The hatless boy was hunched alone against the hard brick wall. His jacket too thin, too tight, and too tattered for the cold snowy day. His large belly pushed through several button-less gaps. He pretended not to be aware of the two snow-fort walls, ten yards away. But he was aware of the girl called Mandi. He had been watching her all week.
“Hey, Malcolm. Come on over.”
The fat boy stared at her through thick glasses, dumfounded. “Me?” he said.
Mandi tossed back the fuzzy hood of her scarlet coat. Blonde hair tumbled out in rolling waves. Her smile got even brighter as she beckoned with a green snowy mitten. “Yeah, you. We need you on our side.”
Then a girl called out from the other walled fort. “Don’t listen to her, Malcolm. We want you on our side.”
Then the kids behind both snow walls were all grinning, and calling his name, over and over. “Mal-colm. Mal-colm. We-want. Mal-colm.”
Malcolm could not believe his ears. Since his mother enrolled him last week, this was the first time anyone at school had used his real name—anyone except his teachers. The names the kids did call him multiplied every horrible day.
Fatty. Tubby. Lard Ass. One kid had called him Tub-A-Guts and poked him in the stomach.
“You got a baby in there?” he had said, grinning. All the other kids had laughed.
Another kid had elbowed his buddy when Malcolm was in the boy’s room. “Get a load of the new kid’s face, Jake. Looks like a fruitcake that blowed up in the oven.”
The other kid had snickered, peering at Malcolm’s pimply forehead. “What are all those ugly green things?” he said. “Chunks of snot?”
Scalding tears had burned Malcolm’s eyes. It didn’t matter where he went. It was like someone always hung a sign on his back, a sign that said, “Ugly Stupid New Kid”
The girl called Mandi had been different. She had never laughed at him. She hadn’t looked at him either, but at least she hadn’t laughed at him. And now, here she was, calling him. And using his real name!
Her voice got more insistent. “Come on, Malcolm. Lunch’ll soon be over. I’ll give you some of my snowballs.”
Hesitantly, Malcolm started moving forward. “You … you really want me on your side?”
“I said it, didn’t I?” Mandi said. “Now, hurry up !”
Malcolm stared at her for another moment. Then his head swiveled to take in the kids who were lined up behind each separate snow wall. Faces grinned behind both walls; snow-crusted mittens motioned him closer.
“What’re you waitin’ for, Mal-colm?” someone yelled. “Fourth of July?”
As Malcolm neared the open area between the two walls of snow, the girl from the other team called out again.
“If you come to our side I’ll give you a big kiss. How would you like that, Mal-com?” Her wet, kissy sound made Malcolm’s groin tingle.
For a moment, he was torn between the two snow armies, and also between the two girls. He still could not believe any of this was happening.
He glanced at the kissy girl once more. But then he started jogging heavily toward Mandi. He couldn’t remember ever being so happy.
Wait’ll I tell Mom about this! he thought.
His own tentative grin was just starting to blossom into a broad smile when the first icy snowball caught him in the throat. An instant later, another snowball slammed into the back of his neck. Another hit the side of his face, knocking his glasses off.
Malcolm lurched to a stop, stunned, confused. He tried to look around but the snowballs were now flying at him from every blurry direction. The voices were different now, too—mean, sharp, and stained with obscenities.
“Gettim!” somebody yelled.
“Blast the fat turd!”
“Go back where you came from, Tub-A-Guts. Nobody wants you here.”
And then a girl’s voice. Mandi’s? “Look everybody! The baby’s crying.” Her laughter, too, was shrill and cruel. “What’s the matter, Fatty? Doncha like the taste of snow?”
Suddenly, obscenities were pouring out of Malcolm’s own throat, choked and wet and mixed with sobs. Clumsy and awkward, the foul words sputtered off his tongue, like chunks of filth that had never been hurled before.
Several times, Malcolm staggered blindly around in a circle as the snowballs continued to pummel his body from all directions. His breath was coming in ragged gasps. Mucus and tears and icy snow slid into his eyes, blinding him completely.
He was trying desperately to smear the slimy moisture away with the sleeve of his thin jacket when something slammed into the back of his head. It was much harder than a snowball.
Malcolm was jolted forward by the blow. His breath exploded from his throat as the world turned grey. Streaks of lightning seared his neck and shot down his spine. He sagged to his knees for a moment, his shoulders jerking. And then he toppled slowly forward.
He could barely feel the grainy snow push up his nose and into his mouth as the whole white world turned black before his open eyes.
A bell was ringing, far away. The jeers began to fade. And then he heard nothing at all.
(This is a story about the cruelty of children--a trait that, unfortunately, is too often carried over into adulthood. Especially when the mind-set continues to be: "us" versus "them." rh)