NapNap

We surrounded the pit with our backs to it and held hands. It looked odd. As if we were making a circle but backwards. Ethan came closer. We wanted him to stay away but the strange circle just made him more curious. Mom always told me that if I don’t want to be noticed, I should act normal. I guess she forgot to tell me that sometimes, when you’re afraid, you don’t think right. We should have stayed away from the pit and then Ethan probably wouldn’t have even noticed it. OK, maybe he would have picked on one of us, but we were used to that. He was in our class but looked a lot older. Danny always said that he was probably held back like eight times but I said that if that’s right, then he should be in the army by now. Simon, who was really smart, said that kids were afraid of making him mad because he is always irritated, because he didn’t have any parents and he was living with his older sister and that there were stories about her screaming at him all the time and even hitting him. Danny and Simon held my hands really tight. Out of fear, not love. Maybe fear is a kind of love? Ethan stopped next to us. “So, what do we have here, my darling little children?” he rubbed his hands together, like some witch. I never understood the enjoyment in playing the bad guy. Once, when he was passing near our house, I came out to the balcony, yelled “good” three times and hid behind the blinds. I thought maybe I could remove the evil spell off him with a counter spell. He stopped, looked up and called “Asshole, I’ll get you at school tomorrow” and kept going. The next day he hit me on the head and I realized my spell failed. Maybe he needs to kiss a frog.

“Go away” I said, holding Danny and Simon’s hands even tighter, “there’s nothing here.” He became serious and came closer to me. It was always like that. Even in the movies, after the bad guy would laugh, he would become serious all of a sudden. He put his face right up to mine and whispered “did you say something, worm?” I wanted to say something back but the words were stuck in my mouth. I felt Danny trying to pull his hand out of mine. I was probably hurting him. Ethan took a couple of steps back. “I’m gonna count to three. If you don’t back away and let me see what’s there, I’ll…” -he thought for a moment what to do. We stood and waited for Ethan to decide what he wanted to do to us. He thought of it and clapped- “then I’m gonna punch you, one by one. And I’m not telling you who’s first.” He said while looking at me. We didn’t look at each other, but just by feeling both Danny and Simon squeezing my hands I knew they were not going to move. Ethan walked away a little, grabbed a stick and sat on a large rock. “One” he yelled. No one moved. We stopped breathing. Mothers with strollers were walking by, but must have thought we were playing. “Two” he said. I think he wanted us not to move. It’ll be more interesting this way. “Let’s run, he’s going to beat you up” Danny whispered in my ear. “He’s just a coward, and besides, don’t worry because my brother is going to kick his ass” I whispered back loudly, so Simon could hear it too. Truth is, my brother, who was two years older than I was, was also afraid of him. He didn’t know I was using his name to build up confident. Maybe Simon had an idea? He always had ideas about how to save our asses. But maybe now Ethan made him freeze. “Th-“Ethan dragged out the word, trying to torture us- “rrr”- “we’ll let you see what’s in here but you can’t touch it.” It was Simon. It was a pretty simple idea actually. I didn’t believe he would go for it, but at least Simon bought us some time to breathe. “You’re gonna let me see what’s there”-Ethan answered with a scary look on his face-“and if I feel like touching it I will and if I don’t, I don’t. How’s that?” Well, this wasn’t exactly what Simon had in mind. But Simon jumped in front of me and said OK. I looked at him, annoyed, but from his look I realized I had no choice. Danny calmed down a little and let go of my hand. Danny and Simon stepped aside. I was left standing alone. I was going to move but wanted to make it clear that he can’t touch it. Ethan came closer, slowly, and stood in front me. I looked up. He was much taller than I was. I was thinking to myself that, with a built like that, he was probably sorry he couldn’t beat someone up every day. “So, worm, did you not get it? Or would you prefer that I beat you up first and then see what’s there?” I moved aside slowly. “Don’t touch it” I mumbled. I was actually hoping he wouldn’t hear it. But he did. He grabbed my ear and pinched it. “What are you up to? Don’t touch what?” But then he saw it and let go of my ear.

So now Ethan too knew about our secret. An anthill. For about a month now, since Danny found it, we’ve been coming every day to see the ants building their home. It was huge, not like the little ones you can step on accidentally. They were taking grains of sand from the woods by the garden and bringing them here. It was a line of ants, carrying grains. They were building this high mount that was in the shape of an almost perfect sphere, going up and then lower in the center. It looked like in the old cities when they barricaded before a war. Danny, who used to collect apricot pips, would come to class with like ten apricots every day. His mom used to think he ate them. He would hand them out in class and then collect the pips. He would always keep one though, and we would cut it up into little pieces and put it by the line of ants so they would have something to eat on their long journey. They were regular ants, not at all special. The kind of ants you could step on, like five at a time, and not even notice. In the last few days the ants’ home was nearly ready and only a few ants were still bringing last grains of sand. The rest was busy searching for food. Danny kept following this one large ant with wings. We called it “the flying ant”. But Simon looked it up in the encyclopaedia and told us it was their queen and that it laid eggs and that the other ants, who were called “workers”, took care of them. Danny was a little sad after it disappeared for a few days and decided to call it “NapNap” because it was always napping. Simon calmed him by saying that ant queens didn’t leave the nest much. They were busy giving birth to “workers” for the nest and a few new “queens” as well. The new queens would leave the nest to mate with male ants and form new nests. I asked if “NapNap” was the queen that formed this nest but he said that after forming a nest, the queen will chop off its own wings because she doesn’t need them anymore. “So how come “NapNap” has wings?” I asked. “She is the queen of the next nest” Simon said and left, because he was tired of explaining things to me.

At recess he asked the teacher if after the feminist revolution people will have queens too, that will control everyone and fly off to form new kingdoms. But the teacher just laughed and said it was a bit early for that. Simon suggested we play by the pit every day and this way we can guard it from people stepping in it accidentally. Every day we used to put our bags at home and go down to play near the pit, until the evening. During the day, at recess, we’d sneak out through a hole in the fence and go to check on it. We were at recess now. Ethan wasn’t at recess because he didn’t even come to school. Truth is he only came to school when he felt like it and that wasn’t often.

“An ants’ nest?” -Ethan didn’t believe it-“you idiots. This is what you were making such a big deal about? Stupid kids. I thought you were protecting some treasure.” Ok, so he didn’t care about the ants, maybe he’ll go then. Or he’ll do it out of spite. “And you were worried I’ll ruin it for you? I have better things to do. But I will tell your entire class that you three are a bunch of geeks who play with ants at recess.” Fine, let him tell. It’s not as if we had a lot of friends in class anyway. Just don’t ruin the pit. But you could never tell with him. He could still wreck it, just out of boredom. The bell rang. We went back to class. Ethan went in and wrote on the board in big writing: the three geeks play with ants. The teacher came in and asked me to erase the board. It was calculus and Ethan got bored pretty quickly. He was like a small child. All he’s going to think about now are the ants, until something else will enter his head and then he’s going to forget about them altogether. Simon, who was sitting next to me, said we should find something else to occupy him with. In the middle of class, Ethan said he had to use the bathroom and disappeared. When he didn’t return I said to Simon that he might have changed his mind and went to wreck the pit. I told Danny quietly that we should take turns in going out to check the pit every couple of minutes. I didn’t want Simon to go out because he was good at maths and we could copy off of him later. Danny went out first. He came back with a big smile on his face and told us Ethan was playing soccer with the big kids. “Great” Simon whispered, “He’s already thinking about other things.” I relaxed and finally started listening to the teacher. I waited a few minutes, so the teacher doesn’t suspect anything, and went out. It was getting chilly outside and the sun was being hidden by clouds. Winter was coming. Simon explained to us that the ants were working really hard now to build all kinds of underground tunnels and gather plenty of food for the winter. Ethan really was playing soccer and when he saw me walking past the fence he said: “What’s the matter worm, you skipping maths too?” I smiled and kept going. I got out through the hole in the fence to go check on the ants. I got to the pit but something seemed odd. The ants were rushing and running around in every direction. Even “NapNap” came in and out several times, probably to give orders to the worker ants. Maybe Ethan came past, maybe the ants felt that he wanted to do something bad to them. I didn’t know what to do. I’ll go back and talk to Simon. It started raining all of a sudden. That was not good for the ants. They were busy building their nest and I wasn’t sure they managed to build enough tunnels or gather enough food. On the way back, near the hole in the fence, a big puddle was forming. Water was coming from the school drains. The puddle was so big that water started to flow from it towards the garden, like a stream. The water was pouring into a tunnel in the sand. I started walking along the tunnel. It led me to the ants’ nest. It was in its path. The queen that set this nest up made a mistake. But it couldn’t have known. Even Simon wouldn’t have noticed it. The distance between the puddle and the pit was about the same as the distance we ran today in gym class, when we did the sprint. I had to go get Simon.

I walked into class soaking wet. The teacher turned towards me and asked me where I was. I didn’t answer and walked over to Simon. I whispered “the ants are about to drown in the rain.” We took our bags and signaled to Danny to join us. The teacher yelled: “Where do you think you’re going?” we stopped. I looked at Simon but he didn’t have anything to say. I didn’t know who was worse, the teacher or Ethan. “If you leave class now, you’re not allowed back in until the end of the year and your parents are going to be invited to school to hear about this.” OK, so the teacher was worse. Simon pointed to his watch, showing me there were only ten minutes left before class was over. We sat back down. “And I want the three of you to come to me after class” the teacher said and kept solving the equation on the board. I prayed for the remaining ten minutes till the end of class. I asked god to stop the rain and give the ants enough time to hide deep inside the pit. I drew a little map of the puddle, the tunnel and the pit. Simon said we had to block the tunnel in the sand. Bell. We ran outside without talking to the teacher. Never mind, Simon will come up with a good excuse before next class. On the way I explained to Danny what had happened. He asked if I saw “NapNap” and if she got wet or drowned in the puddle. I told him she went out for a bit but went straight back in and was probably hiding in one of the tunnels that the workers have dug out for her. It calmed him down, even though I didn’t know if that was true or not. The rain kept pouring. God didn’t listen to me. He was probably busy planning something bad to do to Ethan for what he had done to us today. We threw our bags near the hole in the fence. Danny rushed over to the pit, to see if “NapNap” was ok. I showed Simon the puddle. Water was already running in the tunnel. We shouldn’t have stayed in class. But it wasn’t too late. Simon said we should build a barrier out of sand. This way we’ll stop the water and if the water passes the barrier, we’ll build another one closer to the pit. But where we are going to bring dry sand from? “The ants were bringing grains from the woods” Simon said, “there must be some there.” We ran to the woods and between the trees we discovered a pile of sand left from the construction works they did in the garden. We each grabbed as much sand as we could hold in our hands. But by the time we got back the sand was wet from the rain and was useless. Danny found a few plastic bags and we started filling them with sand from the woods and pouring it into the tunnel. We also gathered bits of wood and large stones to build a wall. Danny, who used to help his dad fix things around the house, told us where to pour the sand and how to build the wall. We were almost finished when it started getting dark. But the rain was getting stronger still. The tunnel had already filled with water and became a small stream. We were wet and muddy. We could barely hear ourselves over the rain. Simon was shouting at Danny to go home and bring a flashlight. Danny was worried that once his parents saw him like this they wouldn’t let him come back out. But Simon said we had no choice. Danny asked that if we see “NapNap” that we would pick her up and put her in a bag so that we could later let her out and she would build a new nest. I told him that without a flashlight I’m not sure we’d be able to recognize her, so he ran home.

The water reached the wall and stopped. Simon and I jumped with joy, not paying attention to how soaking wet we actually were. Someone came running. “Danny” I called. He stopped. It wasn’t Danny. He came closer. “What Danny, worm?” Ethan looked at the wall and asked “what’s this?” if we tell him he’s going to ruin it. Actually if we don’t tell him he’s going to ruin it anyway. What should we do? “It’s a wall that’s stopping the water from reaching the ants’ nest” Simon said. Ethan looked at the wall and then back at us. “Smart, huh? You call this crappy pile of sand a wall?” a trickle of water was already starting to break through it. Simon and I quickly grabbed some sand and rocks to try and stop it, but it didn’t work. The sand was soaked and could no longer hold the water back. Ethan stood there and stared. He seemed serious all of a sudden. “I think it’s going to collapse soon” he said. “We need to build another one out of dry sand, want to help us?” Simon asked. I couldn’t believe it. Asking Ethan for help? And with trying to save an ants’ nest, no less. He’s probably going to punch Simon now. Ethan looked at me. I’ve never seen him this serious. He said “I’ll build the wall but I want you to dig tunnels so the water could go in different directions.” I stood there, staring at him. “Hey worm, what are you doing just standing there? Start digging.” I looked at Simon. It was dark but I think he was smiling. There was no time to be surprised. Maybe my spell, from the balcony, was finally working. We gave Ethan a bag and started digging tunnels. Ethan was strong and filled the bags with huge amounts of sand. Every time he emptied a bag of sand into the tunnel, he would stop, look at us, and call “oh-oh-oh” like a monkey, while thumping on his chest. Simon and I laughed. I told Simon that maybe he should help Ethan with his math tomorrow. Danny hasn’t returned yet. His mother probably stopped him from coming back out. It was really hard to see anything. When will this rain stop? We were getting tired. We could barely move, our shoes were wet and muddy and our hands were hurting from digging tunnels. But Ethan was energizing us. He became sort of a commander and kept yelling at us so we won’t stop. The wall was getting bigger and bigger. It became a small structure, with pieces of wood and rocks sticking out of it. Our tunnels were also helping in diverting some of the water in different directions. Meanwhile the first wall we built collapsed and water was slowly reaching Ethan’s wall. I looked at my watch. It was almost nine o’clock. Our parents probably rang the police by now. Maybe the cops will find us and give us a hand with the wall. Although, grownups don’t usually like ants. They think ants are yucky and tiny and that if you can accidentally step on them then they’re worthless.

Once I said to Simon that maybe we are also like little ants in a world of giants, constantly busy with trying to build our nest. Simon said that in that case, where are the giants? I told him that maybe we are so small and they are so huge that it’s just by chance that one hasn’t walked past our nest yet. He laughed.

Our tunnels helped a little bit. Water was really going in different directions, but the main tunnel was so big, that most of the water kept going straight in it. The second wall was ready. It was almost as tall as we were. Ethan found a stick, stuck a piece of paper on it and jammed it on top of the wall, like a flag. He called to the ants “that’s it, you can sleep in peace now” and came over to check our tunnels. I said to him “your wall is like the great wall of China” and he laughed even though he didn’t understand. But the water current got stronger again. We didn’t have the energy to even stand anymore. We stood quietly in the pouring rain and watched. Ethan was so quiet, I wanted to hug him. Simon looked sad. I asked him what was wrong and he said that unless the rain stopped, even Ethan’s wall will fall. We didn’t have the energy to bring more sand and even then, it probably wouldn’t have done any good. The water filled the canal. Hitting the wall and going back with more power. Like those soldiers trying to bring down the city walls with big logs. Ethan, who realized he was too quick to celebrate, started screaming at us to bring more sand but we couldn’t move. He managed to run on his own a few more times but then got tired and went to stand at the other side of the wall, to see that water wasn’t going through. I kept thinking about mom and dad who were probably worried, but I wasn’t sure what I should do anymore. “No! Shit” Ethan called. Simon and I ran to him. A trickle of water has managed to penetrate Ethan’s wall. This is the end. There were only a couple of feet separating between the wall and the nest. “We have to save NapNap” Simon yelled. “But we can’t see a thing” I told him. The water won. Ethan’s wall was now leaking. A small stream was heading straight for the nest. Ethan screamed “stinking water!” jumped into the tunnel and started kicking and splashing water everywhere. Simon and I stood next to the nest. We put our hands over the opening to try to stop the water. I held my fingers tight so the water wouldn’t go through. Water came. Our hands didn’t really help. They were too little. A stream of water got into the nest. I could imagine all the little ants running around like crazy inside their tunnels, trying to escape. Maybe a few of them stayed with “NapNap”, trying to protect her.

I saw a light in the distance. It was Danny with a torch. He was wearing dry cloths. His mom must have dressed him and then he escaped. He saw Ethan screaming and didn’t understand what was happening. He flashed the torch into the pit. Water has already gotten in. “NapNap” Danny was calling into the nest. Ethan didn’t even look at him. He was too pissed off at the water and was busy jumping in the tunnel. Danny jumped into the water-filled tunnel, searching for “NapNap”. Simon and I came closer too. Now, with Danny’s torch, we could see everything. The pit has already filled with water. I looked back at the fallen walls and the tunnels, they seemed ridiculous now. What made us think we could beat this thing? Hundreds of dead ants were floating out of the nest. Just like a real battlefield in those history programs I saw on TV. But they didn’t have a hospital to take care of the wounded. It seemed like a few of them were still alive, struggling to get away, but there was no way for us to help them. Simon pulled Danny back, away from the rising water flow. “Let’s go” he yelled “she’s dead. Come on, nothing we can do” but Danny got back in and started digging inside the pit, pulling nothing but mud and dead ants out. All those cute worker ants we’ve been following for days had turned into corpses flowing in the river that covered their pit. They were so smart and productive but they couldn’t do anything about the water. It was like an earthquake is for us. Even though we’re smart and Simon is really good in math, I’m not sure we could escape the earth breaking in two and swallowing people in. Danny started to cry. He was soaking wet again and was now going to be in trouble with his parents. I also wanted to cry. Simon sat down, holding his head between his hands. Ethan went quiet and was staring at the water, hypnotized. It was sad how someone as smart as Simon or as strong as Ethan couldn’t beat something as stupid as a stream of water. I helped Simon up and we went to get our bags.

Half way there we heard Danny “NapNap, NapNap. She’s here. I found her.” We turned around and ran back. Danny grabbed a small ant, gently, by its wings. It wasn’t necessarily “NapNap” because there could be more than one queen to a nest. But for Danny’s sake I hoped it was. Even if it wasn’t, there was no way for us to know. Simon gave him a small bag and he put the ant inside it. We all got closer to the bag. Danny shined the torch on it. “She’s moving” he called with ecstasy. It must have managed to fly a little bit, enough to save itself from drowning. Need to let it rest. Maybe it was sad because all of the little workers were now lying dead in the tunnel. “Great” Simon said “close the bag and take it home and tomorrow we’ll let it out in the sun.” “Ethan, we’re going home” Simon said “our parents must be worried.” Ethan didn’t have parents to worry about him. He could only go back to his big sister’s yelling. He was in no hurry to go home. Danny shined the flashlight on him. I thought I saw a tear running down his cheek but I’m not sure because it was raining and it could have been just a drop of rain. He walked towards Danny, looking kind of odd. He grabbed the bag out of Danny’s hand, threw it on the ground and stomped it. “NapNap” was squashed and its wings broke into pieces. “No NapNap. They’re all dead” Ethan said, as if to himself, turned around and walked off. Danny picked little NapNap body up. Took it to the pit and laid it on the flowing water. Its body was now with the rest of the ants. Now, dead and without wings, it looked just like all the others.

Fat Moses

“You stinking moron!” Moses screamed.

“Fatso, can’t you see you’re blocking the way? You’re fat.” Kaden replied quietly.

“Get out of here, do you hear me? Get out or−”

“Or what?” Kaden smiled, “or what? What can you do? Look at you. By the time you move that fat belly of yours, you would have already had your butt kicked.”

Moses exploded. His face blew up and looked like a giant tomato. He started to drool. He used to drool whenever he got really mad and couldn’t speak. It was as if spit was replacing his words.

“Hey ugly, wipe that spit. You’re going to give the entire classroom your germs. My mom told me to stay away from you.”

“You…” Moses was approaching Kaden. I jumped out of my chair and stood between them. I grabbed Moses and sat him down. “Enough, what are you getting so upset about? Can’t you see he’s trying to annoy you?” I told him quietly. I turned towards Kaden “Let him go. Why are you picking on him? You have room to pass.”

“Why are you b-b-butting in?” Kaden started stuttering. He would stutter when he was nervous. His parents sent him to speech therapy and it didn’t happen much anymore. But this time I really upset him. “Fatso, after you clean the spit off your face, come to the sand mound near the b-b-basketball court. Unless you are a coward. We’ll see if you’re a man there, not here with geeks p-p-protecting you.” I looked at Moses. I gestured with my finger for him to say no. But the whole classroom was looking at him as well. If he didn’t answer, Kaden would have won. He has to say yes. Maybe he is better off losing the fight rather than not agreeing to fight at all. Hunter, the ‘class king’ and a good friend of Kaden, approached Moses. Moses looked down at the desk and muttered, “after class, in the sands by the basketball court, you s-s-stuttering idiot.” He imitated Kaden stuttering. Kaden jumped at him but Hunter stopped him and whispered in his ear, “after class, don’t worry, the fat guy will get it.”

The teacher walked in. Moses sat next to me. Up until a month ago he used to sit by himself, but the teacher had asked students to volunteer to sit next to him. No one would do it. I used to help Moses with his math homework and his mother had a talk with me.

“I want you to sit next to Moses. He sits alone and I think it bothers him,” she said. “Moses’ mom,” I was embarrassed, “I sit next to Ron and he’s my best friend. If I move next to Moses, Ron won’t be my friend any more. Besides, Iris already sat next to him for a while but she stopped because no one in class would speak to her and also, she said his spit got all over her when he got mad.” “I don’t know what happened with Iris,” his mom wasn’t as nice anymore, “but I’m sure that if Ron is a good friend of yours, then he would appreciate you moving to sit next to Moses. About the spit, I think that’s a made up story and if a little drool comes out when he gets annoyed, well, that can’t kill anyone.”

“I don’t know,” I wanted to go home, “my mom told me that—”

“I already spoke to your mom and she said its OK.”

Moses was sitting next to us the whole time and didn’t say a word. He looked me in the eye and I think he was crying. I wanted to say “no” but couldn’t. So I said “ok” in kind of a sad way. I’ll tell Ron that Moses’ mom made me sit next to him and that after he’ll get his spit all over me, I’ll come back to sit with him. Moses’ mom smiled and gave me a candy.

So now we’ve been sitting together for a month. At first Ron didn’t talk to me but because I’m a good student and he wanted to copy off me, we started talking again and then became best friends again. Hunter and Kaden were not talking to me. I told the teacher that kids were not talking to me because I was sitting next to Moses and she said “If students in this class want to behave like children with no manners and education, that’s their business, you don’t need to take it personally. Well done for helping Moses, I’m sure your parents will know about it in the next parent-teacher meeting.”

Moses wiped the spit off with his hand. I didn’t look at him. If he’s going to fight Kaden, that’s his business. If I help him, that’ll be the end of me in this classroom. Ron will never talk to me again. I took a piece of paper out of my notebook and wrote ‘tell the teacher you are not feeling so good and then run home.’ Moses read it and said quietly “butt out, leave me alone.” Fine, he can do whatever he wants. Maybe if it was me, I’d also fight Kaden. But I knew how Kaden felt. Moses was so fat, that sometimes it looked like maybe he was doing it on purpose, just to irritate. I was also annoyed when he was clinging to me in class. Once, I told his mom not to give him so much candy, but she said it wasn’t candy, it was his ‘build’. I didn’t get it, but it sounded like a grownup excuse.

After class, I’ll hurry to Ron’s house to play on his computer. It was quiet during class. The teacher asked if something had happened but no one said anything. Everybody was waiting for the bell. Except for Moses. I knew he was scared. His hand was shaking when he wrote. I felt sorry for him, but what could I do? Wasn’t it enough that I was made to sit next to him, now I have to get into trouble because of him?

Bell. Everybody was packing their bags in a hurry. Hunter called “everyone to the sands!” The teacher asked “what’s happening in the sands?” and Hunter said “we’re playing soccer.” Moses rose slowly. Only I could stop him, but I didn’t know how. I told him “want to come to Ron’s house and play on the computer?” but he pretended not to hear. Anyhow, I’m not sure Ron would have agreed.

Ron walked past us. “Are you coming to the sands?” he asked. “Aren’t we going to play on the computer?” I said. He pulled me and said, “come on, let’s go see the fatso getting beat up”. I pulled my arm back, “let go, I’m going home”. Ron looked at me shocked, “I thought you said you weren’t his friend.” “I’m not,” I answered quickly. “So why aren’t you coming?” he asked. “I don’t like seeing fights,” I said. Ron turned around in anger and left.

Beth, the cutest girl in class that I’ve wanted to ask to be my girlfriend for the past two years, but was always too shy, stopped next to me. “Do you want to stand next to me at the fight?” “Are you going?” I asked. “Of course I’m going. Didn’t you hear Hunter?” “Yes,” I replied, “but do you like watching boys fight?” “Yes,” she answered, “besides, it’s not just boys”- she looked over at Moses with disgust “its fatso, he deserves it.” “Save me a spot next to you,” I said and she kept going.

I was left alone with Moses. I would call his mom, but that would be more humiliating than getting beat up. I didn’t know what to say. Moses put his backpack on. “Don’t go,” I said quietly. “Why? Do you think I’m scared?” he asked. “No, but why would you? Kaden is an idiot. Besides, he’s got Hunter with him and almost the entire class, so it’s not fair. “Listen,” he has already made up his mind, “I’m going. Want to help me?” “How?” I asked worryingly. “Watch over my bag. Don’t let anyone take it.” I took his bag. I was going to get into trouble because of him after all.

It was raining heavily outside. The sands near the basketball court had turned into mud. It was late and it was getting dark. Apart from the fight area, the whole school was empty. The entire class stood in a circle, with Kaden in the middle. Moses and I came closer. I started thinking about how I’m going to explain the whole thing with the bag. I remembered a picture I saw in the encyclopaedia of an armor-bearer. I felt a bit like that. Moses is the warrior and I’m his armor-bearer. The circle opened to let Moses in and closed right behind him. Beth called, “come here, I saved you a spot”. I smiled and stood next to her. Ron, who stood across from me, was not looking at me. He’ll get over it. Hunter stood in the center, next to Kaden. “When I say go, we start. Anything goes and—” Moses jumped at Kaden. Kaden, who was not prepared, fell on his back with Moses on top of him. Hunter kicked Moses in the stomach and threw him off of Kaden. He stuck his face in Moses’ face and said quietly, “now we start.”

As I thought, it wasn’t an even fight. Moses was very slow. Kaden was ecstatic. He was laughing and smiling and didn’t stutter at all. Every time he kicked Moses he said “so, fatso, was it worth eating like that?” He did his best to hit him and move back each time. Moses tried to grab him, but every time he reached for him, Kaden was already too far. Hunter pushed Moses from behind and he fell on his belly. Kaden jumped on top of him and pushed his face in the mud. One time. And another. And another. The whole class was delighted. They were chanting “Kaden! Kaden! Kaden!” people in the street were stopping by the fence to see what’s happening but the circle was tight and hid what was going on. Beth, standing next to me, was overjoyed. She noticed that I wasn’t calling Kaden’s name like everyone else and asked, “what’s going on? Can’t you see that Kaden is winning?” Yes, I can see. I think that if I was chanting with everyone, I could have kissed her now, for the first time.

Kaden stood up and Moses did too, his face covered with mud. He looked like King Kong on the high-rise with all those planes attacking him. Kaden and Hunter surrounded him and started playing ping-pong with him. Hunter pushing him towards Kaden and Kaden pushing him right back. Moses wasn’t really a child anymore; he was a lump of fat. A little bit like a misshaped soccer ball. With every push, the entire class yelled “Ole!” just like at a soccer game, when the winning team passes the ball around in the last minute of the game. Kaden pushed Moses towards the other kids in the circle. Now the whole class was part of the game. Each side passing him over to the other side. Hunter and Kaden joined the circle. Now it was Moses against the world. He ended up in front of Beth. She looked at me so I would help her push him, but I pretended not to notice. She screamed “get off me, fatso! Your getting mud all over me!” and pushed him off with the help of her friend. I have to leave. It’s all wrong. Moses, Beth, Ron, Hunter, Kaden. I end up being the most messed up. Ron pushed Moses towards me, on purpose. Now he was in my hands. The whole class was looking. Beth was looking. Ron was looking. What do I do? I started hearing voices “come on, what’s up with him?” Moses’ eyes met mine. I have to take him home. His spit was blending with the rain and the mud on his face. He said quietly “help me”. The circle started closing in. They could easily take him back, but they were testing me now. Beth. Ron. Kaden. Hunter. If I let them down, I’m finished in this class. My only friend will be fat Moses, and even that is not certain. I drew Moses closer and whispered in his ear “sorry”. I pushed him back to the circle. Beth kissed me on the cheek. Ron was smiling at me from the other side. Even Hunter was looking at me.

It’s dark. The rain is still coming down. Moses fell into the mud and they couldn’t get him up so they all went home. I had his bag. I am trying to pick him up, “let’s go home, Moses”. He takes the bag back, but is not getting up. “Come on Moses, your mom is waiting” I can’t look him in the eye. I try picking him up again but he won’t let me. “Are you coming or not?” I say for the last time. “Looser,” he mutters. I turn around and start going home. Just before I walk out the gate, I turn around. Moses is still sitting in the mud. I call “Moses!” but I choke. It turns into a whimper “I’m sorry, Moses.”