If there was one thing Calvin absolutely loathed about his life, it was school—his schoolmates, in particular. It is a sad fact of life that teenagers can be exceedingly cruel to one another, especially to those who are different. And there was no one more different than Calvin.
Born partially deaf and with a disfiguring harelip that his parents never had the money to fix, he was never destined to be the most popular kid in school; but coupled with a painfully shy personality and an awkward air about him, he was a godsend to the bullies that plagued the school.
Being the school counsellor, it fell upon me to try to help him, and try I did, though I swear I’ve never seen a student more resistant to sympathy and help. Looking back, perhaps I could have done more—but my therapist assures me that everybody thinks that way after a traumatic incident.
Things took a turn for the worse after Daniel, the nastiest bully in the entire student population, decided to take on Calvin as a personal punching bag. There was nothing overt, nothing that could be reported to the authorities—that was the cruelest aspect of it all, if you ask me—but the poor boy suffered. Missing lunches, tripping over a sly foot here and there, mysterious bruises appearing on his arms—from gym class, he told me, although I’d seen for myself that all he did then was to sit on the bleachers by himself.
He grew quieter and quieter during our sessions, lost in his own thoughts. He eventually stopped answering my questions altogether, choosing instead to look inwards for refuge.
“You have to do something,” I told Mr Barker, the principal.
“You know how it goes, Vic.” He shrugged his shoulders. “We can’t do anything without proof.”
“Look at the boy,” I implored. “What further proof do you need? At least persuade his parents to transfer him to another school or something.”
He turned to look me in the eye. “Victor,” he said slowly, like to a child. “There is bullying everywhere.”
He exhaled heavily, as if pronouncing the matter closed. “It’s just something he has to get used to.”
I stormed out of the office.
During the nights now, when sleep is slow in coming, I like to replay the scene in the principal’s office. To convince myself that I had tried. That I could I have done nothing more.
People tell me that I couldn’t have known. But you see, I did.
I knew when I saw him walk through the gates, carrying his haversack backwards, in front of him, one hand laid protectively over it. I knew when he looked up to catch me looking at him, only to give a slow, sad smile, as if he was sure I would understand.
And in a way, I did. I thought about how Daniel had, just the previous day, announced to the uproarious cafeteria that the soup Calvin had for lunch was in fact fifty-percent urine, courtesy of the football team.
It was just a joke, Daniel insisted, smirking, when I confronted him. Go ahead, test the soup, he said, knowing full well that a pale Calvin had already poured the remaining liquid down the drain. In a way, he could have been telling the truth, but it didn’t matter. As far as the rest of the school was concerned, Calvin had drunk pee.
And so I walked away from the thin figure trudging silently towards the school. I walked on, even as I heard the gunshots thundering in the distance. I said a silent prayer for the boy that did not belong, and I prayed he would find a better place to go to.
The final body count was three. Calvin, Daniel, and Mr Barker when he had tried to intervene. It’s funny how he had decided to act only when it was far too late for it.
I hope he’s getting used to the bullet in his brain.