Chapter 1: The Twist
There are these three eighth-grade boys. They've just gotten out of school for the day. And they're about to take off in different directions, when they notice something going on in the trash Dumpster at the other end of the parking lot.
They're still pretty far away from it, but they can see an old man sitting on the edge of the thing. His back is facing them, and he's just sort of balancing himself there. Staring down into the bottom of the Dumpster.
The boys watch him for a second. And then one of them starts grinning. And he cups his hands around his mouth and shouts out, "Hey! Don't jump, Pops! You've got everything to live for!"
Then one of the other boys yells, "Yeah! Plus I heard the food is much better at the Dumpster up the street!"
So after that, both kids totally crack up. And it becomes this contest, sort of, to see who can holler out the funniest insults at the old guy.
Like the first kid asks the old man if he went to P.U. University. And then the second kid asks if he has any Grey Poupon.
But the third kid, see, he's just standing there not saying a word. Instead, his eyes are glued to the old guy, almost. Like he's waiting for a reaction.
Only that's the thing. Because there is no reaction. Not at first, anyway. At first, the old man never even turns around. So the boys begin to think that maybe the guy's deaf or something. Which totally takes the fun out of shouting insults.
But then -- out of the blue -- something seems to click in the old man's brain. I mean, even from the back you can see his head sort of perk up. It's like he gets it now, you know? He suddenly understands that all this yelling has been directed at him.
And so he lowers himself down into the trash bin. And then he turns around to see who's been talking to him.
And that's pretty much that. The fun is over. Because even from the other end of the parking lot, it's obvious to the boys that there's something really wrong with the old guy. That he's just not right in the head. Instead of acting mad or angry or even insulted, his face actually brightens. And he waves as friendly as anything, and shouts, "Hullo, fellas!"
And it's so pathetic, I can't even tell you.
The two boys shut up after that. I mean, they chuckle a little bit and all. But you can tell they're not exactly busting with pride over making fun of a retarded old man.
But see, the third kid -- the one who kept quiet -- he doesn't have anything to be ashamed about at all. Because like I said, he didn't do anything.
So if you happened to be passing by and you saw this whole thing going on, you'd probably think that the third kid was the good kid. That he was the one with a conscience or some sense of decency or something.
Only that's the weird thing about this story.
That's the twist, I guess you'd call it.
On account of the third kid turned out to be the most shameful of all.
Because the third kid was me.
And the old man in the Dumpster was my grandfather.
Copyright © 2000 by Barbara Park
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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