Magic and Miss Teak by Coll Hershman
It was a particularly nasty winter morning. The January rain sneaked its way past upturned collars and trickled down unsuspecting necks. The wind, which had been moaning continually throughout the night, keeping sleepy eyes wide open had become mischievous and slammed car doors shut as their owners tried to get out. Freshly combed hair turned quickly to rat’s tails as hoods were blown back off heads. There was an odd feeling in the air today, several children were aware of it but couldn’t quite put their finger on what that feeling was. They felt almost as though something were about to happen. Even the air feels different, thought Christopher and his heart jumped as out of the corner of his eye he glimpsed a figure striding purposefully through the playground, head bent against the wind. Jennifer had noticed her too and felt puzzled. It seemed to her that she’d appeared from nowhere which of course was impossible. Lost in thought she didn’t notice the large puddle until it was too late
and her clean white socks became splattered with mud. In the cloakrooms and corridors the floors so lovingly polished by the school cleaners were soon covered with wet, muddy footprints which quickly became as slippery as a skating rink.
A group of children stood fascinated as what looked like an elderly lady lost her footing and went sliding along the corridor and, despite efforts to keep upright, landed in an undignified heap outside class 5V. Claire and Melanie went running to help nearly meeting the same fate. They looked down into an ageless and somehow beautiful face. The surprised eyes that met theirs were of the deepest blue they had ever seen. Glossy white hair obstinately pushed its way out from under a large grey felt hat. At her side was a huge battered leather handbag which had scattered its contents over the floor.
“So kind” muttered the lady rubbing her head absent-mindedly,
“No, head’s fine – must be my leg.” She set about stuffing her possessions back into her bag. Claire handed her a cactus complete with pot and Melanie passed over a tarnished silver teapot.
“I’m Miss Teak”, she offered her hand to Melanie, “are you two in my class?
“No, we’re in 3S” said Kelly who had joined them.
“They you are in my class; Mrs. Stewart is away today, lost her
voice apparently – most careless, I always leave mine on the bedside table.”
They climbed the stairs and went into the classroom.
“I expect it’s this cold wind” said Kelly, “I wish it never rained and the sun shone all the time!”
“You should be careful what you wish for” said Miss Teak. “Last time I heard someone wish that, there was a drought for seven years – let me see, Egypt I think it was. Huh! I warned that Pharaoh but would he listen?
Claire and Melanie grinned at each other and sat down.
“Ah! I see my two friends don’t believe in wishes”.
Several children giggled.
“And they’re not alone, I see; hmm, I think we’ll have a head count.Hands up those of you who don’t believe in magic, or wishes coming true.”
Thirty-six hands shot up and Miss Teak looked sad.
“Ah that’s it then – you can’t have magic if nobody believes! ”
“But nobody really believes in magic!” said Rebecca, “I saw an
entertainer at a party once who said he was a magician but you could see they were only tricks.”
“That’s right” agreed Jennifer “it’s not real magic “like in stories.”
“Or on television” said Charlotte “Did anyone see Five Children and It with the sand fairy, what was it called, a Sammyad?”
“You saw a Psammead? on television?” gasped Miss Teak.
“It was only a model ” laughed Neal “they showed us how it was done on Blue Peter.
“I’m sure you mean well” said John, kindly, but we’re not kids, we’re seven years old and we just don’t believe in that stuff any more.
“Seven years old!” moaned Miss Teak, and you don’t believe in magic……………..
“Some of us are eight” said Gemma.
“And this is supposed to be the enlightened age” said Miss Teak, almost to herself. “Ah well, I suppose it’s just as well ….. but a Psammead! I haven’t seen one of those since Egypt.
“Do you come from Egypt?” asked Sarmad.
“Oh no,I was just passing through.”
“Where do you live?” asked Kelly.
“Oh, here and there, now and then” she replied absent-mindedly.
“Do you think”, asked Sarah, “that if I really tried hard to believe, my wish could come true?”.
“Well I really don’t know” smiled Miss Teak. “I think if you all believed, even just a little, then it could happen.
“Well I wish it would stop raining” said Victoria,”just for a moment” she added quickly, remembering Egypt.
As she spoke, the rain which had been chattering incessantly against the window pane, stopped abruptly and from behind a large black cloud the sun appeared and for a moment the classroom was bathed in a yellow light. Miss Teak nodded approvingly while
several children sat open-mouthed.
“How did you do that?” asked Victoria.
“It was just a coincidence” said Thomas, “look it’s raining again!”
“She did say just for a little while” said Alan.
“Yes, that’s it! – little-while-wishes, then we won’t get the old problems” said Miss Teak looking immensely pleased with herself.
“What old problems?” asked Victoria.
“Ah well, you see people became quite sophisticated with their wishes; asked to live forever – well there just wasn’t room you see. And then there were some people who wanted to be King or Queen and some of them were quite unsuitable.” She shook her
head remembering. “So you see that’s why, if you’ve read your fairy tales, you’ll know that wishes were generally given to children and simple folk. Yes, reminds me of a chap I knew – got three wishes, and did he use them sensibly? He did not! You
should have seen his poor wife’s nose! Now where was I? Ah yes we’ll start with our doubting Thomas.”
“How did you know my name?” asked Thomas.
“Ah, so I was right” replied Miss Teak, “now what will it be – speak up dear.”
Like most people, Thomas had often lain awake in bed thinking about the things he’d wish for if only he had the opportunity,
but now when it seemed he really could have his wish come true his mind was a complete blank. He looked around at the faces of the other children waiting impatiently for him to say something and forced his mind to concentrate and remember just one of those wishes.
“I wish I was taller” he blurted out. As he said the words
Thomas started to grow. The height chart on the wall already proved Thomas to be the tallest in his class and you may be forgiven for thinking that he might have wished to be smaller for a change but no, Thomas was proud of his height and besides not many children ever tried to pick a fight with him.
Thomas was already towering over the other children and growing taller by the second. His feeling of pleasure was quickly becoming replaced by a knot of anxiety in his stomach.
“How long does a little-while-wish last” he asked worriedly, for the ceiling was rapidly approaching.
“Mmm, about as long as a piece of string” replied Miss Teak.
“But a piece of string can go on for – for ever” said Thomas.
“Quick, lie down” suggested Alan, and he and some of the others started moving tables aside as Thomas lay down carefully on the floor – someone had once told him that the bigger you are the harder you fall. His only comfort was that his school uniform expanded with him, otherwise things could have become rather embarrassing! His head and feet were now approaching the walls and he realised he would have to sit up, Unfortunately his much-increased size made this far more difficult than he had imagined and it took a dozen children, six on each arm, to haul him up to a sitting position. Even so, he was quickly running out of space and the others, who had at first thought how funny it all was, began to realise how serious things were getting. Many children were sharing the same thought; that they should give up their wish (for they felt sure there was only one wish each) to restore Thomas to his normal size before he got really hurt. Then, as several mouths opened to utter the magic words, Thomas started to grow smaller again. Miss Teak looked at those children with a pleased expression on her face.
“It was the thought that counted” she said.
Thomas, now himself again, was examining himself carefully then, satisfied that he was truly back to normal, sat down with a relieved look on his face. The others put the furniture back where it belonged and did some serious thinking.