Angela, fireplug of a 5th grade girl, stood atop my school’s beat up play structure this afternoon the way she does every day, fists on hips, jaw set. The Crusher as the kids called her. An old school bully. She lorded over more than that old structure. She topped the whole playground. Not one recorded instance of a time where she backed down. She did not say much. She did not need to.
Today, when she took her recess position, she smacked her gums, waited, watched and paid no mind as the sounds of students’ singing voices floated down from the third floor.
The playground took on a high noon feeling and I didn’t like it one bit.
I had known tough nuts like Angela. Different decades, different hairstyles, same delivery. She divided the playground into those who “messed” with her and those who did not. She found a new target every day and she looked for ways to take that target out. Today, she was looking for Ronnie.
“That boy getting on my nerves” was Ronny’s main offence.
He had peed his pants at first recess as we students waited in line. She had stood behind me and when he had his moment, she called out “eeeuuuuwah” loud enough for all to turn. Teacher sent the rest of the class inside, and sent Ronnie to the office for a change.
I saw Angela looking back as she entered the building with her classmates. I could see her lips form a dozen or so words, could see her nod and stop speaking and then step through the doorway. As she marked Ronnie, what was Ronnie thinking? Maybe phrases like “why she looking at me – no one gonna help me – I am lost.”
Noon recess was to be her chance to call him out once more.
Turns like these are true crushers. They have happened on playgrounds as long as playgrounds have existed. Angela was no more than today’s functionary. Ronnie avoided her by staying in the lunchroom until the bell rang. I decided to follow their class indoors after the bell.
That’s when the law of cause and effect struck.
Kids sat reading. I pulled a book from the shelf, found a desk near the back, and read along with them. The room got quiet. Then came a scurry, a scuffle, and a scream. A mouse, maybe two inches long, popped from within Angela’s desk. It shot out, ran up her arm, and jumped to the chalk tray next to her. She collapsed and a commotion ensued. Ronnie sat behind Angela and watched the whole thing.
Angela fell to the floor and lay there for a good minute before anyone paused to help. My guess is that her classmates found her high pitched scream as much of a shock as a mouse. Undone, stripped in front of pointing and laughing.
“Did y’all see Angela? She almost died and that mouse weighed a ounce and a half.”
The teacher slammed her big book shut and the class fell silent. I nodded, grinned, and stepped out the back door.
Was I mistaken, or did I see a smile on Ronnie’s face?
Toughness is pretence. Good shell, but empty in the end. Even with clenched jaw, it all gets in. Trust that life, like mice, is an equalizer. Remain alert. It may not appear so at first, but all will work out in time.