Monday, July 07, 2008

Mister Pip (copy)

We called him Pop Eye. Well, that was until he came to teach our class. Not that he paid us children any attention. His huge eyes sitting on his head, not within, were constantly probing over our heads at the trail beyond. It was only during especially sad occasions that he took notice of us and encouraged our participation.

During his sad days, Pop Eye would dress in his white linen suit and sport a ridiculously red clown’s nose on his already bulbous attachment. From the trail that came from his home, we saw him pull his wife, Grace, in a wagon. I avoided his sad eyes while entertaining Grace’s lively ones. She stood within the wagon, leaning on a little railing, and waving to us children. It was like a mini-parade and we kids were eager to follow along with the circus.

Like I began, we called him Pop Eye until he came to teach our class. The year was 1991, and war between the rebels and the redskins was waging on our little island. Most visiting islanders scurried atop boats or crammed into planes (the lucky ones, the rich ones, the white ones) fleeing for safety. After generators fail and electricity ceases, does the last of our teachers also join the departure.

It was normalcy our parents sought, as we were shooed to the school house in late November. Here, we were greeted by Pop Eye. He waited for us to find our seats and settle in before he spoke. I had never heard his voice and was pleasantly shocked to hear a gentle, calm sound—unlike all those white men that worked at the Copper mine.

“My name is Mr. Watts,” he said. “I know some of you call me Pop Eye. That’s okay, too. I like Pop Eye,” he said with a smile. We were shamed as Mr. Watts continued, “I will be honest with you. I have no wisdom, none at all. The truest thing I can tell you is that whatever we have between us is all we’ve got. Oh, and of course Mr. Dickens.”

Out of the less than 60 people who inhabit Bougainville, I have never met a Mr. Dickens. It is a white man’s name, and Mr. Watts is the only white man on the whole island. Who is this Mr. Dickens? We kids were eager to know and came early to school the next day.

Mr. Dickens is none other than author Charles Dickens, and the children are read a chapter a day from “Great Expectations” in Lloyd Jones’s novel “Mister Pip”. As seen through the eyes of 13-year-old Matilda, the narrator, we have front row seats to humanity.