Helping Hands

Gabriel O’Brien O.Carm. First published – 1959.

They descend upon me like the Assyrians. I see the attack coming, and I can’t do a thing about it. There’s no use trying to dodge, no use making a run for it. They will get me anyway. I brace myself for the onslaught, knowing full well that sheer weight of numbers will overpower me.
Freddy is the first to reach me. Hard on his heels is a dozen of his companions. Soon, there’s a milling crowd of seven year olds around me. Small brown hands clutch at me from all angles. Everyone is anxious to help. After all, I have only three books and unless they are torn into single pages, all the kids can’t carry them.
I had been through this before, dozens of times. Ever since one of the teachers gave a lesson on courtesy and helping others, I have had a troupe of helpers. At first I tried to decline their assistance, but the kids wouldn’t take no for an answer. That’s why I don’t run away any more. I tried it once but I found that my ‘cut-through’ was not quite as good as Cliff Morgan’s. Sooner or later I was bound to be caught, and I was.
Freddy is fighting it out now with Lynette and Gerry for possession of my English Grammar. Freddy has carried my books so often that he feels a certain proprietorship over me and my goods. He resents interference from his companions. Little Cecilia is doing her best to retain the Scheme-book she has managed to grab. She is making a good job of it, too. The fate of my third book is still undecided. It is still at the mercy of a dozen hands, willing and well-intentioned hands, no doubt, but in their eagerness and excitement, not very gentle hands. In the interests of the book I have to intervene and eliminate some of the contestants for a breach of the rules. Benno has stood on Thomas’s toe. But since the aggressor is the bigger, Thomas can do nothing about it except cry.
Now everything is more or less straightened out, and Freddy, Cecilia and John are in undisputed possession of my books. Cecilia’s broad brown smile beams her satisfaction. Her unsuccessful companions acknowledge defeat for the present, and stiff-legged as sheep, run for their classroom. They are consoled by the thought that tomorrow will be another day and will bring another chance of battling for my books.
A small and solemn procession gets under way. My three young assistants fall into line behind me carrying their treasures with the utmost care. My books are carried like so many bricks of gold bullion. The Teacher Training School is about a quarter of a mile away, and I know that I will get a rousing cheer from the students in the classroom if Freddy and company come that far with me. Somehow I shall have to dispense with their services before I get to my classroom. Out of the corner of my eye I see one of the teachers looking admiringly at her pupils as they help me. I suppose she is complimenting herself on a lesson well taught, too well taught, I’m thinking. The sight doesn’t help me a bit. We have walked about twenty yards and I think it’s time to recover my books. I turn and thank my three companions for their help, and surprisingly, they hand over the books without demur. I search my pockets for a few holy pictures, but find none. All I can give them is a smile for their pains. They are contented, even pleased with themselves. They have been allowed to help Father, and that is reward enough. As I continue to the Teacher Training School alone, I am patting myself on the back for having got rid of the kids so easily. But I don’t get very far before I’m spotted, and a few more pairs of small feet are running to help me. Maria is racing with Michael and Peter for the honour. Peter’s trousers threaten to trip him, but he stumbles bravely on. I’ve often wondered about Peter’s trousers, are they long short pants or short long ones? 1 could never quite make up my mind about them. Whatever they are, they don’t cost him a thought.
Before I know what has happened, I am relieved of my books once again, and once more I find myself at the head of a small procession. This time we walk about one hundred yards before I turn to thank the kids for their help. But they refuse to hand over the books. They are determined to accompany me to my classroom. Obviously, they have seen how I tricked the first group and will not be shaken off so easily. Persuasion fails, and I submit once again to Providence.
Now we are about five yards from the T.T. school, and I make a last desperate effort to recover my books. No, they want to bring them right into the classroom for me. I try to snatch one of them, but Peter is too quick for me. He wants a chase, but he’s not going to get it. I’m played out anyway. I couldn’t run after him even if I wanted to. Triumphantly they march into the classroom behind me, amidst a great roar of applause. The T.T. students have their laugh at my expense after all.