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A Memorable First Day
Oliver Tomson sat on his doorstep awaiting Dad’s arrival. His evening shift at the corkboard factory ended at 7:05 every morning. Oliver waited for him at precisely 7:13 on the front porch so he could greet him before he went out to the playground to meet with his best friend, Gordon. Today was the same as always. Just as he expected, Dad was two minutes late. It was Tuesday, which meant he would pick up the paper from the store in town on his way home. It was of no concern for Oliver. An extra couple minutes was fine.
William Tomson had a sturdy figure. His shoulders were broad and his muscular build only made his full six and a half feet more intimidating. He sported a bit of grey scruff in an attempt to cover the burn scars on his left cheekbone. His piercing stare brought a sense of guilt to many. The radiant turquoise burned through the conscience, turning people to insanity with the nagging feeling that the man knew something he really shouldn’t.
He was a quiet man. His intentions were never bad, regardless of the impression his eyes gave. Oliver shared a similar look in his eyes, but the pure turquoise had mixed with his deceased mother’s brilliant jade. His dad saw his mother’s face in the young boy’s, but refrained from mentioning it.
Oliver looked at Dad with pure admiration and respect. With every passing day he would tell Dad he loved him. He bragged to his friend, Gordon, about the things he could do. He spoke about him with his head held high and his eyes shining.
The cool, misty air was a familiar reminder that fall was arriving. A slight breeze blew past Oliver, and with that he spotted Dad, casually strolling down the gravel road which passed their house. The wooden door to the house creaked open slowly and Oliver turned around to see what had caused it to do so. George, the thin, grey stray cat which William had brought home a few days before, slowly walked toward Oliver’s fingers. He took a small nibble at them.
“Are you hungry?” Oliver asked him cheerfully, letting the cat play around with his fingers a bit more. “I’ll tell Dad to feed you, but I can’t stay long, okay?”
“How’s the cat?”
Oliver lifted his head only to make eye-contact with the deep, mysterious eyes that he so admired. A great smile cracked across both of their composed faces. Oliver jumped into Dad’s arms and they embraced for a few seconds before parting to look over at the cat.
It sat humbly on the doorstep, patiently awaiting attention. Oliver looked up at Dad, who slowly walked toward the cat. He did not flinch in the slightest when the large, compassionate hands picked his up scrawny body. The two of his saviors walked into the creaky, wooden house and within five minutes he was feasting on chicken with a side of tuna and water to wash it all down. There wasn’t a whole lot of variety, but the three boys were content with what they had.
“Father?” Oliver quietly asked for his dad’s attention while patiently watching the man clean the dirty dishes from the previous night’s dinner.
“Yes, Oliver?” Dad replied, turning mid-dish to look his son in the eyes.
Oliver shyly shuffled his feet and mustered up the courage to ask, “Will you walk me to school?”
The hardened look in William’s eyes dissolved and a smile once again cracked his sincere expression. He gave his son a loving look, seeing himself in the young boy. “Of course I will,” he replied. William remembered asking his father the same question before his first day of kindergarten. Unfortunately, the question did not come with a similar response. He shuddered, attempting to block out the memories of objects flying as he ran out of the house into his 16-year-old brother’s protective arms.
Oliver brought a pack of colored pencils which his father had spent three month’s pay on as his birthday present for turning five. He used them daily, mapping out the beautiful images he saw in his dreams.
The earliest rays of sunlight blinded Oliver as he glanced eastward at the forest of evergreens where he and his friend, Gordon, played hide and seek. An excited chill ran through his stomach. He had heard stories about school from Gordon, who had four older brothers well into at least their second year of school. It was supposedly a very tedious, time-consuming activity that made summers all the more enjoyable. Nevertheless, Oliver was eager to discover the joys of school and the monotony which many before him had experienced.
The scratchy sound of gravel beneath them died down when they reached downtown, where the grocery and coffee stores where opening up for the morning commuters to stop by on their way to wherever they ventured that day. The mornings were beginning to get a bit chillier, but Oliver did not mind sporting short sleeves and jean-shorts.
“Do you want a cup of apple cider?” William asked the boy, flipping a quarter absentmindedly while staring over at the vender across the courtyard.
He looked up at his father and nodded silently. The two of them jogged over to the vender and Dad asked for two large ciders. The kind man quickly poured the drinks for them and handed them over to Dad in exchange for the quarter he had. They exchanged farewells and the two of them were off on their original path once more, slowly sipping their ciders, savoring the saturated taste of the freshly picked and mashed apples.
Oliver spotted the bottom of his cup just as an enormous building came into sight. He had rounded the final corner of the stores which stood tall above him in the trading area of town and there, about fifty feet away, was the building at which he was destined to spend the majority of the next six years of his life. As he got closer, he noticed that it was three stories tall. To him, though, it seemed like six. Windows were lined up one after another for what looked to him like miles. Hundreds of other children just about his age swarmed around the front doors of the school.
William looked down at his frightened son and their eyes met. He put a reassuring hand on the boy’s shoulder and the two of them continued walking until they reached the swarms of children. William looked around and noticed he wasn’t the only one above three feet standing there. A good amount of other parents were standing with their children as well. Oliver relaxed when he saw that he wasn’t the only shy one standing with a parent.
A shrill ringing filled everyone’s ears, signaling for the children to find their classrooms. Oliver noticed other parents walking in with their children. The two of them hesitated and once again their eyes met.
“Go ahead,” William whispered to his son encouragingly, “you’re not all mine anymore. Go make some awesome friends.” He smiled warmly down at his son and mussed his flat chestnut brown hair.
Oliver’s eyes burned with curiosity and fear. “Love you, Dad,” he whispered. He slowly walked up the steps and with one last glance back at Dad he entered the school.
He scanned his surroundings, realizing he had three different directions to choose from to search for his classroom. Room 3B, he repeated in his head over and over again, afraid it would slip his mind and he would be left walking around the school aimlessly. I’ll go straight, he decided. He walked slowly past the classrooms, scrutinizing the signs on each door, hoping the next one would read 3B. 4C, 4B, 4A, he read, getting closer with each step.
“3B!” He exclaimed, running into the classroom Dad told him to search for upon arrival of the school. Gordon was the first person he spotted and they ran to greet each other. Gordon pulled out his first notebook, bound with a solid cover. Oliver showed his assortment of colored pencils to his friend as he admired the sharp tips of each with a slightly open mouth and shining eyes.
Oliver noticed that he and Gordon were the only ones in the room interacting with each other. A number of children were bawling in their parents’ arms. Others were sitting silently in their chairs. One girl was standing quietly by the windows, staring off into the distance as though her only wish was to be free of the terrible clutches of the classroom.
He paid close attention to the children who were in tears. He leaned toward his friend and quietly inquired, “Why are they crying? Did they get in trouble?”
Gordon shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”
“It’s just school,” Oliver reasoned.
“I guess.” Gordon didn’t seem too interested.
The two boys fell silent. After about a minute longer of watching his classmates crying and their parents ripping their small fingers away from their waists in order to painfully leave the children to cry on their own, the teacher called the class to order. She told her students to find a seat they liked and to be happy with it since they would be sitting there for a while. She then pulled a sheet of paper out of the large folder which lay open atop her desk at the front of the dark, dusty room.
“First, I will take attendance. Please say present when I call your surname. Bernstien?”
“Present,” said a blonde boy wearing a creaseless white polo shirt and khaki pants.
The teacher went down the list. However, when she called out “Walker,” Oliver began to worry. He wasn’t sure about the alphabet, but he thought T came before W. When the tall, lean woman stopped calling names and put the sheet back into her folder, Oliver’s name was yet to be called out. He panicked. Gordon, who sat next to him, shot him a quizzical look.
“Ask her,” Gordon whispered. Unfortunately, since the rest of the class was completely silent, everyone heard this.
The teacher gave the two boys a stern look. She looked at Oliver a second time and her eyebrows pulled together.
“Did I call your name?” she asked.
“N-no ma’am,” he replied in barely more than a whisper.
“I must have missed you. I’m so sorry. What’s your name?” She pulled out the list once more.
“Oliver Thomson, miss,” he replied.
He watched her scan the list up and down once, twice, three times. He began to fidget. The entire class had their eyes on him. He stared back at them helplessly, hoping someone would save him. Beads of sweat slowly formed on his forehead. Why aren’t I on the list?
“I’m sorry, Oliver, you must be in the wrong class.”
Slowly, with his head down, he gathered his things and thanked the woman for letting her know. He exited the class and stood absolutely confused in the now empty hallways. He looked to his left and then to his right. Both ways appeared to extend for an impossible length, classroom after classroom lined up. Everything looked the same to him.
Oliver burst into tears. As his eyes scanned the hallway he felt completely hopeless. He had no idea where he was anymore. He felt foolish for questioning the children crying in 3B. At least they have a classroom, he thought. He collapsed to the ground, bawling into his tiny hands. He wished only to be safe at home again, where he could eat soup with Dad and play with George, the cat which he so adored. He didn’t want to be crying in the scary, empty hallways. He despised the children in 3B. They didn’t have any right to cry.
The sound of classroom doors opening filled the noiseless hallway. Frightened in the same manner that George would be when he heard loud noises, Oliver stood up, grabbed his bag and bolted. He ran until he found the doors which he had entered. Attempting with all his might to open the large, wooden door, he grappled helplessly with the slippery doorknob. He managed to turn it with both hands and all the strength bottled up inside him. Opening the door proved to be easier than he expected. When it opened enough for him to fit through, his feet pushed him forward in attempt to sprint away from the building that had already given him hell. He bumped into a large, solid figure and fell backward. He slowly looked up, extremely embarrassed and still in tears.
A scruffy beard covered the man’s hard features. His shaggy brown hair stopped short before a pair of eyes which he could never forget. Those brilliant, crystalline eyes could belong to only one man – William Tomson.
Oliver ran into the man’s open arms and the two of them embraced. He could not be happier to see his father. A wave of tranquility washed over him once more when he looked his father in the eye.
Attempting to avoid the boy’s inquisitive eyes, William said, “I read the paper wrong. You’re in 2B.”
Oliver smiled. “Thanks, Dad,” he replied, grateful that the man had come back to make sure he was okay. He wrapped his arms around his dad once more for a long time and then ran back down the hallway.
He reached 2B and, praying it was the right room that time, he opened the door. The entire class turned their attention to him.
“Oliver Tomson?” the young, soft-spoken teacher asked with a sympathetic look on her face.