They had all caught glimpses of the box on the shelf, in the cupboard, behind the teacher’s desk, in Miss Wakefield’s room. It was an old battered tin box with an elastic band wrapped around it. It had eight sides to it, like a rectangle with the four corners sliced off. It was deep red in colour. A faded picture on the lid showed an old fashioned maypole with children dancing and ribbons everywhere.
The contents of the box were well discussed by every pupil who had spent a year or two in Miss Wakefield’s classroom.
“She steals your laughter and put it in her box,” said Jacob Rhymes.
“Yes,” confirmed Angie MacAllister, “And she steal smiles. She puts those in the box too.”
“Silly songs go in there too, and day dreams,” added Abigail Tracey.
Miss Wakefield wasn’t that much taller than some of the bigger pupils in her class. Her hair was always scraped back from her face and pulled into a tiny bun that rested firmly on the top of her head. Never a stray hair was allowed to escape, and when the light from the light from the window shone on her in the late afternoon, you could see the glint from a dozen hairgrips. A fragrance followed her around the room, a subtle perfume mixed with chalk dust.
The trouble was that no one had actually seen what was inside the box. Occasionally, usually when the class were sitting with their reading books open, Mrs Wakefield would take the box down from the shelf, and slide the elastic band off. Sitting at her desk, she would lift the lid just a little, slip something inside, replace the elastic band and then return the box to the shelf.
No one knew who first suggested that Miss Wakefield’s box held stolen laughter and smiles, daydreams and silly songs. It seemed to make sense when her classroom was the quietest in the school. There was never any silly nonsense that the Headmaster has to come and sort out. There was no one gazing out of the window, looking at the crows squabbling in the trees at the edge of the playground. Head were bent over their books, tongue tips poking out at the edge of their mouths as they carefully copied a poem from the board.
The janitor’s ginger tom cat, Marmalade knew the secret of the box and would have told the children if they had stopped to listen to him as he arched his back and sidled around their ankles. Long after the children had gone home he watched her with unblinking amber eyes as she carefully wrapped up a small flat box in pale yellow tissue paper. The label, written with careful sloping letters, was secured with a neat square of sticky tape.
There were so many small boxes inside her tin, wrapped in a rainbow of shades of tissue paper – all with a neatly written label.
“For Jacob – the gift of reading – to ignite his imagination and transport him to magical worlds painted with words.”
“For Angie – the gift of courage – to stand strong in the face of fierce opposition and win through.”
“For Abigail – the gift of dreaming – to look for the possibilities in life and reach out to grasps them.”
They were her gifts to her children, to claim and take hold of before they left her room. It saddened her to think that some of them might never be claimed, never be opened or never be used. So she bowed her head and prayed.
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