All for a lollipop

Published: Sunday | December 20, 2009

Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer

It was Christmastime and the basic school that Michael St Augustus Wellington attended was having its annual Christmas 'breaking-up' - a concert and feast. The days leading up to the event were pregnant with excitement and anxiety. Parents were busy making or buying new clothes and the schoolteacher, Miss Spence, spent her afternoons and evenings in rehearsals with the performers.

Miss Spence was a very strict woman who was quick to give a spanking. Though she herself was flawed, down to her very long and witchlike toenails, she was a perfectionist. In the practice sessions, she beat everyone who could not get his/her act right, except Michael Wellington.

Afraid of the strap, Michael spent his nights rehearsing The Spanish Needle by Claude McKay. He hated it because he felt it was a poem for girls and he dreaded the day he would recite it before the entire community. Nevertheless, the leather belt over his back was even more painful.

wet bed

Two nights before the concert, he wet his bed. It was when he screamed in his sleep that his mother rushed to see what was wrong. In a dream, he was chased by several angry-looking Spanish needles, who were perhaps unhappy that Michael was not pleased about reciting the poem. Yet, it was Michael who had asked whether they would dream of him.

"Lovely dainty Spanish needle/Source to me of sweet delight/In your far-off sunny southland/ Do you dream of me tonight?" was the last verse he whispered before he drifted off to sleep.

In the dream, just as the Spanish needles were about to descend upon him, he cried out and then the urine came, unbeknownst to his mother. After briefly assuring him that everything was OK and that it was the lollipop he had at school that was giving him nightmares, she left him in the dark, shivering on the wet sheets.

But in the morning when she found out, she gave him a fine beating for being "lazy" and "nasty".

"Is those damn sweetie dem that turning you into invalid. How much time I tell you to stop buying lollipop? How much time? Look how you teeth dem rotten? Look how you ugly," she scolded him, and beat him some more.

The following day at school, during the break, when Michael saw the lollipops on the vendor's stall, his mouth watered. He remembered the beating and the scolding. Nevertheless, he drooled. He was in love with lollipops. He also loved the song My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small. When no one was around, he would do a little jig to it. He felt as if Millie were singing to him.

disobeying mom

He approached the vendor, who admonished him. "You mother say no lollipop fi you, you too stubborn. Anyway, a selling you only one," she said. Michael grabbed it and ran off, pushing it deep into his pocket. At the back of the school, he quickly unwrapped the sweet orange disc and licked it as if there were no tomorrow.

At the final rehearsal, he got a lick from Miss Spence's strap, because in the verse that says, "Do you see me all expectant/Lying in an orange grove/While the swee-swees sing above me/ Waiting for my elf-eyed love?", he said, " ... while the sweeties sing about me ... ."

He squirmed as the smack stung his young, tender flesh. "Too much sweetie, man!" Miss Spence shouted. He repeated the verse and got it right, after which Miss Spence warned, "Make sure you don't go up there and mention any sweetie."

Michael went home perturbed, angry Spanish needles in his dreams and lollipops on his mind.

Concert day came and everybody - children and parents - dressed in their finery, packed the small dilapidated one-room school. One by one, the children sang, danced, acted and recited. Their proud parents beamed and Miss Spence was pleased with the loud cheers and applause.

Then, it was time for Jacqueline Francis to recite. She who was not considered a very pretty child. Oozing confidence, she stood poised and looked straight at the gathering, which was quiet, waiting for her to start.

Finally, she said, "Flowers on my shoulders, slippers on my feet, I am my Mammy's darling, don't you think I am sweet?" And a broad grin took over her face, exposing teeth as yellow as the flowers she wore on her shoulders.

There was a moment of silence and some amount of uneasiness. Some parents smiled faintly. Others popped their eyes. Suddenly, Jacqueline's mother yelled, "Yeah! Yeah!", and everybody echoed as Jacqueline proudly strutted to her seat.

Michael Wellington's father, mother and sister inched closer to the front of the room as Miss Spence called his name. Up to that moment, his family didn't know what he was going to perform. Nobody bothered to ask and Michael, ashamed of his poem, rehearsed only in his mind at night.

He marched to the front, made no eye contact and his left leg shook. He fidgeted a little as he took something from the pocket of his short, orange pants. Holding a big red lollipop, the six-year-old started to hum a tune. Miss Spence took off her glasses and stared in bewilderment at Michael, who started to jig. All eyes were glued to him, as he sang, "My boy Lollipop/You make my heart go giddy up/You are as sweet as candy/You're my sugar dandy ... ."

michael in trouble

"Michael!" his mother shouted, and dashed towards him. She grabbed him by his collar and bellowed, "Me and you tinite!" as she dragged him through the people, who were now laughing uproariously.

Meanwhile, Jacqueline Francis was smiling with satisfaction. She knew Michael was good at recitation and was not prepared to be overshadowed by he who Miss Spence said was the best speaker.

So, when she invited Michael to her house the evening before the concert, she promised him one lollipop a day if he sang My Boy Lollipop, which she knew he loved. When she met him in the schoolyard concert day, she gave him the red lollipop, his first reward.

And as she sat and waited for Miss Spence to calm the boisterous audience, Jacqueline Francis sang in her heart, "Oh, oh my boy Lollipop/Never, ever leave me. Because it would grieve me/My heart told me so!/My boy Lollipop!"

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