“If you listen to pop music, your brains will melt all splotchy like a pizza,” warned Mother Mary Moppet, headmistress of our school, during a parent–student assembly. Mum and Dad looked at me, terrified, because every evening, after I did my homework, I would listen to my favourite record, Black Opal, by Papa Topo. I would dance to those marvellous songs like a whirlwind with a big, silly grin on my face. The song I liked most on the album was the one that told the legend of a strange archaeologist who is cursed during their research of the Egyptian pyramids. Mum even said that my joy could melt her like cheese. I wonder if these words could have been a premonition …
“Mila! Pay attention!” Sister Mary Manure suddenly towered before me and snapped her fingers so close to my eyes that she nearly tore off my eyelashes. “Oh, young lady, what ever will we do with you? You get distracted so easily.”
“Yes, Sister Mary Manure,” I said and looked at the stage where Mother Mary Moppet explained, with the aid of some ancient-looking slides, how pop music carried subliminal messages that got activated when the volume knob of any record player reached eleven. At that precise moment, the electronic brainwashing sounds would cause a microwave-like effect on the tender brains of innocent girls, transforming the cerebral cortex into round, flat bread and melting the neurons into cheese. All of my friends’ parents looked as astonished as mine.
“I don’t believe you!” I exclaimed. “You want to make us afraid of what we like most so we become automatons. Pop is forever!”
“Here is Doctor Karbona1,” said Mother Mary Moppet and welcomed to the stage a slightly colour-blind man with a debonair moustache, a white lab coat and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes that only I detected as he looked at me, because his expression turned suddenly sombre as he addressed the audience. The Doctor was accompanied by three nurses already wearing surgical masks. He requested that I come to the stage with Mum and Dad. So, we did.
“Ok, Mila. Please open your mouth, stick out your tongue and say ‘aaah’,” the Doctor said.
I stuck out my tongue at him with as much disdain as I could muster while he prodded it with a stick and shone a flashlight into my mouth. Then he took my temperature, listened to my heartbeat, and tested my reflexes. As he was checking my pulse, he whispered in my ear a couple of verses from my favourite song:
could have foreseen
my clever scheme.
Then I knew who he really was under his disguise.
“What this young lady needs is an immediate magnetic-resonance imaging so we may see the extent of brain damage caused by her rebelliousness,” said the Doctor for everyone to hear. “How often does she listen to pop music?”
“Every day, after she has done her homework,” answered Mum, totally flabbergasted.
Sisters Mary Manure and Mary Soot took me by the arms and dragged me towards the stage, where the mysterious Doctor had rigged an enormous machine to perform the magnetic-resonance imaging. The machine looked like a giant octopus. It even had tentacles that were remotely controlled by the nurses to hold me still. My head felt very hot, like it would explode at any moment.
“No!” I screamed. “Let me go! Please! Mum, Dad – don’t let them do this to me!”
No one heeded my cries of despair. My classmates seemed to be too dumbfounded to challenge the school authorities. The panic made me suddenly feel as if I could jump out of my own skin as the Doctor put me through his procedure. Multiple wires were connected to my head, and images of my brain were projected onto the screen for the entire assembly to see.
“This is the most appetising pizzabrain I’ve ever seen,” said Mother Mary Moppet. Sister Mary Manure lost control and began salivating. “It has mushrooms and pepperoni. So delicious!”
My head opened up like a flower in bloom. The Headmistress, the faculty and the Doctor all grabbed slices of my pizzabrain and ate them. Once they finished, Doctor Karbona took off his white robe. Everyone gasped. He was Adri, the leader of Papa Topo! He announced that he had made a dazzling new brain for me, with extra witticisms along with immunity to the effects of any subliminal messaging, as well as specialised brain cells in feminist subversion.
“No one will make an automaton out of this girl,” he said as he inserted my new brilliant brain and closed my head tightly so it would never open again. The three nurses removed their masks and uniforms. They wore fantastically colourful costumes with sparkly rhinestones underneath. The band were all here. Jane, Sonia and Oscar extracted their guitars from a hidden compartment in the machine. Then the tentacles transformed into a keyboard for Adri, and they began to play a concert for the whole school.
All of my friends and I let loose by dancing. We were so happy. Suddenly, I spread my arms wide and began to fly, for my new mind also came with superpowers that I knew I would soon discover. One by one, the nuns’ heads opened up for all the students to enjoy tasty slices of their pizzabrains. I took a piece of Mother Mary Moppet’s spicy pepperoni. The cheese dripped between my fingers. It was delicious. And my beloved aunts, Belinda Gordon and Delphina Brodie, who had also attended the assembly, took the newly vacant posts of Headmistresses.
“Long live secular education!” announced the new Headmistresses.
“And long live pop music!” I exclaimed back to them as I pirouetted gleefully around the ceiling of the auditorium.
1 Not glue.
Sofia Ballesteros is part of the New Voices Workshop. She was mentored by Tommi Sopenperä, NVW Editor, and Sonali Misra, Co-founder at The Selkie.