By Cherie Brown
Did I ever tell you about Max?
Ah! Now there was a boy! Polished brown, smooth as a piece of mellow sea glass. Dark waves of hair, twin dark eyes, teeth white as the sun-bleached shells on the Marquesan beaches from which he came.
Max, eighteen, full of youthful purpose, had abandoned his tropical atoll, and set his face towards the distant wintry streets of Auckland. “Why,” you ask, “Paradise for Ponsonby? … in mid-July?”
New Zealand, however, was not Max’s ultimate destination. Rather, it was more a stepping-stone to another brighter shore. Here, in the “City of Sails,” was the means to a greater end, the English tongue, with which he planned to conquer the Pacific. Max had enrolled at a language school.
His intentions, much to the disappointment of his younger female classmates, were not of a temporal nature. Earthly concerns were of little importance to him. Max’s call? To become a priest. His task? To spread the knowledge of the Lord, ‘as the waters cover the sea.’
Like Abraham before him, Max sought a new land, and spiritual heirs, innumerable as the stars, and like his Polynesian forebears, guided by the southern constellations, Max was led to Aotearoa, the land upon which he now stood.
And this day, he stood, a sodden mass, dripping pools of water onto the carpet of my office floor.
Let me explain. Every day, Max swung his long limbs over the bar of an ancient bicycle, the property of the seminary where he boarded, and cycled several kilometers to his morning English class.
This day, his journey began as usual. Conscious only of the need to be on time, Max set off, completely failing to appreciate the subtle meteorological changes taking place around him.
Halfway to school, the ever-petulant Auckland skies descended, depositing their liquid abundance directly over Max and his bicycle.
Accepting his fate with a martyr’s resignation, Max persevered through puddle after muddy puddle, till finally he arrived at school, completely soaked.
“Please…I like to ussse your …heating.”
Max searched for the English words with which to form his request,
“I am … too wet.”
A glance from those limpid eyes, huge in pathetic petition, and my own frozen toes were immediately forgotten. Had I succumbed to motherly instinct, or was it masculine wiles? Either way, the heater was his. Off trundled Max, with the heater tucked under a soggy arm. A few minutes in front of the glowing coils, and all would be well.
I remained in my office, fine-tuning the last sections of yet another ‘flawless’ lesson plan. After finding that the reverse pages of the day’s worksheets were all printed upside down, I conceded defeat in my ongoing battle with the school photocopier and, late again, I rushed for the classroom.
From just outside the door, I heard laughter. Confident that at last my superb facilitation skills had broken through the nervous reserve of this new group, I entered the room.
The sight beyond surpassed all expectations. Tables and chairs stood in their usual places, but where I supposed to see a well-ordered semi-circle of students, eagerly awaiting the real truth about their homework, was instead a giggling cluster of embarrassed femininity.
I never did discover where the other male students were that morning. Perhaps they had fled. For some reason, the sole representative of manly virtues that day was Max, and Max appeared as no-one had ever seen him before.
In full and burnished Tahitian glory he stood, totally naked, apart from the scantiest pair of scarlet underpants I’d ever had the privilege to view.
As I saw him there, wringing his saturated clothing over my heater, I knew in a flash (so to speak), that any unresolved speculations I may have had about the nature of clerical undergarments were now dispelled forever.
Oblivious to his tittering (and appreciative) audience, Max was simply acting out the sanest solution to a very practical problem. He was, after all, the product of true French ‘Liberté’ honed in a warm and unselfconscious South Pacific context.
To the modest Asian women behind him, this was the closest to ‘girl’s night’ they had ever been allowed to get, and they weren’t going to miss a bit of it. Their soft complexions flushed behind screening fans of upheld hands. Like ripened apricots, they looked set to split their skins.
My carefully organized worksheets hit the floor.
“Max”, I gasped, “Perhaps you should… arrmmm… (I searched for something appropriately professional to say) … “Umm”… I stumbled, “…see the campus nurse… she may have something…dry… for you to wear.”
Max, with a genuine Christian desire not to inconvenience anyone, (and hoping to impress us with his newfound knowledge of English colloquialisms) replied,
”It is okie dokie…I am drying…See?” He held out his limp shirt. It smelt faintly singed, as if a hot iron had been left a bit too long.
From my vantage point on the floor, where I was bent over, trying to retrieve my papers, I could see very well. In fact, my view of Max was indeed “Okie dokie.” I took a deep breath, and gathered up the last few items that lay scattered around me.
The class began. Max, in some miraculous way, managed to re-enter his clothing. Sitting in his usual seat, his damp apparel slowly steamed. The last giggles subsided, and we opened our textbooks to the day’s lesson.
“Unit Four”, I read the heading, “Describing unlikely situations… Grammar: Second Conditional… Example Sentence – “If it hadn’t rained, he wouldn’t have gotten wet.”