Thursday, 18 October 2012

Raiders of the Last Chalk

Indiana Jones has nothing on the kindergarten students at my school.  Well, he has a jaunty hat, but the "babies" have spiderman pajamas and Disney princess dresses.  It's really no contest.  And when it comes to persistence and a keen eye for chalk nubbins, these babies could put even the most accomplished treasure hunter to shame.
The Scene:  A dusty late morning.  The sun hangs high in the sky, lazily burning off the last of the clinging fog.  The air is calm, the children are in the classrooms, a lone dust-devil whirls its way across the dirt playground.
I sit beneath the awning, correcting exercises.  Then I hear it.  A squeak.  From the corner of my eye, I see the rusty sheet-metal gate swing open.  They come through in twos and threes, arms linked, quiet voices whispering in each other's ears.  They see me.  Across the playground, our eyes meet.  Somewhere in the distance, a goat bleats.
They are sly, these babies.  With a wisdom far beyond their four or five years, they know a direct assault cannot succeed.  They stand to the side, a huddled mass of mismatched clothing.  I can sense their determination from forty feet away.
The group breaks.  Three little girls approach.  It's a charm offensive.  They move toward my desk, eyes widened in feigned innocence, an innocence betrayed as they steal furtive glances at the almost empty box of chalk beside me.
They greet me.  We shake hands and exchange "good mornings."  They know I am the keeper of the chalk.  They know they must prove their worth.
The first girl steps forward.  "Wampaye ingwa!" she demands in a resolute voice.  Slowly, I remove a piece of chalk and hold it up to the light. We examine it together.  It is a good chalk--still snow-white, not yet worn smooth by too much use.
I break it in half and draw a heart on the desk.  I hand her the chalk.  She makes a blob, a more anatomically correct heart than mine.  I let her keep the chalk.  She has passed the test.
The next girl approaches.  "Gooda monini, fine teacha!" she stutters with nervous enthusiasm.  I break the chalk in half again, and toss it up in the air.  She reaches out and deftly catches it.  I let her keep the chalk.  She has also passed the test.
The final girl comes up to me.  Our gazes lock over the remaining stub of chalk. 
I speak first: "What is your name?" 
She stares at me blankly.
I continue:  "What is your quest?" 
She stares at me blankly.
I continue:  "What is the airspeed velocity of an African swallow?" 
She stares at me blankly.  I give her the chalk.  She too has passed the test.
The babies fade into the banana trees, clutching their hard-earned chalk triumphantly.  Emboldened by their victory, they will no doubt raid again.  And I'll be waiting, with the last of my colored chalk, and a few riddles up my sleeve.

1 comment:

  1. You're the best! I'm glad you're writing again! :)

    -Your faithful American reader