The man is running around, all dressed in black, his face painted white, shouting and screaming. All the children are screaming too, some are crying. I just sit and watch, I don’t want to be here. Some of the children stand up and run towards the closed door as the teachers chase after them, I can see my escape. I force myself to cry, I’m not scared, I just want to get out of this room. One of the teachers notices and takes me by the hand and out the doors, sitting me down on a cushioned chair. She disappears into a room and comes back out with a jigsaw puzzle. When she’s gone back into the other room I smile to myself, I’ve managed to get what I wanted.
The puzzle was a map of the world. I often play sick just so that I can go into the nurses room where I know they will give me the puzzle to do. There are pieces missing, I’ve done it so often it shouldn’t take me long to do it, but I take my time. Each piece of the puzzle is a piece of my own dreams, places that can only be seen in my imagination. I look over the names of each country, each time I find a new one, places I’d never heard of before, the ones with a z in them sounding all the more exotic. Even the places I had heard of, probably even seen on television are still exotic. This puzzle is a million times better than watching some crazy man run around trying to be funny.
I place the pieces of the USSR into place. A world so foreign, one I know nothing about except for the colour red and that they are always the bad guys in the movies. Looking at it I can see how big it is. Why do all the bad guys come from here? It’s supposed to be cold there too. I imagine this massive land as a place full of snow and men with furry hats. There must be a lot of bears there if they all wear those hats. I asked my mum what it was like there once, she said she doesn’t know much about it, she’d liked to go, she said a word beginning with the letter c that I can’t remember. When I asked her what it meant she said everyone had to share things. They must have a lot of things in such a big place.
India is my next favourite country, I’ve read the Jungle Book so many times. I really wish I could go there. I could wander through the jungle in a land where there are talking animals, beautiful tigers like the picture we have on our wall at home. We bought the picture at the zoo but the tiger is supposed to be in India. Is India all just forests and animals? There must be people there too. I can see mountains on the pieces, they look like they have snow on them, I wonder if there are people living there? What do they do, it must be so cold if there is that much snow. If I lived in India I wouldn’t live in the mountains, I’d live in the forests with all the animals.
China is another big country. It is a strange shape, like a hen. China is red too, I can only think about bicycles. I saw on television once lots of people in China and they were all riding on bicycles, there were no cars. Some of them were wearing pointy hats too. I’m not sure why they wear those hats, maybe it is hot there. There are mountains there too in the bit near India. One of my friends in the playground once told me that his mum told him she’d send him to China if he was naughty because they eat little boys there. I don’t believe that. My dad said if you dig a hole and keep digging one day you will come to China. I’ve thought about digging a hole but what if they really do eat you?
Out in the ocean on its own I place in the pieces of Australia. There is a television program on every night after school that is in Australia. All the people there go to the beach every day, they all have swimming pools in their houses as well. I don’t think it ever gets cold there. They are lucky, it’s not like here, sometimes we can’t go to school because the heating doesn’t work. That’s lucky too I suppose, I bet they have to go to school all the time. Oh, and kangaroos, there are lots of kangaroos in Australia, and those little bears that live in trees, I can’t remember what their names are but they look like they are always asleep. Mum said we have family that live there, maybe one day we can visit them.
The last part I fill in is America. I see America on the television a lot. The man that lived downstairs, he moved to America. I asked mum if he was going to live with the Indians but she said probably not. Maybe he went to live in one of those big cities. They look a bit dangerous there though. My dad says they’re crazy because they all have guns. I wonder if there really are cowboys there? I’d love to be able to ride a horse but I’d be frightened that the Indians would catch me. I don’t think we have any family that live there though, so maybe I won’t ever be able to go. Oh, I forgot, Superman, he lives in America too, maybe I’d be able to see him if I went there.
This is a true story, when I was a kid I would pretend to be sick so that they’d take me to the nurses room. They knew that I liked to do a jigsaw puzzle which was a map of the world so they would give it to me. I was only about six or seven at the time and there were quite a lot of pieces to the puzzle. I look back and think how I used to see the world then, even at a young age I was obsessed with wanting to see other parts of the world, at the time I’d only been to England, Ireland and Portugal when I was very young. I would imagine what all these places were like as I put the pieces together. Eastern Europe and USSR as it was then were still communist and I didn’t really know much about them other than they were supposed to be bad.
One Christmas our school put on a play and I wasn’t in the least bit interested in it. When I saw all the other children being taken away because they were crying I decided that I had to pretend to cry because I knew they were taking them all to the nurses room. Once I got to the nurse’s room they of course gave me the puzzle. It is one of the most vivid memories I have of my childhood and I often think of it when I’m travelling around the world and actually seeing what all these places are really like compared to how I thought of them as a child!