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Usually at the end of the day the halls are dead silent, a stark contrast to the busy, crowded, and noisy school hours. Classrooms that once held a dozen kids now just hold darkness and empty desks. Someone else may have though seeing the school as a ghost town would be eerie, but for me it was a daily occurrence. Just another walk through the halls. My parents worked late, and in the time I spent waiting for a ride I would take my rounds through the school; each day a different route, but ultimately the same.
I didn’t usually pass many people; the occasional sports player walking to the gym, or a janitor cleaning the halls was normal. Today, however, there was a bit of commotion at the far end of the hallway I was walking down. A couple of boys, younger than me but not too young, crowded around a smaller, even younger looking boy. They stood in a rough half circle, with the open end against a row of lockers. The boys on the outside smiled to each other, and I couldn’t really discern much else from where I was. It seemed to me like a group of friends, roughing around while they wait for a ride. As I got closer, though, the words I though sounded like conversation turned vulgar, and the boys who seemed like friends split into antagonists and a victim.
The group laughed.
That laugh hung in the air, drifting through the empty halls, passing the darkened classrooms, and weaving its way to my ears. I’ve heard it before, I knew I had. My walking slowed and eventually stopped while my thoughts raced, trying to find the memory associated with this laugh. Probably a second passed before I made the connection, but it seems like ages when you’re combing through thoughts, searching for something.
The laugh had been from my childhood.
It was hot. The sun was blinding and we were playing football in the grass. Kids yelled and screamed all around, while pretending to watch while they, too, sweltered in the heat. A new kid moved in a few days ago; that was unusual. We hardly ever got new kids. I didn’t know him - he wasn’t in my homeroom - but from what I heard he was “weird”. Apparently he moved from a foreign country. Or from Canada. Or Minnesota. One of those. Each person had a different story. Seeing him standing alone across the grass, he seemed pretty normal to me. What wasn’t normal was the group of kids, sneering and pointing at him. I walked away from the football game to see what they were saying. Damn my curiosity.
“– Yeah I know, probably had no friends at his old school, too!”
The group laughed.
I winced at that line. I wasn’t one to stick my nose in situations that didn’t involve me, but it hurt to see such an innocent looking kid get teased like that. One of the bigger kids bent down and picked up a rock. It was small, palm sized, which at that age wasn’t very big. He turned to the group.
“Think I can nail him with this?”
The group laughed.
Egging him on.
He cocked his arm back and let fly. I remember thinking how stupid kids my age were as the rock made its large arc through the air. It was traveling slowly, but its aim looked dead on. The group gasped, and the thrower closed his eyes, obviously realizing how dumb his idea was. I stood there, regretting not stepping in when I saw him pick it up. I was definitely close enough to have stopped them. Gah! Why didn’t I stop them? Present day flooded back to me as the rock impacted his skull.
I was closer to the group now, subconsciously walking as the scene played out in my head. I was close enough to see what they were doing now. One of the bullies held the smaller boy’s backpack. He tossed it at him, a good solid chest pass. The smaller boy caught it, but wasn’t ready to take the impact. He reeled backwards, and his lower back hit the lockers hard, and he slumped down to the floor.
The group laughed. That same laugh I head back on the field that hot day. I wasn’t about to make the same mistake again.
“What’s going on over here?” I yelled loudly, hoping to grab someone’s attention.
The group whirled around. They were obviously surprised by my question.
“None of your damn business, that’s what.”
I ignored his answer and walked over to help the smaller boy up. He didn’t look hurt physically, but I could tell that he was scared. Up close he looked even younger. Probably a freshmen, still getting used to the people, the halls, and the emptiness of post-school hours. He reminded me of myself when I started highschool. I could sympathize with him. When he was on his feet, another voice called out.
“What is going on over here?”
It was one of the teachers. I didn’t know his name, but I passed his classroom on my rounds. He always stayed late. I think he tutored or something. He must have overheard me yell out.
One of the group members was quick to answer. “Nothing’s going on, we were just messing around.” He picked up the smaller kid’s backpack and handed it to him. “See?”
I scoffed at that. “So you mess around by throwing his backpack at him?”
The teacher studied the boys, and then looked at the smaller kid. He was ashamed at what had happened, but he nodded in agreement with what I said.
The teacher frowned. “You four, with me.” He looked over at the kid. “And you. Pick up your things and meet me at the Dean’s office.” The group looked angry and gave scowls to me and the teacher respectively. “I can’t believe these kids some days...” I heard him sigh as he walked away, the group in tow.
The smaller boy gave his thanks as he grabbed his things. He was obviously shook up. He explained his situation; His parents worked late, he had to wait for a ride. All too familiar. He said the group bumped into him on both sides, purposely, and blamed him for it. When the kid didn’t immediately apologize, they ganged up on him. As he finally picked up his coat from the floor, he looked up to me and held out his hand. “Thanks”
I shook his hand, and he turned to walk to the Dean’s. I smiled to myself, proud that I stood up for once. I won’t regret this moment like I do the one in 7th grade. The new kid was fine, by the way, just bruised from the toss. After that day I made an effort to get to know him. He wasn’t weird at all.
I see the smaller kid in the halls every once and a while after school. Every time I do, he comes up to me to shake my hand, and every time he does, I flash back to the first time he did. Instead of the laughing ringing in my ear, its his thanks. I would take that over the laughing any day.