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The Friendship Knot
“Close your eyes, Mikey,” said the boy in a red shirt.
Michael did as he was told. He wondered what sort of surprise he would get for giving the red-shirted boy his Lunchables. It has to be good, he thought. I really love my Lunchables. But he had never been promised a surprise with such light in the giver’s eyes, he being the much-teased outcast, so he was excited. He felt a tingling and a tickle at his feet, which were covered with brand-new laced sneakers (a must-have for third-grade boys) that his mother diligently tied for him, as it was widely known that young Mikey was unable to tie a simple knot, given the spasmodic shakiness in his hands.
“Open your eyes, Mikey!” said the red-shirted boy. Laughter, then hushing.
Michael opened his eyes and stood up. He examined his surroundings. “Where is my surprise?” he asked. The small crowd of boys giggled. Yelled the boy with a yellow hat, “Go find it!”
Michael stepped forward, then screamed. He had fallen onto the recess mulch. He looked at his feet. His brand-new sneakers were now tied together. Eyes wide and imploring, he turned to the boys.
Said the boy in faded jeans, “Untie them! You can do it!” Laughter, but no hushing.
Michael glanced at his shoes, then at the boys, biting his lip. Then, hands shaking more than ever, he tried to untie the knot, which seemed more a bundle of spaghetti than shoelaces.
After a few minutes of laboring and bearing the boys’ laughter, Michael screamed, “Recess aide!” Half of the crowd of boys ran away in fear of being caught. The other half ran to the alerted aide to argue their innocence.
The aide hushed the crowd of boys, then approached Michael. He examined the tangle of shoelaces keeping Michael on the ground, fingering the protruding aglets. Then, he told all the boys, including Michael, to close their eyes and silence their tongues, threatening a detention for anyone who disobeyed.
Michael quivered like a naked boy in a springtime pool, his shut eyelids a screen for frightening forecasts of fate. No doubt the recess aide was going to humiliate the boys, perhaps writing on their faces, “I was mean today,” with dark black ink that certainly would last longer than just that day. And then inevitably the boys would blame him for all the trouble, picking at him all over again in the safety of the sidewalk a block away from school. He would be the loner, the outcast, forever the last pick in games and playdates, left alone with hands that made him the spoiled child of two overworked parents.
But that’s what I’ve always been, he thought. It can get much, much worse.
For ten minutes did the boys fight the temptation to whine or open their eyes, and for no less did Michael endure the scariest movie he ever saw, daring not a whimper. Then, suddenly, the aide blew his whistle, capturing the attention of everyone at least a twenty feet radius from him. The boys opened their eyes, but no one could speak. Not only were Michael’s sneakers no longer bound together, but also each boy had his left shoelace removed from his shoe, tied around his right pinkie finger instead, the other ends bound at the center of a circle that the boys had been moved into, so that if each boy raised his right hand, the shape of a traditional circus tent could be formed. Michael himself was tied directly across from the red-shirted boy.
After these moments of silence, one boy laughed. Then all the boys did, Michael included.