A New Leaf

“Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday dear Melissa…” A group of girls sang in the background as Jack rushed through the corridor. Not because he was in a hurry, but because the cheerful voices brought hot tears to his eyes. As he walked into the classroom, a red Spiderman bag and a chubby boy caught his attention. ‘Happy birthday honey! Look what mommy got for you! Come on, let’s cut the Spiderman cake!’

“HEY! Don’t you know who’s chair you’re sitting on?” The transfer student cowered under his school bag, “I-I-I’m sorry, I-I’ll move…” Before he could get off the chair, a firm hand pulled him up by his collar. “You think a sorry will get you off the radar, new kid? You better watch out!” Shoving the student onto the cold floor, Jack roared, “You don’t even know who I am, do you? I’m Jack. Remember that, and now get lost!”

The new student had given himself a death sentence, for he had crossed paths with the school bully, Jack.

It was the lesson before lunch, reading time at the library. Shhh! The librarian hissed as Jack and his friends ran towards the comic books. The rest of the class had already chosen their books and taken a seat around the library. The transfer student stared outside the window at the far end of the library, abandoning the book that lay on his lap, when a voice whispered, “Taking an interest in the boring sky, I see.” 

Jack’s friends snickered as they snatched the book from the boy’s lap. “Oh, look! He’s reading kid books! Is it too hard for you, Pig Boy?” Jack read the label, ‘The Ugly Duckling’. Why this book… you stupid pig boy! I hate you!

But mom, why did they hurt the duckling?’ ‘Because they didn’t like how he looked so they hurt him. But always remember, looks don’t matter. Don’t make fun of anyone just because they look different, promise?’ ‘Okay mom, promise!’

“H-hey, give it b-back to me!” The boy cautiously stood up, standing face-to-face with Jack and his friends. Smirking, Jack said, “What did you say your name was, you stuttering pig?” “M-My name is L-Li Jun”, the new student replied, his eyes wide in fear. “Yuck! What a name, piggie! Ever thought of moving to a sty? You’ll meet a lot of your family there!”

Blinking away his tears, Li Jun snatched his book from the bullies and ran out of the library. Trrringgg! The school bell rang. Jack and his friends snorted as they ran back to class, making jokes about the ‘Pig boy Li Jun’.

A fresh aroma of wafers wafted through the cafeteria . Crunch. Picking up his lunch tray, Jack walked towards his usual table, looking for the source of the wafers.

Jack? Honey, look at what mom bought today!’ ‘Is it wafers?’ ‘Yes! You’re right! It’s your favourite strawberry flavoured wafers! Let’s eat them, come on!’

Crunch! Rage bubbled inside him as he spotted the transfer student at his seat.  How dare he sit in my seat again… And eat wafers! Of all food possible, he picked strawberry wafers…

“HEY! New kid, didn’t I tell you not to sit in my seat? Looks like I need to teach you a lesson, hmm?” Jack flipped the boy’s lunch tray, the wafers crushed under his shoes. “I-I…” “I-I… WHAT!? Answer me now!“ Jack’s fist went flying to the boy’s cheek- “Can’t answer, can you? You stuttering pig!”

Bam! The new boy lay sprawled across the cafeteria floor, red patches all over his face. Jack’s friends held him back as he screamed, “Let me go! I must teach him a lesson!” He was caught in surprise when a voice whispered in his ear with a giggle after every word, “Hey buddy, I have an idea, after school’s over… meet me by stairwell B.” It was one of his friends.

The school bell danced, marking the end of another day. Jack peered around the corridors, making sure it was empty before he sneaked towards Stairwell B. Walking up the stairs, his eyes spotted a group of boys – his friends. Why are they standing in a circle? In the centre of the clump, clinging to his Spiderman bag and ‘The Ugly Duckling’ book, stood Pig Boy Li Jun shivering to his core.

As his friends parted to give way, Jack’s anger burst out of its shell. He couldn’t hold it in any longer. “YOU! What’s your problem? Why do I keep seeing you?” With every outburst, Jack shoved Li Jun. “Why do you keep showing up everywhere? Huh, why?” Tears flowed down Jack’s cheeks as he hit Li Jun with all his strength. “Tell me why you keep messing with me! Why do you have a Spiderman bag, why do you read ‘The Ugly Duckling’ and why do you eat strawberry wafers?”

Jack’s friends glanced at each other, exchanging silent words, what’s he talking about? Jack continued to push Li Jun, his belongings falling onto the floor. Stumbling over the Spiderman bag, Jack fell backwards down the stairs. “Jack! NO! Someone get a teacher!” His friends screamed, as they ran back into the building to get help. The stairwell door closed shut with a thud and Jack saw Li Jun rush towards him. Looking at him through his teary eyes, his voice wavered, “W-why did you have to do this Jack?” Then, Jack blacked out.

Weewoo Weewoo… “He’s losing a lot of blood! Nurse, pass me the gauze pads!” Strange sounds filled Jack’s ears as he stirred in the wheeled stretcher. What’s going on? Where am I? The swaying stretcher made him want to puke. All of a sudden, everything went quiet and a silvery voice shook him.

“Jack? Why did you do it? What have you been doing while I was gone!?” Mom! “Yes, it’s me, mom…” Jack wept and wailed on hearing her. W-why… How are you here, mom? “Wasn’t I always in your heart, Jack? Did you forget me?” Of course not! W-why, how could I forget you? Mom… How could you leave me alone in this world- “You’re not alone Jack. There are many others who care about you. All you need to do is tell them how you feel. Open your heart… Let them know!” B-But… What if they make fun of me? W-What if I have no friends?  “Jack, honey… isn’t that what you did to Li Jun? Make fun of him… Hurt his feelings?”

He had never realized… and had never seen it in this perspective. I… I’m sorry mom. I didn’t mean to… I really didn’t! Please believe me!”

“I believe you Jack. But do others? Why did you bully them, Jack? What did they do to you that you went to such a great extent?” T-they… didn’t do anything… “Then why?” Because you left. They had everything I didn’t… Someone to celebrate their birthdays with, play ball with, watch TV with. They had Spiderman bags, strawberry wafers and books we used to read together. Why do they have it and I don’t? Don’t I deserve it? Why do I have to go through this? “You don’t. All you have to do is stop what you’re doing. Apologize to those you’ve hurt. Open up and you’ll get what you deserve. All the strawberry wafers and Spiderman bags you want!”

BUT I DON’T WANT THAT! I WANT YOU!  “I know you do Jack… but you know that’s not possible. Even though I’m not physically present next to you, I’m in your heart, remember? And in your memories too. Now, stop crying and promise me you’ll be a better person. Promise me you’ll stop bullying and that you’ll apologize to everyone you’ve hurt. Promise me that… you’ll be strong.” I promise. “Good boy! Well then, I’ve got to go… It’s time you open your eyes anyway.” I’m sorry mom…

Sunlight peeked through the curtains as he squinted, trying to observe his surroundings. Just then, he heard a familiar voice. “I’m glad he’s not in danger anymore!” It was his homeroom teacher, Miss Roberts. “Yes, we’ve taken care of everything. He’s safe now. However, he’ll need to stay in the hospital for a while.” A stranger in a white coat informed as he twisted the door knob.

Remember your promise, Jack. Be a good boy.” His heart felt heavy on hearing her voice again. I will mom. I love you…

“Miss Roberts, I’m sorry… It’s all my fault. Can I meet Li Jun? I owe him an apology.”

// This story has been penned by 15-year-old Harshita Sundeep Singh and has been selected for publishing on our platform from the weekly submissions //

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