg you! New Spain promises great wealth to those who seek it!”
Mario’s eyes became moist. “Okay Papa. I will do as you ask. Perhaps I can make you proud.”
“That’s my boy!”
On the day Mario sailed for New Spain on the trading ship Nuevos Horizontes, his entire family came to the docks of Puerta de Santa Maria to see him off. His sisters kissed him, his brothers hugged him, and Papa did both.
As Mario hurried toward the gangplank, his father called out “Remember, don’t be a jackass!” to which Mario turned and replied by holding his hands to his ears, waggling them and calling out “Hee Haw! Hee Haw!” in such a strong imitation of a burro that several men stopped briefly to look around. Papa smiled and shook his head.
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