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The Chocolate Man.

Added:March 19th 2008, 16:06:46
Rating:4.5/5 (Votes: 2)

And now for something completely different:

Having done quite a bit on Diary of a Vampire recently I've been looking for something new to write about.

I had the idea for this fiction while waking up after falling asleep in the middle of the day after school. Someone's skin colour has never really mattered to me, but I often see that in trying not to offend someone we check ourselves to the extent that we assume other people may be being offensive.

Being only 17 years old I thought the idea of writing about a headmaster for a school would be rather dull and boring but actually it came fairly naturally.

Years ago, when I was headmaster of a school for young children there was quite an unusual case concerning The Chocolate Man, a man who, naturally, was as black as tar.
I remember him well. Talking to him after the whole thing had been sorted out, I learned he was Jamaican, moving to England at an old age, hoping that his son – who was inexplicably the palest of the white children in the school at the time – could receive an education and live here.
At any rate a teacher of a group of children once came to me and presented me with the issue.

“The Chocolate Man?” I asked, shocked. Obviously one of the kids must've picked it up from their parents, and then from each other.
Miss Hargreaves nodded back to me. “I think it's very inappropriate and doesn't present a good image for the children, fortunately he, himself has taken no offence. I think he appreciates they are only children and don't understand the full significance of what they are saying.”
“Have you told the children not to refer to him in that way?” I replied. They were just children but we were here to teach them moral values and respect as well as prepare them for further education and the world at large.
“Yes, and I don't see what else we can do.” She replied. It was obvious she thought it wouldn't help. Even after telling them his name they still preferred to refer to him as The Chocolate Man.

Sure enough the kids had now got it firmly ingrained in their heads that he was The Chocolate Man. It seemed to me the only solution was to try to widen their horizons and start a series of multi-cultural based classes, each designed to remove the boundaries between black and white, but even these had little effect.
Eventually I decided that, as the children weren't actually being racist or had any hate towards him that it wouldn't matter what we do, he would still be The Chocolate Man. The man really didn't seem to mind anyway and such social dynamics could wait. It turned out that The Chocolate Man himself couldn't, however.

One rainy day, at the end of school time as all the children were waiting to go home they spotted The Chocolate Man through the glass. I had taken to joining the classroom for this leaving ritual however, this time he wasn't alone, by his side he held a crutch firmly in his right hand, and to his left a white man stood, guiding him along the path.
As he entered the class he was berated with questions. It was very unusual to have a break in routine, this stranger and this new sign of The Chocolate Man's age taking it's toll.
Eventually he succumbed to the prying questions of the innocent children, unaware they may be causing offence or discomfort for him. He had fallen at home and fractured his hip along one side, leading to a very painful stay in hospital over the weekend. Despite this he had been adamant that he still be able to pick his son up from school the following week so the hospital had caved, insisting he take and use a crutch to walk and that he employ a carer to walk with him.
It was unclear whether the children understood all of this but they seemed to accept the new stranger's presence and place in the world.
All seemed well, until right as they were about to leave one of the children asked the white man “Are you a Chocolate Man, too?”

After that point confusion reigned in the classroom.
“He is, he is! I saw him!” Said another child.
“Yeah, he's defin'ly a Chocolate man!” Replied another.
“Calm down and it's 'I've seen him' not I saw him Chloe and Michel – I've told you before about your pronunciation.” Miss Hargreaves flustered around them, each second making apologising looks towards the white man.
I, however, was looking at the black man, and noticed a grin spread across his face and his movements suggesting he was stifling a laugh. Suddenly I had an idea and went up the one of the children.
“Why do you call him The Chocolate Man?” I asked, pointing to the original Chocolate Man.
“Because that's who he is.” The child replied puzzled.
I decided to rephrase the question, “Why did you start calling him The Chocolate Man?” I asked.
The child thought for a minute or two, before remembering “He always waits outside at the bus stop until it's time for us to leave!”
“And what does he do there?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“He eats chocolate.”

And so it turned out after weeks of misunderstanding the only reason the children had called him The Chocolate Man was his tradition of eating a chocolate bar, purchased on his way to pick up his son from school. It turns out the children had seen him sharing his chocolate bar with his helper as they had waited in the shelter of the bus stop. As we worked this all out the black man just stood and laughed. Miss Hargreaves sat looking embarrassed as I just stood there, dumbstruck that I had never thought of asking why, I'd just assumed that it was his skin colour.
“Did you know?” I asked The Chocolate Man.
“I had a fair idea after I saw the children staring and pointing whenever I started eating chocolate,” he replied, a wide grin showing the deep contrast from his white teeth to his pitch black skin.
“Why didn't you tell us?” I said, embarrassment evident in my voice.
“You never asked, you just assumed. Even your own children would have been able to tell you,” he replied.

And so it was all sorted out – no more preaching from us about racism and focusing on someone's skin colour, when in actual fact it seems we were the ones in need of the lesson.
The class returned to normal, The Chocolate Men became a regular occurrence in the classroom. Once I remember the carer bringing in a whole box of chocolates on the last day of term, simultaneously cementing The Chocolate Man into our school history and the children's minds.
Though it was never adequately found to be true, soon afterwards there was a rumour circulating around school that all the teachers now in private referred to them as White Chocolate and Black Chocolate.

Towards the end of that year the legend of The Chocolate Man dealt a great blow. I remember walking along the corridor outside of the classroom when I saw The Chocolate Man's carer. The children were surrounding him, many sitting on the floor, as if he were telling them a story. He held The Chocolate Man's son's arm loosely in his hand, and as my gaze met him I saw he had been crying, he held his thumb close to his mouth and held on to the carer as if he was the only dry land in a torrential storm. It was eerily quiet, the muffled, considerate, slow tone of the carer's voice the only sound coming from the classroom, instead of the usual rush and yells of home time.
As I watched still further I noted Miss Hargreaves, sitting on her desk, legs crossed and arms, laid awkwardly upon herself as she listened intently to the carer's story. The carer seemed to reach a climactic point in the story and the children's hushed intakes of breath were clearly audible through the heavy wooden door. Miss Hargreaves crossed herself, tears forming in her eyes.
I moved on, back down the corridor. I suppose I thought I'd find out about it later, but again I felt I already knew. The Chocolate Man had died.

“...Stroke, not a big surprise. He was very old.” Miss Hargreaves had come to my office to tell me the news. “I felt you should know, and I think the children are really quite effected by it.” As was she, I was sure, but I said nothing.
“I was thinking maybe we could do something for him?” Said Miss Hargreaves, “Some little project, the kids would love it.”
I thought for a while. On the one hand reinforcing his death could scare the children. Perhaps it would have been better if the carer has not told the children at all, that perhaps we could tell them he had simply gone on a very long holiday or something. Then I realised that reinforcing the divide between the children and adult world is what had led to The Chocolate Man in the first place.
“Yes, I think that would be a good idea, Miss Hargreaves.” I replied.
“Thank you, John.” She replied.
“Deirdre,” I said and nodded.

The children all committed something to the project and in the space of a few hours the children, under the no-doubt considerable guidance of Miss Hargreaves, had created a beautiful sculpture to pay tribute to The Chocolate Man. The original plan had been to display it either in the main reception or in the classroom itself, however, after seeing the end result I decided it would look better outside, and so to this day, just inside the school gates, directly opposite the bus stop there is a mini gazebo, housing a sculpture made of used chocolate bar's and sweets, sellotaped together with a mix of glue and creative stapling to form – what else? - a chocolate bar, half opened with a shiny wrapper made of seemingly hundreds of used wrappers up too about half way, until that folds back to reveal darker wrappers signifying the chocolate inside.

To others I guess it's just a monument or some long forgotten project. Maybe to some it's a reminder about littering – or perhaps recycling. Some people may return though, long after they have left here and look back on the school gates, noting the shiny bar just inside the gates, opposite the bus shelter, and they will remember.

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