I’m dedicating this book to the memory of one of the world’s funniest people, Gene Wilder. It just seems right.
It happened many years ago when I was young and at school. We were poor, the other students were poor and even the teachers were poor. We would all walk to school in the rain and the bitter cold.
No matter how poor we were, Mom would send me off to school each morning with four squares of chocolate as a special treat. I can still recall exactly how they tasted. I would treasure each and every one.
You can imagine how surprised I was when one morning, one of my chocolate squares went missing. Had I eaten it without even noticing? But the next day another one was gone. And the day after that as well.
In the playground, I heard Sue complain that someone was taking chocolate biscuits from her lunch box. Soon everyone chimed in. There was a chocolate thief in our class! We would have suspected Billy, of course. Billy was the only boy in class who everyone hated. He was crazy about chocolate, but he was in the hospital with pneumonia. So who could it be?
There was a tree in the playground that afforded a perfect view of our classroom. We climbed the branches during recess to catch the culprit. It didn’t take long.
Ms. Willowby? Our teacher? How could it be? But sure enough, there she was, going through the lunch pails and lunch bags and taking out chocolates and biscuits, which she carefully stored away in a drawer in her desk. We saw her with our very own eyes!
Mr. Spouch, the school principal was shocked when we ran to tell him. Of course, he didn’t believe us at first. But when he asked Ms. Willowby to open the teacher’s drawer, the evidence was there for all to see. Including one of my chocolate squares!!
We never saw her again. Last week, I ran into Billy at our school reunion. I asked him whether he still liked chocolate.
“Of course,” he said. “I will never forget that wonderful teacher, Ms. Willowby. Remember when a bunch of kids from class threw my sweater in the ditch, and I got sick with pneumonia and almost died? Every evening she would come visit me in hospital with a bag of chocolates that the class had sent me. Her kindness helped bring me back to life. I still wonder why she left the school without ever saying a word. “
One week after Mr. Willowby was fired, the principal received this letter:
Dear Mr. Spouch, Principal
I am writing you this letter of apology. Yes, I did take the chocolates out of the boxes of the pupils in my class. Yes, I did bring them to Billy in the hospital every evening with a letter from the class which I invented.
I understand that Billy has fully recovered from his pneumonia and is back at school. I hope that with time he will become a more popular and outgoing student.
What I am about to tell you does not excuse what I have done. Teachers should never steal from their own pupils, no matter how pure their intentions. All I wanted to do was give Billy the feeling that the pupils cared about him and wished him a speedy recovery.
I taught in your school for ten years. You knew me as a single woman, of very limited means, who was punctual, methodical and committed. What you did not know was that for all of these years I cared for my chronically ill son. Until last spring.
The day my son died was the same day that the boys in class pushed Billy into the ditch. You may remember that I asked for leave and was away for a week. When I came back from the funeral of my son, I learned that Billy was in the hospital with pneumonia.
Sometimes I dream that I will be forgiven and invited back to teach in the school. I understand that this is out of the question. I hope that you will have the courage to acknowledge this letter.
I hope that I will have the courage to send it.
(The Chocolate Thief).
Questions for self assessment:
Did Ms. Willowby deserve to get fired?
Do you think that she should have asked the children to donate sweets for Billy? Why didn’t she?
Do you think the students should have confronted the teacher, rather than run straight to the principal?
If you were the person telling the story, how would you feel after Billy told his side of the story?
What do you think happened to the teacher after she left the school?
Do you think the author should have added a sentence at the end? Can you suggest one?
Do you think that, in real life, a teacher could be a thief?