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Caps.

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I watched the small sized boy enter the classroom, running a hand through neatly cropped hair, fully rimmed glasses resting awkwardly in front of sunken eyes – such oddly empty eyes they were. His face possessed no striking features and his clothes were plain, yet somehow, he still held my attention. The boy held between his right palm and forefinger a metal lid, like those used on jam jars.

Pop!

The noise startled me for a split second, but I soon realized it was merely the small boy’s lid, popping the safety seal.

Almost instantly, I judged him to be an outcast, an almost deranged individual. Though it was only the third grade, such judgement comes naturally it seems.

Pop!

“…Hey you! What do you think you’re doin’?” called out Bernard, one of the larger boys of the class, pot-bellied and think-armed. I was obviously not the only one to have noticed the strange boy.

The little boy appeared not in the least frightened. “My name’s Willow. What’s yours?”

Bernard’s pudgy face twisted with confusion. “I didn't ask for your name, stupid. I asked, what do you think you’re doin’?!”

“...I love caps,” Willow responded matter-of-factly, his voice so serious as to leave no trace of doubt that he did indeed mean what he said.

I almost guffawed right then – how could anyone like something as… stupid as a jam jar cap? But I controlled myself out of politeness, though I was afraid I may not be able to keep my laughter contained much longer.

Bernard and a few other boys however, could not control their hysterical laughter. Willow remained unfazed.

“Why… why would… anyone… like THOSE?!” managed Bernard between squeals of laughter and bursts of hiccups.

Willow stood still and continued to stare at exactly the same thing he had been during this entire fiasco – at nothing. Eyes focused on nothing but the air a few paces distant, staying completely still, jar lid spinning through his fingers the whole time.

The room had gone silent. Two dozen eight year olds at the peak of their play time – silent. Awaiting the answer. Why be so different from us? Why?

Just when I was beginning to believe Willow would never answer, he whispered:

“The popping sound - it reminds me of my mother.”

My mind fumbled this sentence around my skull a dozen times over, trying to make sense of it. Reminds him of his mother? He’s going to see his mother at the end of the day when he is picked up!

Nearly instantaneously, the entire class, including me, interrupted with giggles and laughter.

“He’s gonna see his dear mummy in just a couple hours!”

“Run back to your mummy stupid!”

“Is your mummy a lid?”

Saying nothing, Willow trudged over to a vacant corner of the floor and continued toying with his most precious lid. Somehow, the flimsy metal lid appeared to give Willow more joy than Christmas brings to other children his age. The warmest smile imaginable upon his lips, his eyes wetted by tears (seemingly) of joy, ever entwined with the movement of the cap, silently awaiting the arrival of the teacher and the start of the day.


The following morning wasn't much different – Willow slid his way into the classroom, popping another lid – a different one, I noticed. Does this creature have a whole collection?

Everyone’s eyes were fixated upon him, yet no one dared make eye-contact. Instead they stared at his back, pointed fingers and mumbled nasty things to each other, sniggering and giggling while they did. The moment Willow chose a seat on the corner of the carpet, everyone immediately vacated the premise, scooting as far away as possible from the strange child. Willow would forever be alone, I realized. Just him and his popping caps.

I did not feel sorry for him.

The day of school came to a close and the children were finally allowed to run out the door and into their mothers’ embrace. I quickly found mine amidst the swarm of mummies and hugged her gigantic legs hard, head to the side.

Down the hall and out the door, I watched Willow leave. His mom was not with him. I thought little of it, and continued on with my own ideas, my own thoughts, my own life.
The only life that mattered.

It wasn't until the sixth day that Willow spoke a word to another classmate. Bernard.

The day was progressing as normal, with screams and laughter, slips and falls, constant chatter. The teacher was off printing our next basic facts worksheet, and the resulting atmosphere was even more wild than usual. Yet Willow sat alone with his cap, seemingly miles away from the rest, head bent and transfixed upon his chosen cap of the day, that maddeningly happy smile upon his lips once more. For some reason, Willow’s unexplainable happiness made me hate and fear him even more.

While I watched him with my group of friends all doing the same, wondering how it was even possible to be so strange, Willow stood up. His eyes were finally fixated upon something other than his cap.

Bernard meanwhile, was talking loudly with his group of big boy dudes (they refused to be called anything else), eating directly from a jar of jam, using his fingers as a spoon. Discarded at his feet was the cap.

Willow seemed to glide his way toward Bernard, eyes never leaving the targeted cap. A shush grew over the room as children began to realize what was happening. Willow stopped before Bernard, head still bowed down, marveling his targeted prize.

“May I please have your cap, sir?” Willow inquired – so politely, so sincerely, that once more I found my mind at a loss.

Even the mighty Bernard appeared to be a great deal confused for a good moment as he gazed blankly at Willow, jam dripping from his fingers and face. After what seemed like an eternity, Bernard answered.

“Yes… yes you may, my kind fellow.”
Immediately, alarms went off in the minds of all the children. Bernard never complimented someone, and the way he said it, like a tiger on the prowl –
Something bad was about to happen.
Bernard stood up, bent down, and retrieved the cap from the floor.
Then mashed it into Willow’s face.
Blood sprayed from Willow’s fragile nose and he fell immediately to the ground, emitting not even the faintest of sounds.
No one moved. No one spoke.
No one helped.
No, best let the teacher deal with this one. Just let the teacher deal with this mess.

Willow was not seen at school the next day nor the next two weeks to come. Bernard had been expelled, and every day there were whispers spread around of Willow’s death and his vengeful return as a ghost. Or a zombie. These rumours were staunched (or, some say, confirmed) on a placid Wednesday morning.

Most of the class was sitting upon the same old carpet, chatting away. This time however, Willow’s corner was not surrounded by a gigantic radius of solitude. The children smiled, and the sun shone upon the carpet through the half-open blinds. With a small creak, the door opened once more and there stood someone – or something – that made my heart jump into my throat. Barely recognizable, hair over his eyes, shoulders slouched, hands limp to his sides – stood Willow.

He did not have a cap.

A shush fell upon the class much like the first one invoked by Willow, and they all stared at what may be their worst nightmare.

“…I tried to burn them.”

His words were coarse and heavy, like slabs of granite and I struggled to find meaning.

“I tried to burn them with fire.”

The lids?

“I didn’t want to. But you made me try.”

Willow’s words resounded through the room, being heard but not listened to.

“It didn't work. So I drowned them. Just like she was.” Tears welled in Willow’s empty eyes.

“They’re gone now. Forever. The caps and their sweet popping sounds.” Despite the tears, Willow’s voice did not waver.

Willow then made his way to his corner of the carpet, and immediately it was evacuated. Little did it matter that he had tried to give up his strange ways. He was strange before and that was reason enough for the children to exile him forever.

And so a broken child devoid of his only source of joy sat a couple feet away from me, head between his knees, sobbing softly.

I didn't care.




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