Mr Allen was my every-Friday muse. I dared not miss his class, not even the day a worm hung between my legs because my aunt dewormed me, following weeks of always chanting ‘I’m hungry’ right after meals. It was sacrilegious to even think about not climbing through those terrazzo stairs and powder blue walls up into that space where the smell of books tickled my soul.
Mr Allen was our library teacher and the custodian of the many storybooks which made my childhood imaginations epic. He had most of the books from my home library except my, ‘Babysitters Club series,’ but he also had gold, the Enid Blyton books which were missing from my home library. He was the book baron.
I remember how he taught us to pronounce ‘magnificent’ and ‘exquisite’ the day we read ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ and how he spoke highly of the ‘Lilliputians’ in the book ‘Gulliver’s Travels.’
My school library was my happy place and Mr Allen was the custodian of that happiness. That fact alone made me forgive his stout look and bulging belly. I could never laugh when my mates giggled at him or when they spread a rumour that his belly had a tap instead of a navel, and that if one turned the tap open, bitter beer would gush out. Mr Allen was the book Mafia, my hero … until he offended me.
You see, in life, some things are just perfect the way they are and to attempt to change them would be to err fatally. However, Mr Allen didn’t understand this basic principle of life. And so, one fine December morning, I arrived in school dressed to my teeth. It was our school Christmas party; one of the days I looked forward to the most – second only to the prize-giving day and inter-house sports and Christmas Carol (OK, you get it, I loved many eventful days). My sister had come to my class to tell me about how our school’s ‘Father Christmas’ had carried her on his laps and given her a present to make up for her missing teeth. She chatted away excitedly and ran back to her class. This information made waiting for my turn easier as I was sure that it would be worth the wait.
Slowly but surely, the moment came for us to queue up and head to the school auditorium to see this yearly visitor. Then some gist got to me. Father Christmas was a fake; definitely not what my sister had told me. In another wave of erupting gossip, I heard that it was one of our teachers who wore a costume and pretended to be ‘Father Christmas.’ My curiosity begged for an FBI-standard investigation. I was no longer interested in the Christmas present, I wanted to uncover the impostor. And so as each of my classmates stepped forward to accept a present and take a picture with Father Christmas, the rest of us watched closely. Which one of our teachers pretended to be Father Christmas? My heart pounded, just like whenever our neighbour’s wife prepared palm kernels for Banga soup. With only 2 students ahead of me, I had a closer view of Father Christmas. Firstly, he was sitting in one of the chairs from our headmistress’ office. For someone who came with so many presents, he could have come with his own chair. Secondly, rumour had it that he put a pillow in his tummy to make it bulge and I scrutinized it from a distance to no avail.
Then the moment of truth came. As Father Christmas leaned forward in his chair to pick up my present from his red sack, his sunglasses tilted and I saw the freckles. I knew those freckles very well from the every Friday surgery I performed on them in my thoughts, where I always scraped them off. Mr Allen was the impostor! I walked away disappointed but thankful that it was my last year in primary school, and with the common entrance a few months away, my class no longer had to do the library read out loud sessions.
I still saw Mr Allen around though, and each time, I wondered how he could live with himself knowing the truth about ‘Father Christmas’ yet choosing to lie to us all by being an unsuspecting and easy going library teacher.
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