It was the last lesson of the afternoon. The sun bled through the Venetian blinds making prison cell bars on the desktops. Miss Putupon’s pack of unruly hounds had assembled quickly because it was not only the last lesson of the day but the last lesson of the school term, before the merriment of Christmas.
When that bell would clang, it would signal the release of the beasts into “society” where they might roam feral-like, doing as they please, for two weeks only.
During this school interval, the source of Miss Putupon’s weariness, would be someone else’s problem.
Miss Putupon’s wearisome ways, her heap of ashes of weariness, had not gone unnoticed by the head teacher, Mr. Feeble. Not that Mr Feeble had shown any interest in Miss Putupon’s lessons, but he had been given such notice of Miss Putupon’s wearisome ways by a younger contingent of staff who had their eyes on her job.
Mr Feeble had taken advice from Mr Scratch, the HR advisor. Miss Putupon was a candidate for early retirement and only she, did not know of it. Even the hounds knew of it.
Miss Putupon clicked her sandwich box together, and placed it in the black bag she would haul to and from home. Her desk and the desks of the hounds had been sterilised, and sanitised, and Pledged, and beamed. Door handles were duly sprayed by Miss Putupon, who looked upon the hounds as the source of her developing psoriasis, that only subsided during the hound-free extended summer break in Lyme Regis.
The pack gathered and Miss Putupon was ready for the countdown. Her lesson plan was on the board and comprised:
- Silent reading for 5 minutes.
- Dictionary corner for another 5 minutes.
- Share and tell with your neighbour for another 10 minutes. Whisper.
- Summarise in no more than 50 words the best part of reading. 20 minutes.
- Skellig for the next 15 minutes and then of course, the summary, the plenary, the ring-a-ding!
- The adored bell! the bell that would end this weariness?
Miss Putupon was thinking of replenishing her bird feeders for her friend Robin of last winter, hoping and wishing he would revisit to say Merry Christmas. And with some luck she would be home in time for Deal or No Deal.
The hound Henry was in his usual position in the front row. Henry had a very large fat head. Miss Putupon had originally thought he was a hydrocephalic but it turned out he did not have that special need. Henry sat in the first seat in front of Miss Putupon’s desk staring defiantly, with a purpose that wouldn't go away.
With his hand up, he faced up to Miss Putupon, waving ferociously determined.
“Have you forgotten Miss?”
“Our homework, Miss. Our homework!”
Miss Putupon was in no mood to change her lesson plan.
“What homework Henry?” She said, pointing at the lesson plan on the board.
“Work silently until the .........bell.....”
“But Miss!” Henry was beside himself.
“Do what’s on the board, Henry”
Henry looked disturbed, and demoralised.
“But, the homework! I’ve brought it in. I have it here”.
Mrs Putupon understood the consequences of allowing Henry to read out his homework. The quiet last lesson would then require her to ignite a fire in order to consume his dross. However, Henry was about to convince her that she should not be indifferent to his endeavours.
He said, “Miss, Don’t you remember Miss?”
“I practised Miss. You told us to bring in a poem by William Blake Miss. Blake Miss. And I googled him and found what he wrote. Jerusalem Miss, and that’s what they sing at the Proms on TV! Miss”
Miss Putupon looked upon Henry readying himself to read, and rigid in both hands, what Blake wrote, "The Little Black Boy"
"Well, if you must Henry"
He began with purpose.
“MY mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O, my soul is white!
White as an angel is the English child,
But I am black, as if bereaved of light”
Henry steadied himself when he was in danger of faltering. He read with purpose and Miss Putupon was not called upon to keep order because he was heard in silence.
“My mother taught me underneath a tree,
And, sitting down before the heat of day,....”
Miss Putupon inadvertently dropped her pencil into her coffee, but still the class remained attentive to Henry’s reading, because they had seen that pencil fall many times before, but had never seen Fathead recite before.
“And thus I say to little English boy.
When I from black and he from white cloud free...”
Henry had a command of Blake’s poem, and his colloquial Essex dialect resonated well throughout .
Henry finished all seven verses and won over his peers who responded with a round of applause but not before the momentary awe that held the class. Miss Putupon found herself weeping and joining in with the clapping led by hounds.
This was so clearly an epiphany for Henry who glowed in the attentive stare of his first audience.
Miss Putupon received a letter, the week before Christmas in a brown envelope signed by Mr Feeble, and excused by Mr Scratch. Miss Putupon would not be returning to the school.
Henry is now educated by a classmate’s mother’s acquaintance, and by a succession of supply teachers none of whom have ever met Mr Feeble, who runs the school.
Ten years later Miss Putupon feeds her Robin and remembers Henry, a small boy with a big head, and a bigger heart.
Any resemblance to any teacher, pupil, or parsimonious HR advisor, dead or alive, is entirely coincidental.
Mr and Mrs Monk wrote this jointly with a surprising degree of harmony, and a spirit of compromise. Mrs Monk wrote the best lines. Mr Monk stopped her going too far.
A Merry Christmas.