By Priyangwada Perera Ceylon Today Features
The entire class was in a festive mood. It was after the interval and as luck would have it, three of the boys in class had birthdays on the same day. Everybody was excited. Much more than the birthday boys, the rest of the class was enjoying this coincidence of having three people bring them birthday treats. “I still cannot decide which is better. To have three birthdays on the same day or to have one each on three days,” Dilshan wondered out loud. “Who are you to decide who is going to be born on which day, Dilshan?” Ryan responded with a question and all the boys around them roared in laughter. “Yes, Dilshan, if you can decide it, do you mind putting my birthday somewhere in the middle of the year instead of in December?” Ramith asked while Sasith too had the same request – a date change to his birthday.
The celebrations were getting louder by the second as the boys joked around with each other and grew impatient to consume the treats. “What’s wrong with you guys? If we make a big row here, the next minute somebody will come and assign the whole class some work. If you want that, go scream,” an agitated Lauren gave a stern warning in a rather loud volume to the boys. “Oh, Lauren, if only you can hear how loud you are even when you are instructing us to be quiet! First you stop shouting and then we will be fine.” That’s was Srimal talking. “Really? How does one convey something softly when all of you are screaming at the back? That why I had to shout,” Lauren protested.
“Srimal and Lauren, will you two please stay mum for a bit? This is definitely not the time for arguments. Before our birthday boys come, we have to make sure the surprises are ready. I don’t want the Master in Charge to come and ask half of us to go and sweep the staircase,” Senil, the sensible one explained. Just then, they saw a teacher walking down the corridor and they really thought what Lauren said was about to come true. Suddenly the class went all quiet.
It was so strange and alarming how everybody voluntarily went quiet. They themselves were surprised and broke out into a good laugh rather harmoniously as they saw the teacher take a different turn around the corner – they were safe. At the same time someone remembered that they need to hurry up and prepare things before the birthday boys arrive.
The class captain had assigned duties. Two days ago they were informed what has to be done and by who. So, the boys quickly set to work. Blowing the balloons had to be done last. For one thing, they did not want the balloons to burst or deflate by the time the celebrations began at the interval. In spite of remaining as calm as possible, the class was a buzz of activity that morning. The whole class was always on alert with eyes on the door, checking if a birthday-boy was approaching them.
Even when their class teacher came in to ask for the record book, they appeared distracted. She sensed something was different. “What monkey business is going on today, my dear children?” she asked with a glint in her eyes. The mouths of the kids in the front row opened. “Did you just call us monkeys?” they said in unison. For a moment all the work stopped. They loved their class teacher so much and she was always so kind. Unlike some other teachers, even if she was angry she never called them names or insulted them. The word ‘monkey’ came as a shock to the entire class. The teacher was taken aback at this sudden chant. “Oh dear, I did not. I did not call you monkeys,” she hastened to reply. But she saw that the faces of her students were still cloudy. “That was only a phrase used in language,” she quickly reasoned out.
The children did not look convinced. They had never heard such a phrase. “Okay, let me explain, children. When someone says ‘monkey business’ it has nothing to do with you being called ‘monkeys’. It hints only at your behaviour. We say ‘monkey business’ when we come across some unaccepted, silly or suspicious behaviour,” she said. Children were paying close attention. “For some reason today, you look quite suspicious and you are not calm at all,” she said. Hearing this, children were relieved. “Oh dear, we were so upset,” Senil got up and said.
Then he went near the teacher and softly disclosed their ‘secret’. Their teacher could not help smiling. “That is great. Three birthdays! How nice of you all to have taken so much trouble. As long as it is for a good reason, I am not worried. ‘Monkey business’ it is but for a good cause.” She left the classroom with a bright smile on her face