“How do you call yourself?” I asked extending my hand.
He mumbled something. I couldn’t make it out.
“Could you say that again?”
“Escgael,” he said again as I leaned in.
“Eh? What was that again?”
“Could you write it down please?” I handed him a pen and paper. I watched him write out E-Z-E-Q-U-I-E-L. “Ah, from the Bible – the Jewish prophet. Interesting. Cool.”
“Okay, now that we have that out of the way, I’m James o Jaime en español. Pleased to meet you. So, Ezequiel, first I want to ask you why you came down today?”
“I always come down.”
“Okay, did you come down for a particular reason?” I always ask this because I’m not sure if a particular inmate is coming to the session for religious study, general chit chat, or just to get out of the general population for a respite. I can go all religious if need be, but I prefer to weave it all together in a more secular way. But really, it’s all the same to me. Me da igual.
“I’d… like to look for… Jesus.”
He shrugged. Look I don’t know, maybe. Maybe I felt I was supposed to say that. Or maybe I was trained to say that. Or maybe it felt good to say that. Or maybe I’d like… I dunno.
“What do you want to do?” I asked him. “What would you rather be doing right now?”
“I’d like to be out of here.”
“Yeah, but if you were out of here, what would you be doing? What do you like to do. What would you like to do with your time?”
“You mean like in an auto shop? Hmmm, that’s interesting.”
We talked, or rather, I talked/asked him about painting cars and his talents and what he liked to do. He was a quiet kid. He didn’t say much.
“Hey, you ever see that show on MTV, ‘Pimp My Ride’? It’s this show where they take an old beat up car and turn it into a work of art. New seats, new rims, tires, interior, rugs, sound system, televisions, computers, new dash etc. They always put a super fine paint job on it too. You want to do something like that?”
“Yeah.” He smiled his eyes twinkling. He was still a kid of few words, but he had these twinkling eyes. I’d have to pay attention to his eyes for clues to his thoughts.
“So, how might you paint these cars? What would you paint?”
“I don’t know.”
“How about some clouds, and ‘Mi bendición’ with a Puerto Rican flag with a cool metallic ice?”
“Yeah.” His eyes got wide again. It’s like I could read his thoughts before he even knew he had them. I could see him dreaming about his beautiful paint job. I watched reflections in his eyes of some big aluminium rims, sweet Pirellis, neon in the undercarriage, an awesome fade on the side panels with a Puerto Rican flag waving in the cool tropical breeze. It was like a big piece of sweet candy and I could see it tasted good to him.
“It’s like art, you know?” I offered. “One of the things that we share with God is the need to create. It’s one of the things that takes us back to the divine, compartimos ese rasgo con Dios. He was sitting there all alone and he had this big nothing, but a lot of love. He could do no other thing than create… everything. So great was his love, he created us. That’s what it’s like when we create. When we create we are doing the same thing that God did. We are fulfilling the same need. We are sharing in the divine.”
“So, guess what,” I added. “Lots of famous painters throughout history created paintings on all kinds of places, walls, poles, town squares, floors, ceilings, carriages, you name it. They painted everything. Maybe you do this painting on the car that says, Jesus es el salvador or mi salvación, Jesus. Whatever.” I thought maybe I was getting corny now. I pictured in my mind a typical heavily modded import with a rosary and crucifix hanging on the rear view mirror. Painted on the exterior I saw a big mural of La Señora de la Providencia, an image of the Virgin Mary, with an infant Jesus resting on her lap painted big and fat on the hood. I saw chrome, lights, a crucified Christ on the door, and a cloud-like father figure emerging from a heavenly scene.
It’s not my taste, for certain, but I loved it. I see some of the graffiti here and I must say I am in awe of the talent of these kids. While I wouldn’t own a Jesus-pimped car, I have to say I’d love to look at it. I’d love to drink it in, enjoy the art, appreciate the expression. I would stand in awe of such a creation.
I shook Ezequiel’s hand before we left. It was a pleasure to meet you, I said. I told him that I dreamed of the car he would paint. I told him I dreamed the dream as if it was my own. I wished I could paint that car the way I dreamed it. But, I told him, I’d probably screw it up.
It was up to him to do it right, because the world needs that car.