“I want a ….” Little Nelson squeezes his eyes tightly as he makes his wish, “…a woobling toy.”Now that he’s told Kleinpiet his deepest desire, the boy opens his eyes to see if his plea was well received. The little brown pools of the irises seem to swell, get bigger, as the silence stretches.
Kleinpiet has never heard of such a thing. A woobling toy? He also realises this is not the moment to say he’s got no idea what the boy is talking about.
“I’ll write to Father Christmas about it,” he says lamely, “to hear whether he has any left. It’s only a few days before Christmas, and I think they’re very busy up there in the North Pole. I’m sure he’ll bring one if he has one extra, though.”
Little Nelson smiles happily. If Kleinpiet said he’d write, then there’s no problem. Hopping off Kleinpiet’s knee, he scampers off to play in the shade of the old thorn tree next to the windpump. Kleinpiet makes sure he’s occupied, before wandering off to the kitchen, where Precilla is putting the final touches on her Christmas cake.
“A what?” She pauses with the icing knife in midair. “Gee, Kleinpiet, I’ve never heard of such a thing. It sounds like jelly. Or rubbery. Like wobble, you know? Maybe it’s something like that funny putty we had as kids – remember? It bounced and you could mould it into any shape… What do you think?”
“No, it doesn’t sound right. Where would he have heard about such a thing? But he was very specific about it. Woobling toy, that’s what he said.” Kleinpiet sits down with a sigh. Little Nelson has adapted well in his new environment and he – Kleinpiet – has gone to great lengths to make him feel at home. Part of his approach was to make sure Nelson could trust him in everything; and somehow he feels the delivery of this woobling toy would contribute to the bond between the two of them.
“What’s he doing now?” Precilla gives the icing another swirl with the knife, stands back and admires her work.
“He’s playing under the tree with his rocks, as usual.”
Precilla smiles at him. Whenever little Nelson gets the chance, he’ll amble over to the shaded spot, where he’ll play with a little pile of stones. Little pieces of amethyst, rhodochrosyte and inesite give colour to the bits of sandstone and granite in the heap. These rocks – millions of years old – have lain undisturbed for centuries, waiting for the hands of a child to play with them. The greenish fluoride stone is his flower-stone; the bits of pyrite his antelopes. Precilla remarked – a few days ago – that it is such a pity that modern-day children seem to have lost the ability to play with stones.
“Those kids in the cities play with electronic games. They’re not even in school yet, but they can manage to buttons to make electronic soldiers kill electronic enemies. They can fly jet planes. They drive tanks through minefields. Before they can read, they get the idea that violence is the answer to conflict.
“Now look at little Nelson: there he is, playing with those rocks, quite content in the world he’s created for himself. That’s the hallmark of creativity, of imagination, of daring to be happy alone. It’s such a contrast to children who sit in front of a screen all day, pulling triggers and swinging clubs. No wonder society is ill – we’re teaching children to become morons.”
Kleinpiet said at the time that she was a bit harsh on the current generation. “I suppose we all have to move with the times, Precilla. Today’s toddlers grow up in the electronic age; if they don’t get exposed to it, they won’t be able to hold their own when they grow up.”
“No,” she said, “children are still born with the same basic wiring all previous generations were issued with: one standard brain with the capacity to develop according to circumstances. So…the basic need of healthy playing is unchanged. But because they are fed a diet of instant stories, most of them tending to the violent side, their little brains smother the urge to imagine. It’s not necessary – the computer does the thinking and they simply push the buttons. Why imagine anything if you have an instant adventure at your fingertips?
“The point I’m making, Kleinpiet, is I’d rather see Nelson playing with rock, than to see him glued to a screen.”
A little later, as Nelson plays with the sponge in the bath, he suddenly looks up at Kleinpiet.
“Did you remember?”
“The letter to Father Christmas. You promised, so I told them it’s okay.”
Kleinpiet almost misses the second sentence as he worries about the letter.
“You told somebody it’s okay? Who did you tell Nelson?”
“The Woobles, Daddy. I want them to have a toy.” A deep frown creases the smooth skin of his brow. “I don’t want them to be bored. They may go away, you know?”
And so, with an imaginary letter to an imaginary Santa, the imaginary toy for the Wobbles found its way to the shady thorn tree at last. The Woobles were overjoyed, little Nelson said; it was exactly what they wanted.
And far away, on the imaginary North Pole of an imaginary world, an imaginary Father Christmas goes ho-ho-ho as the Woobles frolick about with their one-of-a-kind woobling toy. At night, when the little boy stacks up his rocks before bath-time, both the Woobles and the boy feel that yes, the world is a wonderful place.
Not all children are blessed with the awareness of Woobles. A trillion computers and pads and electronic games have won the battle for the minds of those unfortunate, unimaginative children. Well-meaning parents have robbed them of the Woobles.
“I wonder what the world will be like if all children played with Woobles?” Precill takes a sip of the excellent wine Kleinpiet has opened.”I mean, little Nelson actually feels responsible for them. It shows he cares – I like that.”
Kleinpiet sighs. “The world would be different. Kids will grow up with the ability to imagine what things could be like. It’s like Nelson calling the green stone a flower, or the black ones his antelopes. People won’t get stuck in a reality they consider to be unacceptable – they’ll use their creativity to solve problems.” He’s silent for a while, pondering on a thought. “It won’t happen of course. I just can’t imagine that. But then again – maybe that tells me why I must try to get my Woobles back.”
“Not just you, Kleinpiet,” Precilla whispers, “we all should.”