Fri | Apr 28, 2017

The sting

Published:Sunday | June 7, 2015 | 6:00 AMPaul H. Williams

Claris Wager-wood's 'triumphant' last day at infant school was the talk of the district for weeks. How dare she and her auntie, Miss Rhoda, disrespect Miss Gordon, her infant school teacher, they fumed. But aunt and niece didn't care about people's anger. Yet, the 'upset' didn't miss the ears of the principal of her new primary school, Miss Bertha Jones.

Miss Jones was brown, obese, short, and neckless. She loved to wear spike-heel shoes. But the spikes would bend under her weight, which Claris Wagerwood noticed the first day of school. Claris herself looked quite smart in her red-plaid uniform, big red ribbons, and black canvas shoes.

Bertha Jones was talking to some parents while Claris was sitting on a nearby bench waiting for her class teacher who was to take Claris to see the principal. Claris' uniform was too short, she claimed, exposing her bright red bloomers. But it was Claris' explanation for the shortness of her skirt that made her really uncomfortable. Claris told her that her backside was growing fast because she was no longer a little girl, and that's why the uniform was short.

Now, the six-year-old stared and stared at Bertha Jones' bent spike heels, which were really under pressure. Miss Jones saw her.

"What you looking at, child?" She asked Claris in a semi-serious tone. Claris looked up at Miss Jones' neckless head, and said casually, "Miss, yuh no see say yuh shoes heel dem ben'?"

Miss Jones stood akimbo; her jaws almost dropped. She was about to utter something when she realised there were parents in her presence. The parents exchanged incredulous glances. Bertha Jones sighed. And said in a forced calm tone, "Little Miss, please go to my office and wait for me. Now."

"So where is that, Miss?" Claris asked nonchalantly.

"At the end of this corridor, the first door on the right."

Slowly, Claris walked to the office as she wondered why Miss Jones was so upset. "But, har heel dem did ben," she said to herself. When she reached the office door, she knocked.

"Come in," a female voice replied. Claris pushed the door, and entered a little, cramped office. An elderly woman, from whom the voice came, was sitting facing the door, at a desk, around a typewriter. She was Mrs Eugenie Dalrymple, Miss Jones' secretary. When she saw Claris Wagerwood, she put on her oval-shaped glasses and asked, "What may I do for you?"

Claris stood looking at Mrs Dalrymple for a few seconds before she responded. "Nuh Miss sen mi in yah," Claris said. Her attitude was just blasÈ, as she tried to fathom why Mrs Dalrymple's eyes, nose, ears, and mouth were so small when her head was so big.

But Claris Wagerwood didn't know that Mrs Dalrymple herself was staring at her little face, bulbous nose, and big pointed ears. She looks like the devil, Mrs Dalrymple thought. And she didn't like the Devil's attitude.

"And what is your name?" Mrs Dalrymple asked.

"Claris."

"Claris?"

"Yes."

There was a pause, and then, an enraged Mrs Dalrymple slowly rose from behind the desk. She was tall, very tall, a giant almost. "Look at me, child, look at me. Do you think we are size? When you speak to me, you MUST say 'ma'am'," Mrs Dalrymple sneered, "I've heard of you, but let me tell you something." The giant was now towering over the imp. Suddenly, the door was pushed in. A hyperventilating Miss Jones entered. She was startled by the sight of Mrs Dalrymple scowling over Claris Wagerwood.

"Come with me!" Miss Jones ordered Claris as she headed towards her office space. Claris took one last look at Mrs Dalrymple's big head before traipsing behind Bertha Jones. Mrs Dalrymple shook her head and sighed. Blam! And the door was closed. But, as soon as Bertha Jones was to begin her admonition, there was a knock.

"Come in, Miss Clarke," Miss Jones replied. The door was pushed and an agitated Miss Clarke, Claris' teacher, barged in.

In the evening, back at home, Claris told her aunt that her principal and teacher 'trace' her, and called her a "mischievous dwarf". They also requested the presence of Auntie Rhoda at the school to discuss the length of Claris' uniform, as well as her "out-of-orderness".

Miss Rhoda cussed as Claris unfolded the events of the day. And deep down, she knew that day was the beginning of many such incidents, and she also knew she didn't have the strength for all the drama that Claris was set to bring into her life. Her own dramas were far from climaxing.

In the night, Miss Rhoda, who was regarded an excellent baker of sweet potato puddings, didn't sleep for quite a while. She didn't know what to do about Claris, the precocious little orphan. Then she remembered the slushy-top pudding she had made earlier in the day. Bertha Jones', Mrs Dalrymple's and Miss Clarke's taste buds and anger she was going to assuage.

In her little room, on a small bed, Claris Wagerwood herself couldn't sleep. She didn't know what to do about 'Humpty-Dumpty', the 'Giant', and her teacher, 'Old Mother Hubbard'. She was about to fall asleep, when an idea came. An impish smile stretched across her face. She tiptoed from her room, passed Auntie Rhoda's, and silently opened a side door.

Outside, she went to the pile of stones under which she had once seen some black scorpions. At the base of a rock, she put a paper bag, and moved it gingerly. She felt the bag move slightly, again, and again. Three scorpions were in. Then she released the rock, and cautiously closed the mouth of the paper bag. The scorpions were moving inside: one for Humpty-Dumpty, one for the Giant, and the other for Old Mother Hubbard. Into their bags she planned to put them.

Next day. In Bertha Jones' office, Miss Rhoda and Claris waited for the arrival of the principal. They exchanged uneasy glances with Mrs Dalrymple. On Miss Rhoda's lap was a big pan of slushy-top potato pudding, tied up with an off-white towel. In Claris' pocket was the paper bag of scorpions. In her head, the ideas of how she would get to put them into the bags were swirling around, and she was not winning.

At some minutes to eight, Claris and Miss Rhoda heard footsteps approaching the office. They sat up and turned their eyes towards the door. So did Mrs Dalrymple. The door was pushed open, and yes, Miss Clarke and Bertha Jones entered.

As Miss Jones closed the door, Claris Wagerwood shot up from her seat, and released a most horrendous scream, as one of the scorpions had stung her. Then, there was a loud thud on the floor. Miss Rhoda's pudding fell from her lap. Frightened, she too had stood up fast. There were more screams as Claris pulled the paper bag from her pocket and dropped it. She headed towards the door, as the four horrified women stared at the scorpions running from the torn paper bag towards cracks in the old wood floor.