Leonardo August Malanowski sat apart from the other kids during lunch recess. Opening his lunch sack, he found the white paper napkin his mother always put in there, but which he never used. It was right on top, just like it always was. He remembered they had meatloaf for supper last night when he saw the sandwich. The small apple went into his pocket for later as he took out the little bag of Nestle's chocolates, spreading the chocolate chips on the table before him. Lennie watched the other kids laughing and trading food, aware that he was an outsider, the new kid in school. It was late in the school year when he had transferred to Booker T. Washington Elementary School. It would have been nice to start in September; it was always easier to make friends when there were a lot of new kids starting together. The kid who sat beside him in class, Buddy, was the only friend he had so far, but Buddy was absent this week and he sat alone. With his elbows on the table, something he couldn't do at home, he finished the sandwich and picked up a chocolate chip, wishing there were more of them. He tried tossing one in the air and catching it in his mouth like Mikza, his older brother, but missed. He always missed.
Lennie stayed at the lunch table as the boys in his fifth grade class ran for the baseball equipment. Last week he had tried to join the game, but they didn't seem to hear him when he had run out and shouted, "Hey, can I play, too?" He had not tried since. Earlier, a couple of the guys had laughed when the teacher introduced him. He tried to tell her that no one called him Leonardo, it was just a family name, but she just smiled and said it was a nice name. She had been calling him Leonardo ever since.
Three fourth grade boys and a girl in his class sat down at the end of the table. They had two glass coffee jars and he watched with interest as he saw them poke leaves and twigs inside. The jars were full of bugs. Angela, as the oldest, seemed to have taken charge. She sat on top of the table with one of the jars between her legs and looked over at Lennie a few times as they went about the business of giving names to the bugs.
He thought about offering Angela the last few chocolate chips, but there
were only two left on the table before him. She looked like she might like
to be friends.
The ball bounced twice before hitting the table. There wasn't enough force to break the jar, but it was sent spinning down the table, strewing bugs and bits of flowers across the table toward Lennie. He grabbed one of the pieces of chocolate and popped it into his mouth, then reached for the other before it disappeared from view. That too went into his mouth.
Angela and the boys stood wide eyed as they looked at Lennie. One of the boys had his mouth open. It was a moment before anything happened. Finally, Angela started to giggle. The smallest of the boys broke and ran for the school building while the two others started to shout: "Hey, the new kid just ate some bugs!"
Lennie, paralyzed, stood there. Had he eaten a bug? No, the chocolate was the only taste in his mouth. He was sure he would know the difference. "He ate a bug!" The boys were still shouting. "Lookitall the bugs, and he ate some of them!" By now the fifth and sixth grade boys had gathered around. Angela, still giggling, was pointing at him.
"Hey, kid, did you really eat a bug?" It was Charlie, the biggest and most popular boy in his class. There was awe in his voice as he asked it. Anthony, the little loudmouth who was always so funny, said, "Hey, hey, would you eat another one? That's neat." Lennie looked around at the crowd of boys who had never even spoken to him and quietly picked up one of the little sowbugs.
The gang of boys, so noisy a moment ago, became totally silent. Looking around, he saw several of them holding their breath. Even Angela was quiet. He closed his eyes, and with great nonchalance, tossed it in the air and opened his mouth. He had never ever been able to catch candy or nuts the way Mikza did. Not ever.
The sowbug slid down Leonardo August's throat.
"Wow, did you see that?" The small group was crowding around and offering him other tasty morsels just as the fourth grader who had run off returned with the teacher.
"What's going on here?" Miss Tracy looked at the jar and the contents on the table as the group started to laugh, all trying to explain at once.
Charlie put his arm around the shoulder of Leonardo August and said, "Hey, Bugsy, you wanna play baseball with us?"
-------------------------------------------- r.w. --------------------------------------------