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Miss Mattie

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Miss Mattie
“Class, please turn your textbooks to page 72,” announced Miss Penelope Mattie, a West Indian
primary school teacher who’d been an educator for about five years. “Xavier! Ricardo! Stop talking!” she
shouted. Standing at five feet and two inches, slim built with a very kind demeanor, she was often
mistaken as a pushover by the children. However, looks were really quite deceiving. When she spoke,
they listened. Maybe it was the stern expression on her face, or maybe it was the thick, wooden ruler
that she held in her hand. Either way, none of them were willing to risk a public punishment in front of
the rest of the class. That being said, the two boys hastily ceased their conversation and immediately
became apologetic. With shamed expressions, they both turned around in their seats and gave Miss
Mattie their full attention. Xavier was a troublesome child, and it was not unusual to catch him talking
out of turn. However, he was a smart boy, and despite his unruly nature, she was really quite fond of
him and thought that he showed much potential. Miss Mattie had always loved children, which was why
she became a school teacher. In addition to that, she found joy interacting with these children, who
traveled several miles each day, many by foot, as the school was located in a rural part of Jamaica,
where the roads were narrow, dirt tracks and unable to accommodate automobiles. She had the
opportunity to equip them with the basic tools which she hoped they would use to further themselves
and have a better life. The shrill ringing of the school bell signaling dismissal snapped her out of her
thoughts. “Don’t forget to complete the activity on page 73 for homework! I’ll be collecting it as soon as
you get in tomorrow.” Smiling in response to their collective groans, she dismissed her class. Xavier was
the first to dash past her. With a shake of her head, she began organizing the now empty classroom in
preparation for the next day.
Alone with her thoughts, Penelope found herself reminiscing about the past. She really adored these
simple living ‘country’ children. It was a term used to describe anyone who lived outside of Kingston,
which was Jamaica’s capital city. She herself was a ‘born Kingstonian’, but her parents had decided on a
change of scenery and purchased a coconut farm, so they had moved to the green, lush parish of
Portland. She had been so homesick, missing her friends, parties and the excitement of fast paced city
life. She slowly settled in her new rural community and eventually began to appreciate the beauty and
stillness of the countryside. She learnt to quell her fears and after a while, became comforted by the
loud sounds of the nighttime creatures. What was making that noise? Was it a cricket, or was it that big,
ugly croaking lizard that had taken residence outside her window every night? Initially, she had been
terrified of this uninvited guest. She wasn’t afraid now, because her father had installed screen meshes
on every door and window of the house, fed up with her nightly screams of terror.
Finally settled in her new home, she started school and finished her education at the local high school.
She had many challenges. Even though she and her classmates lived in the same country, she had found
it very hard to communicate with them! Being a ‘Kingston, uptown girl’, she was required to speak the
‘Queen’s English’, especially by her parents and was not allowed to use ‘Patois’, the colourful, expressive
dialect of Jamaica. However, Patois was the preferred language of choice where she now resided. Even
though it was not encouraged at school, the teachers had a hard time with these ‘country kids’, who had
made it their favoured means of communication. Penelope soon realized that these children were less
privileged than herself, but she also noticed how ambitious and hardworking her classmates were. They
were resourceful and made good use of what they had. A pencil that normally lasted her two days,
lasted them an entire month! After high school, only a handful would get the opportunity to eventually
go on to higher education, as their families could not afford the expensive tuition. Many would return to
the family farm to etch a living from the crops they grew and sold in the local market. Miss Mattie had
wanted to make a difference in these ‘country folks’ lives, so after high school, she went to Kingston to
train as a teacher. On her return to Portland, she landed a job at the primary school in her community.
There was a knock on her classroom door, and Penelope was jolted back into the present. “Do you need
a ride home?” asked Mrs. Johnson, a fellow colleague. “I’m leaving now, and you can get a ride if you’re
ready.” “I’m almost finished. I’ll meet you downstairs,” replied Penelope.
The following morning, nearly halfway through her lesson, Miss Mattie realized that something
seemed amiss! Why was her class so serenely quiet? Then, it dawned on her that she wasn’t hollering at
Xavier! Pushing up her glasses, so that they sat comfortably on her nose, she cleared her throat and
looked around the room, before her eyes landed on his partner in crime. “Ricardo, where is Xavier?” she
asked, raising an eyebrow in question. “Mi nuh know miss. Mi neva see him dis mawnin’ wen mi was
walkin’...” he trailed off. “I see,” she nodded her head slowly, causing several strands of her thick, curly
black hair to fall into her face, which she unconsciously put back into place. Shrugging his shoulders,
Ricardo went back to solving his mathematics problem. The usually lively class remained silent for the
rest of the week, as Xavier remained absent.
On Monday morning, Miss Mattie came to class very late, wearing a solemn expression instead of her
usually cheerful one. “Why yuh look suh sad Miss?” asked Patricia, one of her star students who she was
quite proud of. She was a beautiful little girl, however, when she opened her mouth, her Jamaican
dialect, certainly shone through. This was quite common among students of their ages. A soft sigh
leaving her lips, the teacher looked down briefly, clasping her hands and twiddling her fingers. It was a
nervous habit that she had picked up over the years. “Class, I don’t have good news,” she spoke softly,
almost as if she didn’t want to hear it herself. “The principal informed me that your classmate, Xavier, is
very sick and is in the hospital.” She didn’t think it necessary to share the details with them. After all,
they were only children and while the situation was in fact, very dismal, they still had to focus on their
studies. Suddenly, there was a barrage of questions. Several hands began to shoot up into the air,
everyone eager to find out what was wrong with their classmate. “Him sick Miss? Wah wrong wid him?”
asked Joseph. “Yuh think him soon come back?” A concerned Camille inquired. “Wat the doctor seh
wrong wid him? We can go and see him Miss?” asked Ricardo, who looked to be on the verge of tears.
“The last time a did see him, him neva look sick! How him just get sick suh?” he protested. “Calm down
children, calm down! I know he’s your good friend, but I am not able to answer all your questions right
now. When I have more information, I’ll let you know. Now, let us bow our heads and pray that he will
recover quickly.” As they usually did before eating, the entire class bowed their heads, this time, saying
a special prayer for Xavier’s recovery.
An agonizingly slow month had passed, and Xavier had still not returned to school. His chocolate
brown skin and his animated dark brown eyes had been missing from the school. Not only did his
classmates miss his bubbly personality and vivacious spirit, but Miss Mattie herself missed his
mischievous presence as well. One morning, after their daily devotion, Sister Therese made a very
important announcement over the intercom. It regarded Xavier. She explained that the sickly boy was in
need of blood, and his family was requesting people to donate blood at the local hospital. The principal
went on to say that anyone over the age of sixteen was able to give blood. A loud exasperating groan
was heard in Miss Mattie’s class, as they realized that they would not be able to help their classmate,
since they were all too young. Miss Mattie tried to console them by telling them that they could help by
asking their family members and older friends to donate blood on Xavier’s behalf. The class suddenly
became animated, as everyone started to discuss who they were going to ask to help Xavier. Miss
Mattie smiled at their enthusiasm and she was really quite proud that she had such caring students.
However, even though she wore a smile on her face, her heart was heavy. Xavier’s condition seemed to
be more serious than she originally thought. The next day, before coming to school, Miss Mattie decided
to stop by the hospital and donate blood for one of her favourite students. Since she was already at the
hospital, she decided to walk across the corridor which connected the hospital’s lab to the children’s’
ward. She went to the nurses’ station and inquired if she would be allowed to visit with Xavier for just a
short while. Although it wasn’t visiting hours, the nurse granted her permission after she explained that
she was Xavier’s teacher. Miss Mattie pushed the door and stepped inside. A loud gasp escaped her
open mouth and her handbag fell to the floor. She was not prepared to see the still form of Xavier lying
so helplessly on the bed. She broke down into tears. This couldn’t be Xavier. He looked nothing like the
impish child who made it his duty to create pure havoc in her class every day. Sitting down in the empty
chair next to his bed, Miss Mattie held the sleeping boy’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. Her eyes
moved across the room, surveying the many machines, tubes and wires that appeared to be keeping
him alive. Her eyes darted back to the pallid face of the sleeping boy and she felt an unusual tug of
emotion that radiated deep within her being. Her forehead became wrinkled as she knitted both brows,
totally baffled by this surge of emotion that she was feeling. She quickly composed herself and bowed
her head to say a silent prayer for Xavier. After all, she needed to have this troublesome child back in
her classroom. as it was not the same since his absence. Miss Mattie gave his hand a final squeeze
before standing. No matter how many times she wiped her eyes, the tears refused to stop falling. She
left the hospital, teary-eyed and heartbroken.
“Miss Mattie, can you please come to my office immediately?” came the solemn voice of Sister
Therese over the intercom. A soft sigh leaving her lips, she paused her lesson. “Class, read pages 67-80
until I return. Ricardo, write down the names of anyone who talks while I’m away.” A bright smile
flashed across Ricardo’s face. He was in charge. “Yes Miss! A goin’ for mi book and pencil now! Anybody
talk, a goin’ to write down dem name.” With a final stern expression, she left the classroom. Miss Mattie
hurriedly made her way down the corridor and towards the principal’s office, curious as to why she was
being summoned, so abruptly. Knocking on the large, wooden door, she turned the doorknob when she
was told to enter. “Good afternoon, Penelope. I’m sorry to interrupt your class, but I just received an
important message from the hospital. They are asking if you can come to the hospital. It seems to be
very urgent. As a matter of fact, take the rest of the day off and go. I’ll have a substitute take over your
lessons.” Miss Mattie was absolutely puzzled. Why was she needed at the hospital so urgently? Outside
the office, she ran into Miss Jones, who was the school’s nurse. Coincidentally, Miss Jones was on her
way to the hospital to collect some medicines for the Sick Bay. Miss Mattie was in luck! Learning that
Miss Mattie was also on the way to the hospital, Miss Jones offered to give her a ride. Miss Mattie was
most appreciative. She did not like traveling on the public transport. It was always noisy, hot, jam
packed with people hanging halfway out the windows and loud music blasting through the radio. She
hated traveling on the ‘mini bus.’ It went much too fast, weaving and bobbing through the traffic on the
narrow roads, and she always sighed with relief when she finally reached her destination.
When Miss Mattie arrived at the hospital, she went straight to the children’s ward and identified
herself. The nurse told her to have a seat. It was an anxious moment for her, since she was still
wondering why she was needed at the hospital. After five minutes, the nurse approached her, informing
her that the doctor was ready to see her. While she was still speaking with the nurse, she glimpsed from
the corner of her eyes, a man dressed in a crisp, white coat and a stethoscope hanging around his neck
approaching them. “Miss Mattie? My name is Doctor Amansada. If you’d just join me in my office, I’ll be
able to explain further.” Extending his hand in a warm handshake, he offered a smile to match. Slipping
her handbag over her shoulder, she took his hand, giving it a firm shake. “Yes, Doctor, that would be
most helpful.” Matching his step, she followed him into the room. “Please, have a seat,” he gestured to
one of the empty chairs. Sitting around his desk, the graying man sighed softly. “Now, Miss Mattie, this
is a very...unconventional meeting,” he started off. “As you know, Xavier Malcom is in critical condition,
and urgently needs blood.” Yes, Miss Mattie knew that. Sister Therese had made it quite clear over the
intercom. She had already donated blood. What more could she possibly be required to do? Shifting in
the chair, she clasped her hands in her lap, twiddling her fingers yet again. “Unfortunately, we found out
after running various tests, that he has a very rare blood type. There was only one donor with that
matching blood type. After checking our records, I was able to confirm that the donor, is you.” Miss
Mattie leaned back in her chair, an expression of utter confusion on her face. What was the doctor
trying to tell her? That she was the only one that could save Xavier? It really didn’t make any sense. Her
mind was reeling with questions. Penelope had to think rationally. Well, they already had her blood, so
why not use it to save him? Why had she been summoned so urgently? “Miss Mattie, there is
something else I need to tell you. The only way that you could both have this…rare blood type, is if you
were related.”
Miss Mattie sat back in her chair, absolutely frozen. Her eyes almost popped out of their sockets. Her
face became deathly pale and beads of perspiration broke out on her forehead. Suddenly, she was
fourteen years old again, lying helplessly in a hospital bed, screaming and begging her parents not to
take him away. Her parents had been adamant, “No, you’re too young, you can’t keep him. It’s for your
own good.” The doctor’s rough voice snapped her out of the flashback. “Miss Mattie? Do you know how
you both could be related?” Penelope paused, opening her mouth, but quickly closed it again. “Yes,
Doctor, I do,” she hoarsely whispered, looking down into her lap. “You see, when I was fourteen, I
became pregnant. I was young, foolish and thought I was in love. My parents never allowed me to keep
the child,” her voice got increasingly quieter, as tears began to well up in her eyes. Penelope had always
regretted her parents’ decision. “He was given up for adoption. After I gave birth to him, I never saw him
again,” she finished off, wiping her eyes with the back of her hands. “If we’re related, he must be my
son.” Just then, the doctor’s pager went off. He quickly got up, “Excuse me Miss Mattie, but it’s urgent, I
have to go.” He ran out of the office without an explanation, leaving an emotionally ravaged Penelope
on her own. Through the open door leading to the hallway, she could see doctors and nurses all running
in the same direction. It didn’t take her long to figure out that something was seriously wrong. Not
knowing what else to do, Miss Mattie dashed out behind him.
It seemed as if they had all gathered by the room that she had visited earlier. Then it hit her. It was
Xavier’s room. She sprinted down the corridor and reached the room just in time to see one of the
nurses covering him with a pristine white sheet. She was hoping, praying that this was somehow part of
a silly, rehearsed prank. Pushing her way into the room, her eyes searched around the room frantically,
finally connecting the long, drawn out beeping sound, with the flat line displayed on the heart monitor.
Dropping to her knees, her eyes became a dam that finally burst open and an agonizing, high-pitched
scream left her lips. Xavier was dead. She had just found out that the mischievous child, who had tugged
on her heartstrings and driven her crazy all these years, was actually her son! Now she would never be
able to mend the broken heart that she carried inside her since she was fourteen years old. The nurse
looked around, just in time to see Miss Mattie collapse to the floor.




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