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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Night is Drawing Nigh

Now The Day Is Over

Dr. Lester CN Simon

“I was planning to forget calypso and go and plant peas in Tobago.” But adults are using our adulterated logic to look at children, so the peas will have to stay in the pods a while longer.

Why would a pupil throw urine at his teacher? Is he in jail and feels that the only way to make a statement is to do what some prisoners do? Is there some perverted, attention-seeking logic running from kid to kidney to urine to wee-wee? Whatever his reasons and whatever the punishment, some escaping facts should be caught. The urine-throwing incident required expert planning, good persuasive powers and management skills to get his peers to go along with the thrower, act as look-outs, collect the urine in a leak proof container, decide whether to use fresh or stale urine, co-ordinate the timing and the location of the hapless teacher, etc. These are the attributes of someone who, if directed properly, might do well in a Master in Business Administration course.

We have to come to terms with the fact that while Derek Walcott did say that evil is limited in its rhythm, this limitation is relative to the goodness that opposes it. In the absence of a high degree of goodness, evil will seem enchanting. Adults know this and we pretend that children do not know it too.

So let us recall the pre-HIV/AIDS, blood-sucking days of Dracula and the epic battles between the evil Dracula, played by Peter Cushing and his nemesis, Professor Larimer Van Helsing, played by Christopher Lee. Both enjoyed equal admiration. We loved the fact that the good one, the star-boy, would win but the cunning of the evil one was startling. Even in defeat, the evil one would stare at you knowingly as if to register his omnipresence, prophesy his return and force you to go gently into that dark, lonely night when you walked home from the cinema.

God created the earth in 6 days and the devil destroyed it in 6 minutes, if it takes that long to eat a forbidden fruit. The devil does find work for idle hands and yet the creative hands and minds of school children are locked away in involuntary separation packages from the bright, shiny and exciting landscape that all children should know and enjoy.

Everyone has a story about their childhood, about how many licks they got and how the ascension of the brain from the buttocks to the head was accompanied by a halo chorus of everlasting licks. So here are two childhood stories about cunning and licks.

My cousin, Tyrone was taken to Dr. Wisenger on many occasions for consumption (tuberculosis) on account of a chronic, seemingly incurable cough. Dr. Wisenger could not fathom his ailment. Playing doctor, I tried in vain to diagnose the malady by watching him closely like Brer Anancy. Then one day, like all illnesses, it revealed itself. Our grandmother used to sell many things, including soda pop. Tyrone had devised a method of coughing in synchrony with the opening of the soda pop to muffle the popping sound. One day, his timing was off by a few demisemiquavers. Case closed.

One day at school, Tyrone was about to be punished by headmaster, Mr. Quinn, the late father of the Honourable Minister, Quinn-Leandro. Tyrone had committed the unpardonable sin of using a piece of looking glass to see less darkly the underclothes of a schoolgirl. Again, bad timing was his undoing as Mr. Quinn stealthily sauntered by during the doxology.

So here was Tyrone below the platform and there was the mighty Mr. Quinn on the platform with his broad strap raised, ready to descend onto Tyrone’s back. We waited in baited breath to see how he would escape this time. I have to tell you that Tyrone and I would sell different things for the family. Tyrone was responsible for selling eggs from one of our aunts (King Obstinate’s mother), whom we called Mammy. The best eggs were reserved for the parson and the headmaster.

So now then, as Mr. Quinn’s hand started to descend, Tyrone exclaimed as if he were on a cross to be crucified, “Please Sir! Excuse me Sir! Mammy has some eggs for you Sir.” The tall, correcting hand of the giant Mr. Quinn was thrown into zigzag relief as if the buckle of the beating strap was transformed from a noble noun into a vacuous verb. The mighty Mr. Quinn was stomped by the creativity of this puerile miscreant. In consonant harmony, the whole chorus of children (and teachers) erupted in sparkling laughter, including the erstwhile damsel in distress who was looked down upon in order to see upwards.

The creativity of children is boundless. We have always been that way. We had to be creative to survive the middle passage and the plantation. Creativity defines us and we define creativity. When adults look askance at the youths bellowing out rap music we must remember well.

Remember when the schoolroom was used for singing meeting? What about the time when Mammy had to defend the title of The New Winthropes Warrior against contestants, female and male from all over the island? Recall how she knocked them over by starting her elocution from outside the schoolroom with, “Behold! I bring you bounteous, mountainous tidings of great joy from the verdant land beneath the slumbering feet of the Most High and though I cannot speak with the tongues of the men who garbled before me, I pontificate in the vernacular of virtuous angels and behold my opponents become my footstool and fall away as empty, sounding brass and rusty, tinkling cymbals.” Singing meeting done. “Mash up”. Man, woman, child and opponent tumble down flat, flat, flat. That was rap music.

It takes a lot of hard work and planning to be a really bad person. Some of us would pay hard-earned money for university courses to acquire the skills that street- smart children possess. It’s not that adults cannot find the time. Adults are unwilling to talk to and learn from children and to allow children to tap into the bottomless creative well because we fear we will discover not only our former selves but also our present, adult reality.