Inside I find a group of young children, perhaps they’re four or five. They’re gathered around our librarian, an eccentric woman in her fifties who has an iron clad hold on the library, and everything that happens in it.
She tells the children that they are going to play a game. They gather excitedly. (Can there be a bigger joy than a grown-up who voluntarily wants to play a game with you?) A whisper of adventure echoes out of their souls and onto the book-lined walls.
A game is a game because it has no specified outcome. It is not geared towards anything specific. It is just for fun. The librarian’s game is none of the above. Instead, it requires the children to sit very still, and to hush.
She is trying to teach them information, and in the process she is also giving them large spoonfuls of do’s and don’ts as far as behaviour is concerned. She wants to teach them something, but she has dressed it up as a game.
She has lied to them.
You have to hold the book like this, she says.
You have to sit like this, she says.
You have to put up your hand if you want to speak, she says.
You have to give everyone a chance, she says.
Slowly, as time unfolds, the children become disillusioned with the game the librarian wanted to teach them. There is an air of disappointment, followed by an air of oppression.
“Didn’t I tell you not to stand up Marita?” the librarian says. She sits down sully.
I don’t blame the librarian. In fact, I don’t blame anybody.
But I can’t help but think that perhaps there was a time when children played many games, and people did not interfere with their magic. A time when there was big open spaces to play in, and nothing that shouldn’t be soiled, or broken, or messed. A time when children could express themselves without being trained and spoken down to; a time when children could be powerful in their own right.
In my mind I see a woman. She is tall and lean. Her black skin shines like a smooth stone in the sun. She moves through a vast landscape, gathering berries, tubers and leaves. Her child watches and follows closely. As they walk he sees animals, and learns about dangers and what to pick and what to avoid. His mother tells him stories of the leopard and the lion. The child stands in awe of the world. He knows he is a part of it.
The child is filled with magic.