I dashed through the crowded halls like a streak of light, slipping through the most impossible cracks. Rows of classrooms blurred against the background. Only twenty or thirty seconds had passed since I heard the end of school bell, yet I’d already made it to the final corridor where heaps of sunshine poured brazenly through the exit door window. I was so close to freedom I almost laughed aloud, but as I lunged for the door the hall went dark.
Bertha stood filling the space between me and the door, effectively blocking the sun and preventing my escape. She was gigantic, a head and shoulders above me even though I was the tallest boy in our fourth grade class. Bertha was big-boned, but we weren’t supposed to talk about it. ‘Her size wasn’t her fault,’ explained Principal Wright. ‘We should treat her like anyone else.’ When Bertha wasn’t around everyone talked about her size. Mostly they agreed she was from Texas and that’s why she was so big. They said everything from Texas is larger than normal.
“Where do you think you’re going?” asked Bertha.
“Um, home,” I squeaked, which made it sound more like a question than a statement.
An aggressive crowd gathered quickly and I had a sick feeling that I was going to be late for my bus.
“You’re not going anywhere,” snapped Bertha.
“What do you want?” I asked, though I already knew. Everybody knew. It had been the talk of the school the whole day. She was either going to stuff my head into a trash can, or turn my head into stuffing, depending on whether you believed Marco or Timmy. Turning my head into stuffing, which was Timmy’s report, didn’t make any sense. Plus Timmy was wrong most of the time. But I didn’t see any trash cans nearby either.
“You called me a liar,” shouted Bertha. “So now we’re going to fight. Then we’ll see who the liar is.”
“But I didn’t!”
“Oh yeah?” asked Bertha turning toward the crowd. “Didn’t he call me a liar this morning?”
The crowd agreed with Bertha with an enthusiastic burst of all-knowing murmurs. It was disgusting. I wanted to hand them all torches and pitchforks, so at least they could resemble a proper mob.
By this time I had gained an unjustified sense of courage. I looked Bertha straight in the eyes and yelled, “You said Wisconsin was in Canada. All I said was that actually Wisconsin is in the United States.”
Bertha shoved me hard enough to make me fall on my backside and she said, “Yeah, well we’re all sick of you thinking you know everything.”
I got right back up, slid my glasses up the bridge of my nose and said, “Well I’m sick of you using your big bones to hurt people.”
The crowd drew in a collective breath, gasping in unison. I wished I could suck the words back in the moment they came out. I especially regretted placing extra emphasis ‘big’ and ‘bones.’ We weren’t supposed to use those words. Even if Bertha’s big bones really were a problem. Last year Bertha’s big-boned foot smashed into Marco’s head when he got too close to the swing set. I think she kicked him on purpose. I can’t prove it because I was home sick that day and I didn’t see what happened. I just have a feeling it wasn’t entirely on accident. They said when Marco’s head hit the ground his skull cracked open and chunky bits of brain spilled out. Marco was back in school the next day.
“Are you making fun of my size?” yelled Bertha, up close, blowing her stinky breath all over my face.
And that’s when Principal Wright walked up.
I was given two weeks detention for teasing Bertha. I contested the charges, but the evidence from witnesses was stacked against me. They all agreed with Bertha and said I was making fun of her big bones.
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