Friday, 18 August 2017

Paper Chain

I'm Charlie, and I am four and a half. The half is important because that's how long I've been going to school. I was scared on my first day, and told my Mom I didn't want to stay but she made me anyway. I remember standing in the hall outside the classroom, and it wasn't like my hall at home. It was big and smelled funny. There were no clocks ticking, or coats hanging on the coat tree and Snookie the cat wasn't lying in her bed. I think I might have cried, but I'm not sure about that. Anyway, like I said, that was a half ago, and a half is a long, long time.

It turned out that school was a great place to go. Teacher is really nice, like another Mom, but she dresses differently. We play games, and there are loads of other kids, not like at home where it's just me, Mom and Dad. There are rules, but not many, and they make us learn new things, but that's ok. I like learning new things, it's easy. Before school, I thought all kids were the same, but I was wrong about that. First off there are girls, now they're different. They don't like the same things boy's do at all. Some boys are different too. Some are loud, some are not, some push and shove, some play nice, and some can be mean, that I don't like.

My best friend is Simon, we do everything together. We sit at the same desk, do our lessons together, play together, and eat our lunch together. Simon is great, the greatest kid in the world, he could be even greater than me.

So today is Monday, and I'm very excited because Teacher said she'd have a big surprise for us on Monday. I'm dressed extra quick, eat all my breakfast, pack my lunch box, put on my bag and coat and Mom is still sitting at the kitchen table.

"What's the rush?" she asks, as she pulls on her coat and shoes. I do wish she'd hurry up.

"It's surprise day! Come on, Mom!" I say, taking her by the hand and pull her out the door. I try to make her run, but she's too heavy. She tries to keep up, but her legs are too old to go fast. Once I heard her say her legs were killing her, sometimes I worry about that, but not today. Today is surprise day. When I get to the classroom, I'm not even the first there. I hang my coat on my hook and go to stand beside Simon. Everyone is crowded around teachers desk where there's something square covered with a cloth.

"What is it?" I whisper.

"I don't know, Teacher won't tell until class starts," he whispered back. We spent the rest of the time before class guessing what might be under the cloth. I thought it might be a cake, I hoped it was a chocolate one with hundreds of thousands all over it. Simon thought it was a time machine because of every now and again it started to make a noise. Time machines are cool, but I still hoped it was a cake. The bell rang, and Teacher made us all sit in our chairs before she took the cloth off the secret. When she did, it wasn't a cake, and it wasn't a time machine, it was a million trillion times better. It was two white mice in a cage, one of them was running around on a yellow plastic wheel making a squeaking noise.

"WOW!" said the whole class together, even the girls. We all began rushing forward, but Teacher stopped us. She said we had to be gentle, two at a time she let us up to see them. Once we all had a look, she told us all about them, how to feed them, give them water and to change the straw in the bottom of the cage. All that week we looked after them, and by Friday things got even more exciting. Teacher said she had another surprise. She said two responsible students would get to take a mouse each home. Of course, my hand went straight up, but so did everyone else's. "Miss, miss, miss, miss," we all chanted, but she wouldn't pick. She said we were going to play a game and the winners would get the mice for the weekend.

Games are great! I'm good at games. She gave out strips of coloured paper and glue and told everyone to make a paper chain as long as their arm. This was easy, we'd done this before. When everyone had their chains made, she held up a basket and said she was going to draw out names for partners. One boy held up his hand and asked, "You mean we might have to play with the girls?"

The teacher only laughed and pulled out the first two names, who went up, and Teacher put their chains together then attached each end to a kids arm. Teacher explained that both would have to work together for the day and not break the chain. The last pair to break their chain would win. Teacher began drawing teams. At last, she pulled out a piece of paper with "Charlie" written in red marker. I jumped up and down with all my fingers crossed. "Simon, Simon, Simon," I chanted in my brain, but it didn't work. The name that came out was "Tom" written in horrible, snot-green, marker. TOM! I didn't want to play anymore, Tom never won anything.

"Come on," said Teacher, waving us up to the front. I walked up, hanging my head and dragging my feet. Tom didn't look like he was excited about this either. As we stood there being chained together, I glanced over at Tom. He was bigger than most of the kids in the class but nearly never gave Teacher the answers she was looking for, but that wasn't why I didn't want to be with him. It was playtime. When he was in the yard he was the loudest of all the boys, running around, pushing and shoving, always wanting to be first on the swings, or the climbing frame, and he even took things out of peoples lunch boxes and ate them. I told Mom once, and she said that was stealing which was a bad thing, and I should never do it. That's why I didn't want to be with Tom, he was a bad boy. When the chain was made, Tom went to go back to his chair, and I went to go back to Simon, already forgetting about the chain. We nearly broke it.

"Dumbo," he whispered when we got untangled. It was only then we realised we had to sit beside each other for the rest of the day. There was no space near Simon, so we had to sit at Tom's desk all the way in the back of the room. When we got there, he folded his arms on the desk and put his head down. I heard him say, "I really wanted to mind the mouse." He must have been talking to me, there was nobody else at the table.

"So did I," I said, and he raised his head a bit.

"We'll never win," he said, and he looked really sad.

"We can try," I said, and pointed at our chain. "Look, it's still together. We have a chance."

"You think," he asked, holding up his hand with the paper chain attached.

"I'll try if you will," I said. I really wanted to bring home a mouse too. He nodded and went to rub his nose with the back of his hand, stretching the chain tight.

"Careful, you nearly broke it," I said, checking the paper for rips.

"Sorry," he said, and his face went red.


When lessons started, the first thing Teacher wanted us to do was draw a picture of any animals that lived in our houses. I got busy with the crayons and soon had a great drawing of a ginger cat with the word "Snookie" over its head. Tom had his hand covering his paper as he worked. I asked for a look, and when he showed it to me, it was just a load of blue circles going around and around.

"What's that?"

"It's a spider web," he said, shoving it closer so I could see it better.

"Wow, you have a pet spider?" I imagined a huge hairy thing like the one I had seen in the pet shop. Tom went red again.

"Not a pet but there are loads in my house," he said and tried to hide the picture again. I don't know why but I started to feel sorry for Tom. He seemed sad, having no pets was a terrible thing. I decided not to say any more about it because it was upsetting him. One by one, kids began forgetting about their paper chains. As each one ripped, they would say, "Oh no!" and hold their hands up to their heads. Every time that happened, Tom let out a little giggle and said, "Ours is still ok." By the time break arrived, half the kids were out of the game already.

"Lunch," said teacher, clapping her hands. First, Tom and I went to my bag and got out my Spiderman lunchbox, then we went to Tom's bag and got out his silver one. The kids who were knocked out of the game were running and playing like always and normally Tom would be right in the middle of it. I was about to go out with everyone else when he held me back and said, "We better let them go out first." I nodded, and we waited till the room was empty. I saw Teacher smiling at us, she knew we wanted to win. We decided to go over to the sandbox to eat our lunch. We sat on the timber which held the sand back and opened our boxes. I got an apple, a small chocolate biscuit and two banana sandwiches, my favourite.

"What did you get?" I asked.

"Ham sandwich and a chocolate bar," he said, but wouldn't let me see in the box. He just closed the lid.

"Are you not hungry?" I asked.

"I'll eat them later," he said and bent over to put the tin at his feet. That was when two boys started wrestling in the sand behind us, and one went crashing into Tom, knocking him over. There was nothing I could do to stop it. I heard the rip as he hit the ground. He jumped up, but it was too late. He held up his arm and looked at the paper loops dangling from it. I thought he was going to cry, but he didn't. His face went very red as the boy who had knocked him ran away. He stood there and looked so mad, I'd never seen a kid look mad like that before. That was when he started shouting and running after all the other kids, pulling apart their paper chains.

Before Teacher could catch him, he'd broken every paper chain. Teacher marched him inside, and everyone in the yard was shocked at what he'd done. Nobody knew who was going to take home the mice now. My toe hit against Tom's lunch box, so I picked it up. The lid was open, I wasn't snooping, but there was nothing inside the box. No ham sandwich, no chocolate bar, only some crumpled tinfoil and crumbs. Tom was telling fib's as well. Why did he do that?


After the break, Teacher looked as mad as Tom had looked earlier. He was sitting alone at his table, his head resting on his hands and his ears were very red. Everyone was asking Teacher who was going to take home the mice and pointing at Tom saying it wasn't their fault he broke their chains.

"Sush! Sush!" cried Teacher until everyone stopped talking. "After what happened I don't think its a good idea that anyone gets to take home the mice today."

"What!" everyone shouted, everyone but Tom. Then everyone was saying it was Tom's fault, Tom was naughty, Tom was bold, Tom should be punished, but they should not. Teacher soon had enough and stamped her foot, stopping all the noise. "I've decided to take the mice home myself, and that's the end of it," she said, crossing her arms. There was no changing her mind. I saw lots of kids giving Tom angry looks, and I felt sorry for him. They were all pointing at him and said it was all his fault, but I knew that someone had broken our chain first. Nobody seemed to think that mattered, but I did. I was still sad when Mom came to collect me, and I told her all about the competition and what had happened. She said that Tom shouldn't have done what he did, even if someone else broke our chain, it was naughty. I was thinking about arguing, but sometimes grown-ups just don't understand kids.


All weekend I wondered what the school mice were doing in Teachers house. I wished I'd got to bring them home and let them play with Snookie, but Mom said it might not have ended well, whatever that means. Anyway, Monday came, and I was back at school and excited to see the school mice again. As classes started, I saw Tom sitting all by himself. Everyone was still mad at him, and none of the kids would talk to him. It wasn't fair, someone had broken our chain first, that had to count for something?  Lunchtime came, and I saw Tom take his silver lunch box and go all the way to the corner of the yard and sit on the grass. I didn't think it was right he should be alone so I asked Simon if we should go over, but he was still mad at Tom and said he was a meanie. I looked from Tom to Simon and back again. Simon was my best friend in the world but what was happening to Tom wasn't right. Nobody should have to eat lunch by themselves. I stood up and walked to the far side of the yard leaving Simon behind.

"Hi Tom," I said, and sat on the grass beside him.

"Hi," he said and sounded very sad.

"You shouldn't have broken the chains," I said.

"I know, I'm sorry about that, but they won't talk to me." All I could do was nod because he was right. I opened my lunch box and saw that today I had an orange, two crackers with cheese and a jam sandwich. I looked over and saw that Tom's lunch box was still closed.

"What did you get?"

"Ham sandwich and a chocolate bar," he said, and this time I knew he was fibbing.

"I got jam, I don't like jam. Will you eat half for me?"

"Really?"

"Yea," I said, and handed him half my sandwich. His eyes grew big, and the sandwich vanished in two huge bites. His cheeks puffed out, just like the mice did when they were full of food. It was so funny I laughed out loud, and Tom grinned, his mouth still full of mashed up bread and jam. Some of the other kids in the yard looked over to see what we were laughing about but didn't come talk to us. After, I gave him one of my crackers but kept the orange for myself. We played together for the rest of the break, and when we went back to class, he gave me a huge smile and said, "Thanks for the sandwich, it was the best one ever." I went back to sit beside Simon, and he seemed to be mad at me now.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Tom's naughty, you shouldn't be friends with him."

"He's not so naughty really, he's just hungry." I could tell by Simon's face he didn't understand, but then how could he. He never opened his lunch box to find nothing inside.


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