Short Story About Bullying
Pablo etched her face with broad pencil strokes. Two fine lines hinted at eyebrows, lifted in a lipless smile. The large eyes were slightly downcast, lashes thick and soft. Prominent cheekbones hovered above a thin jaw line and soft chin. None of the features were completely filled in. Only one nostril was finished, the eyes were half shaded, and light waves of hair framed the sides of her face and neck. Tiny wrinkles at the edge of her mouth spoke of tears and laughter. Pablo’s pencil bobbed and flicked across the page. He worked quickly, touching down in random corners of the portrait.
He thickened a bit of shadow under the left eye, added another lock of hair, and sharpened the edge of the woman’s lip. Pablo was so engrossed in the drawing that he was not aware of his teacher standing just behind him, looking over his shoulder. “That’s beautiful. I’m glad to have you in my class, Pablo. You are very talented. ” Ms. Sanadi smiled at him. “Who is it? ” “It’s, um, no one really. ” Pablo set his pencil down and glanced around at the other tables of students. He felt uncomfortable, as he always did, when teachers praised him. It was hard enough being the new student. It’s obvious you’ve had some practice. ” Ms. Sanadi took a step closer and leaned down to admire the sketch. She was close enough for Pablo to smell faint perfume, like crushed petals. “She looks sad somehow, but very pretty. ” “Thanks ma’am,” Pablo replied quietly.
“Now nothing against this fine lady, Pablo, but I’m obliged to make one critical comment. ” Ms Sanadi grinned, as if to belay her tone. “As I said at the start of class, we are working on contour drawing. This is lovely, especially around the eyes, but contour drawing is just lines – no shading. ” “Sorry ma’am,” he said, “I’ll start over. He picked up the portrait, folded it once, and set it to the side. “Oh, don’t worry dear, there’s no rush. I won’t ask you to turn anything in until the end of the week. ” She stepped away from the table as her sentence trailed off. When Pablo glanced up, Ms. Sanadi was already examining someone else’s work. He pulled a new piece of paper in front of him, picked up his pencil, and started sketching the classroom. He was seated near the back of the room, so he began outlining the tables of students directly in front of him, heads hunched in synchronous slouch. He gave this row the thickest, darkest lines.
He was careful not to shade, although he much preferred to include the softer details. After faintly delineating the first row, Ms. Sanadi’s desk, and the chalkboard, Pablo returned his attention to the students directly in front of him. A petite girl with an overlarge sweater had her backpack on the table, separating her from the two rowdy boys who shared the space. The boy immediately to her right looked fragile. His head twitched from the tabletop to his companion; they snickered at a private joke. The other boy was large and bullish, with a meaty forehead and a cruel sound to his whisper.
Pablo could not make out what they were saying, but he wasn’t trying to listen either. His concentration was on the creases in their clothes, their hunched posture, the chips and cracks in their seatbacks. “Okay everyone,” Ms. Sanadi spoke extra loud to cut into the murmur. “Sarah’s not feeling well, so I’m going to walk her down to see Jason. Keep working and keep your voices down, I won’t be gone long. ” Pablo hadn’t noticed the sickly girl at the front of the class. She had nut-brown skin like Pablo, but there was a green hue to her cheeks. She wobbled beside Ms. Sanadi, eyes on the floor.
A moment later the door closed, and the voices in the room burgeoned. Pablo ignored the chatter, kept his head down, and continued drawing. Several minutes passed and the teacher did not return. The volume continued to rise, and soon Pablo was the only student not talking to a neighbour. True, he was the only one seated at his particular table, but this was also his first day at Central Secondary, and Pablo had learned long ago that new students do well to keep their mouths shut until they get their bearings. He estimated that he would need two weeks’ reconnaissance before he could map out the cliques and cabals of his new environment.
Not that Pablo expected to stay at this school long – he never did – but he was accustomed to the rigmarole of being the new kid. Just as Pablo started etching the folds in the girl’s backpack, the large boy at her table yelled at someone across the room. “Did you just say my name? ” The boy got to his feet. “You better not be talking about me you little freak. ” Pablo saw a small head at the front of the class shake back and forth, accompanied by a frightened squawk. The twitchy kid beside the bully chortled encouragement. The frightened boy at the front turned around quickly and sank down in his seat. “I’m talking to you, Chris.
Don’t turn your back on me. ” He stepped away from the table and into the aisle between rows. “What did you say? ” “Nothing. ” Chris’s voice squeaked again. He was still seated, but he had turned around once more, mooneyes pocked with fear. “He said the only reason you’re so big is because you failed sixth grade. Is that true Jenkins? ” This came from a freckly, red-haired girl at the table behind Chris. She smiled as she perched on her chair, enjoying the prospect of conflict. Several people chuckled, perhaps at Chris’ expense, or at the insult to Jenkins. The thuggish boy ignored the laughter and took three strides to stand beside Chris.
Even from behind, Pablo could see that Jenkins was furious. His shoulders were tense. His neck was reddening. His fists were balled. Pablo set his pencil down. He didn’t like fighting, but even more, he didn’t like bullies. He’d been bullied himself by countless louts, although he always did his best to meet them fist for fist. Pablo wasn’t a very tall boy, but he was fast. More than that, since his earliest memories, his father had trained him in self-defence. After his father died, it hurt too much to continue the training. For almost four years Pablo resisted his mother’s attempts to get him back into martial art classes. Your father would have wanted it,” she’d tell him over and over. Finally, when the loss began to subside, and his father’s memory became shadows and dusty photographs, Pablo consented. Chris stared up at Jenkins, and for a moment Pablo thought nothing would happen. They were in class, after all, and Ms. Sanadi said she would be right back. But the pause was brief. Jenkins grabbed Chris by the shirt and pulled him to his feet. The smaller boy tried to yell for him to stop, but his voice failed and he produced little more than a yip. “Leave him alone jerkface,” a girl shouted from behind Pablo.
The rest of the room fell quiet. Jenkins ignored the slur and slammed Chris up against the chalkboard. “What do you know about me flunking grade six? ” Jenkins didn’t give him time to respond. Chris doubled over as the mallet fist impacted his stomach. He tried to cry out, but the blow winded him and he slid to the ground. Jenkins reached down and grabbed Chris’ shirt again, forcing him to stand. The boy was crying between gasps for air. Pablo stood up. For a moment he could hear his mother’s voice, telling him to sit back down, begging him not to get into trouble on his first day.
He could feel several eyes in the room flick up at him questioningly. His shyness melted into a pool of anger. Pablo, with coffee cup eyes steaming out from behind espresso black hair, had a temper. “Leave him alone,” Pablo said. The twitchy boy at the table in front of him turned to stare incredulously, as if he had never seen anyone stand up to his brutish companion. The girl wedged beside her backpack stared too, with an expression that asked Pablo what he was trying to prove. But Pablo saw neither of them. He stood facing Jenkins, and in him he saw every bully he had ever despised. Who the hell are you? ” Jenkins dropped Chris back into a heap of tears and started walking toward Pablo. His lips curled and eyes twinkled with the thrill of having a new target for his frustration. Pablo didn’t respond. He watched the bully’s movements as he loped down the aisle. Pablo was quietly measuring his reach, anticipating the first move. Jenkins drew his hand back, and instead of a fist, swung at Pablo with open palm. Although he hadn’t expected a slap to the face, Pablo stepped easily outside Jenkin’s range and the pudgy fingers trod only air.
The bully grunted and took another step forward just as Pablo ducked slightly and struck him hard in the ribs. Jenkins groaned. He looked bewildered, and for a moment stood still, not sure what to do next. Pablo hit him again, this time in the solar plexus, winding him as badly as he had done to Chris. Jenkins staggered back, his confidence failing. Something in his head told Pablo to stop, that he had made his point, and that he should sit back down. If he quit now, perhaps everyone would just continue drawing, and he could slip back into his day-one obscurity.
But he knew that all eyes were on him, and there was nothing he could do to take that back. And besides, he knew Jenkins would not let this end so easily. With a small hop Pablo pulled his left knee into the air, spun a half-turn, and kicked Jenkins square in the chest with his right. He kicked him harder than he intended, and the bully fell backward, colliding with the edge of a table and knocking over a chair with a loud clatter. If Pablo had been counting, he would have known that seven quick heart beats resounded between the second Jenkins hit the floor, and the moment Ms. Sanadi swung back into the classroom.