He is outside in the crisp, cool air, running free. He has nowhere to be and no one to answer to.
Someone is calling his name.
He is jerked back inside by the grating voice and the persistent question he has grown to hate.
“What’s the next word?”
He doesn’t even bother trying to guess.
He lowers his head as he rises to do the man’s bidding.
Trudging to the front of the room, he sees the marks his scruffy sneakers made the countless times before.
He is resigned to his fate.
As he places his hands on the desk, he notices a ruler. With a burst of bravery, his hand shoots out to grab it.
His is a small stick, thin and short, like him.
The other’s is a thick leg of a wooden child’s chair, cruelly converted into a means of teaching children how to grow up quickly. The man calls it the reminder stick.
He hits the offending piece of wood, and they begin their duel.
The other boys titter nervously as they watch the drama unfold.
His valiant efforts to prove himself stronger and better are futile, but it is comforting.
Back and forth, the sticks clashing over the desk with a pathetic sound, the fight goes on.
He is empowered. His shoulders straighten and his head is raised to meet his opponent’s eyes.
He is bewildered by what he sees in them.
The man’s eyes are empty and vast. The passive look in them makes him crumble.
The fight goes out of him, just as the man opens his mouth to speak.
“We have all day,” he says, and he knows that he is right.
He lowers his stick along with his stance, and places his hands on the desk.
The sting on his knuckles remains with him until the end of the day.
Those empty eyes haunt him for the rest of his life.