It Must Be Thursday - Part 2
by Orville Green
The no-nonsense Mrs. Mendez had earned the reputation of being a disciplinarian, such that even Mrs. Donaldson seemed almost an angel by comparison. Her implement of choice was a broad, brown leather strap, most often draped over her left shoulder. She had mastered a Western-style quick-draw with her right hand, snatching the front end of the strap (that reached just above the waist of her hobble skirt) and whipping the instrument into action with blinding speed. The lethal strap would come down on the back of an unfortunate pupil whose ‘sums’ calculations were on the wrong track, or who was engaged in some unauthorized activity.
In a more prosaic scenario, the pupil would be called to the front of the class and ordered to present one hand, then the other (repeatedly), for a lesson in applied chastisement. Frequently, while the class was engaged in quiet work, Miss Vie stalked the rows between the two-pupil desk-and-bench combination, softly whistling a tune and looking for reasons to demonstrate her disciplinary skills.
Yet, she could be a barrel of fun, her eyes crinkling at the corners as she laughed at something amusing that originated within the class or in her head. At other times, her actions amused the class. One memorable instance involved two girls, desk mates, who were close-enough friends to share each other’s maccafat (only very, very good friends would take turns sucking on that small, succulent fruit for minutes or hours at a time).
The occasion was a quiet class-work time, shortly after Mrs. Mendez had announced Mrs. Donaldson’s invitation for students to perform in an upcoming concert. Mrs. Mendez was engaged in some matter at her desk on the raised platform at the front of the class, as two girls (who I will simply identify as “P” and “J”, respectively), instead of applying their attention to the assigned class-work, whispered together conspiratorially about the approaching concert.
Then “P” got up and approached the teacher’s platform, then loudly enough for the roomful of pupils to hear, addressed our Miss Vie: “Pleathe Mith, pleathe if me and “J” can hock a play?” Mrs. Mendez looked up slowly from her desk, fixed the girl with a withering glare and replied equally loudly, “Just hock yuhself back to yuh seat!” Embarrassed, “P” hung her head and did as instructed, while the class snickered, amused at the request to be allowed to “perform a skit” and at the teacher’s response.
Moving up to Fourth Class and being directly under Mrs. Donaldson’s tutelage was a major event for me, as it indicated my proximity to leaving Junior School and heading to a ‘big’ school outside the community. As in several of the other classrooms, Fourth Class room was adorned with inspiring “memory gems” affixed to the walls, just below the open ventilation space below the ceiling and its exposed beams. Among them were quotations such as: “Hitch your wagon to a star”; “Aim high”; “Giant oaks from little acorns grow”; and “Reading maketh the man.”
Mrs. Donaldson’s high regard for outstanding former pupils was well known, and she frequently mentioned the importance of doing well not only academically but in general. She made us want to make her proud of having influenced the kind of individuals we would become, and of having attended Jones Town Primary School. She would grasp any opportunity to display to current students a past student with whom she was ‘well pleased.’
One such student was Earl, who had won a Government Scholarship to Wolmer’s Boys School. While we were busy working in class one day, “Miss D” spied Earl walking down Price Street -- secondary schools ‘let out’ before primary schools. (He had already gone home on Septimus Street and was on his way to piano lessons with my aunt at my home.)
Mrs. Donaldson hurried to the verandah, from which she hailed her former prize pupil and summoned him to her classroom. Introducing him as a shining example of what we could become, she quickly persuaded him to demonstrate his skill as an outstanding elocutionist. He elected to entertain the class with a poem titled Sensemaya - a mysterious text alluding to a ceremony in which a poisonous snake is killed, ostensibly with an axe, but also by singing.
Class work was suspended, and we sat in rapt attention to hear words from the mouth of someone whom we hoped to emulate someday.
As he stood before us, on the teacher’s platform, bedecked in his khaki uniform (with long pants) and the Wolmer’s maroon and gold epaulettes, we were overcome by paroxysms of laughter from the very opening lines of the poem.
Mayombe-bombe-mayombé! Mayombe-bombe-mayombé! Mayombe-bombe-mayombé!
But Earl was unperturbed, pressing on with his recitation like the trooper he was, seemingly unaware of the pupils’ outrageous guffaws and Mrs. Donaldson’s plaintive appeals for order. The next few lines evoked less amusement, so we listened more keenly:
The snake has eyes of glass; The snake coils on a stick;
With his eyes of glass on a stick, With his eyes of glass.
The snake can move without feet; The snake can hide in the grass;
Crawling he hides in the grass, Moving without feet.
Then, with all the emotive skill at his command, Earl launched once more into the laughter-provoking line:
And so the scene continued -- lulled and attentive pupils during the more placid parts of the intriguing tale, then the abrupt outbursts of laughter with every return of the rib-tickling refrain:
The pace of the recitation quickened toward its conclusion, and we were utterly uncontrollable.
Mayombe-bombe-mayombé! Sensemayá, the snake . . .
Mayombe-bombe-mayombé! Sensemayá, does not move . . .
Mayombe-bombe-mayombé! Sensemayá, the snake . . .
Mayombe-bombe-mayombé! Sensemayá, he died!
Ending with a crescendo, Earl then stood in a brief trance-like state, and the class outdid itself in applause and laughter.
Mrs. Donaldson must have been so overwhelmed with pride by the performance that she did not make any further attempt to quell the boisterous audience. Having regained his breath, Earl beamed in appreciation, bowed delicately and took his leave.