My sources tell me that not all my little charges have been as honest as they should be. Instead of studying hard and paying attention, some members of my brood have chosen to take the short cut by doing that which is unforgivable in an exam. Need I specify the act? I think not. Suffice it to say that I am most disappointed and hope that the rest of you are shocked by this despicable act of your integrity-challenged schoolmates. Who are the misguided youths in question? Ah! Now that would be telling, wouldn’t it?
It’s been an interesting day in our little corner of the world. To start off, I was in a bit of a tizzy because I needed to get home early to my little son, who has been having a raging fever for the last three days. Now, there are no lessons during exam time so all of us teachers are scheduled for invigilation while you poor souls sweat over your respective papers. Getting back to my problem- simple matter of readjusting the schedule, you say? Ah! You would be right! But here’s the rub- I had to find another teacher who was willing to swop sessions with me such that I covered his/her invigilation duties earlier in the morning while he/she covered mine later in the day. Therein lay the problem. Anyone noticed Mrs V running all over the school like a headless version of the hapless bird tied to the post in the cartoon in your humanities paper today? No? Well, understandable- you were otherwise occupied.
It was in this atmosphere of rising panic and desperation that one kind soul stepped up to the plate and made the exchange with me. I have a policy of not mentioning any names, so we will refer to this angel of mercy by her initials CTC. There is one little boy today who smiled from the depths of his discomfort because CTC made it possible for his mother to come home quickly. CTC, both mother and child thank you from the bottom of their hearts.
Was it difficult to do what CTC did? Not really. Anyone could have done it. The beauty of the act lay in its immediacy- Yes, I will help you- without missing a beat.
The old woman lay in bed- the centre of her universe. Her gnarled fingers clutched at the blanket spread carefully over her, to hide the unsightly stains on the bedsheet and her hastily retaped diaper that she had earlier ripped apart in senile frenzy.
She knew she was leaving. Had known for some time now. She couldn’t say how many days had gone by since the realization had come swiftly to her as in a dream. Day and night and their transition had no meaning to her.
Once it had been different. Once, not so long ago, day had been when the children had gone in and out of her room, searching for their clothes, their books that they’d left somewhere, grandma, do you know? And she’d sat up in bed and smiled her toothless smile at them, shaking her head at their youthful carelessness.
At that time, night had meant a special silence- different from the day. Not the everlasting silence she was now locked into. A sweet silence that grew out of loved ones at rest. Her son, tired out after a long day’s work- Don’t worry Ma, she looks after me so well. Her daughter-in-law, frayed at the edges by temper born of helplessness. Poor woman lay exhausted at night, silently lying next to her silent husband. No, perhaps for them, thought the old lady, not such sweet silence.
But even before that, day and night had had their own qualities. Day had meant frenzied activity, as she raced around the house getting meals ready for her ever-ravenous family. Even her daughter had had the appetitie of a horse, eating as much as the men. How will your husband feed you, they had all joked. I will buy my own food, she had replied only half in jest, and employ a man- glaring at her brothers- to cook it for me.
Here an inner smile passes across the old lady’s consciousness. Half regret, half pride, at her daughter still single. An old lady now, but with regal bearing, a medical degree- and yes! A male cook who worshipped the ground she walked on.
Back when day was filled with the need to feed her family, night-ah night had brought blissful relief to her aching back and sore feet. She had felt each muscle relaxing as she stretched her tired body out next to ther husband’s. Thank god, she had thought then, that we no longer feel the need to prove we are physically suited. Neither of them had liked sex very much- it had just been a necessary bother one had to go through if one wanted children. Once they had had four that had been that.
After that point they had become like the best of friends- more like affectionate siblings really, who teased each other and gave each other space to grow.
I wonder if I will see him thought the old lady. My playmate must be waiting for me.
She had been waiting to go for so long, and now it was time. She had said her goodbyes, though they had not known it. When the children visited her less often, when her daughter-in-law had started ignoring her call, when her son had suddenly become to busy to sit with her, she had said her goodbyes in a thousand ways to each one, but they could not have known what that touch of the hand, that smile, that kiss, that sigh could have meant.
Thay had stopped loving her long ago, but she knew that was how it had to be. This way she could go in peace, Know that what was waiting for her was so much better.
I’m coming. Wait for me. Just wait.
2nd September 2005
Her child lay asleep in the crook of her arm. How long she had rocked she herself had forgotten. Back and forth, back and forth. Till her movement had no beginning and no end. Had she started with a forward rock or a backward rock? Did she really care? Not so much. Only it struck her that it was one of those things that became almost impossible to do when you thought about them too much. Tired, she thought, so tired. Even now, when she had finally rocked him to sleep, rest was far away. How to transfer the sleeping child to his cot without awakening him? Yet could she not just rest awhile in the old rocking chair, enjoy the fruits of her labour, the snuffled snores of her little son, the tightly shut eyes, tracks of dried tears he had shed in the throes of exhaustion, looking to her to make him stop crying.
Oh but how she had tried. The things she had attempted. She had put him to her breast. Frenzied, he had rejected her. Forcing down the old fears, repeating to herself- it’s not his fault, not like the others- she had held him against her shoulder and walked the rooms of her house, wearing down the carpet in her weary imagination. Still the howls from her little scrap of humanity had not abated. Aggrieved at her failure, tormented by the vision of her mother-in-law waking up to offer advice, she had resorted to gripping him around his middle, his back to her heartbeat, and dancing- yes, actually dancing, the horror of it!- all around the room. The jerky movements had, paradoxically, calmed the child. Had his brain been damaged by all the jolts resulting from her clumsy gait? Dear god she hoped not. Poor thing’s been shocked into silence by me, she thought, wanting to so badly but not daring to giggle.
Only when she knew for certain that he had gotten over his- what did the old lady refer to it as? Yes, his spell- only then did she sink gratefully into the old rocking chair.
Back and forth, back and forth she’d rocked, not daring to stop till she could actually feel his sleep in her eyes.
Oh my darling, she sighed in the way of all mothers everywhere, who love their children when they are awake, but infinitely more when they are asleep.
Yes it was time to effect the transfer. Lip between teeth, concentrated breathing. Careful now, lean forward just so. These rocking chairs can be tricky. Not enough and you will never get out. Too much and you will find yourself on the floor, under the very same rocking chair that had previously been your source of comfort.
Careful now. Holding her child tight she eased herself to a standing position. Smooth glide tot he cot. Bend over, lowering the bundle gently.
Careful now. Oh so very lightly, roll him out of arms into cot. Oh well done! Self congratulations in order. Cover with the blanket. Turn to go. One last look. Good night, m y angel. And tiptoe out the room, shut the door quietly. Give everyone else in the house permission to breathe again.
16th August 2005
How can anyone doubt that there is a god? One has only to look upwards at the sky, arching overhead, stretching benevolently into infinity. Contained yet so much beyond us. It is not our realm, this sky. What a ridiculously insignificant word for such a symphony. And how awesome its fickleness of mood. One moment blue as calm white puffs of cloud glide contentedly riding the wind. The next grey, filled with ominous warning. Dark armies scudding overhead, gathering in the growing dark, preparing for unknown wars. See now the blindness of the night sky- in itself a paradox, black tarpaulin studded with pinholes of light, or yet again split by a more blinding streak of powerful masculine writing. Stealing that which it does not own. Robbing the virgin sky of its chastity as it rips through to the ground. Plundering, leaving the earth sobbing, the sky weeping tears of shame.
But oh rain can be victorious too! And the sky at raintime is a celebration, how can you question that it is?
Felix gives me scientific reasons for all this glory. I nod, outwardly fascinated. Inside my soul laughs. Foolish little man. You can only explain that which you see. How can you ever comprehend the live power of my mother sky?
Only look up, little man. Away from your footsteps, away from your streets, away from your walls and buildings. But look up. Stand, arms outstretched, heart open, throat open, head thrust upward. Look up little man. And then close your eyes. I swear you will feel my mother sky embrace you. And then you will weep, as she does for you.
How can you explain away your feelings as you turn to the sky? The connection you sense with something you can never touch?
My darling, it is the hand of god.
15th August, 2005
A little bird told me that there was some trouble in one of the classes I teach. Apparently two monkeys have been rather busy in the primate section of the zoo today. My source tells me that they had been building up to a showdown of some sort and that the eruption, when it came, was a doozy! I understand that the zookeper handled the situation with aplomb and fiery skill. My prognosis is that there will be a simmering down of sorts for some time. But you how it is with our simian friends- you can’t keep a good monkey down!
So the exams are just around the corner and I’ve given you all the info I could possibly give you at this stage. Some last comments: do read the questions carefully, choose well, and remember to plan your answer. Even the situational writing question needs to be planned. Don’t forget our basic structure: INTRODUCTION followed by 3 BODY PARAGRAPHS and finally CONCLUSION. Any other advice at this stage will probably go in one eye and out the other. All the best, my young ones. Go into battle with your heads held high!