‘Nameless Somebody’ stayed silent. We never asked why.
Like ‘the boy with the purple socks’ from ‘Harriet the Spy‘, we saw him and recognized him, but we never truly acknowledged him. We referred to him as the ‘mute boy’ the few times he came up in our conversations. That, too, only when we had to mock him.
He had a thin, frail body, that, one feared, might break if bent slightly. But he was stronger, much stronger, than he appeared. When boys punched him in the back or kicked him in his legs, his body remained as firm as ever. He didn’t even make a sound. Quietly, tears trickled down his puffy face and we laughed hysterically, as if he was doing this for our amusement.
He never retaliated, never resisted, so even the most weak and mildhearted of us began to grow brave, testing the magnitude of their force on him. His most forceful show of resentment for the treatment he received was that he avoided eye-contact with those that rejoiced in his pain.
I don’t remember seeing him laugh, or, for that matter, even smile. It was strange how he kept his emotions so tightly boxed-up, wound and entangled in each other, held at a safe distance, far from being observed.
When a teacher would ask him a question, he would nod in acknowledgement, that he’d heard, but then turn his eyes towards the open windows, not responding to the teacher’s concern. Sometimes this turned ugly, when the angry teacher would persist in her attempts to get a word out of him, make him stand up, hold him by the collar and try to shake him till he gave up. But he never did. She would be further provoked by our uncontrollably loud laughter. Often, she’d end up in tears, sitting at her table, complaining to the Principal about ‘this disrespectful, ill-mannered boy‘, other teachers consoling her that he is a ‘gone case‘, a ‘lost cause‘, to ignore him completely.
On one of these days, we, too, would find cause to become more cruel than usual. We would stick notes to his back that said ‘Kick Me‘ or ‘I am a retard‘. Often people responded to the pleas, kicking and punching him mercilessly, shouting obscene names at him.
He would turn further and further inward from these scarring experiences, more reserved, more yielding, more pliant. It was annoying to some that he was the physical rebuttal of newton’s theory that ‘Every action has an equal and opposite reaction’. It was frustrating to not know why he was unlike any other kid in existence.
He had a specific seat in our class, the one he’d taken the day he arrived. He always brought an egg sandwich for lunch, which more often than not was ingested by boys who snatched whatever he possessed. He never played sports. He wore glasses till the time someone pushed him and his glasses fell and another boy intentionally stepped on them. Maybe he realized that if he brought a new pair, it would end up with a similar fate, crushed beneath a leather shoe.
This was always the case. Any incident always became a ritual. The first time he hadn’t responded on being hit was when he became a proper target. The time he was accidentally showered with water from the second floor balcony, the first time someone jerked their ink pen on his white uniform shirt, the first time someone made a false complaint about him, these were all initiations to a series of similar incidents.
I remember the time we read ‘Lord of the Flies’ in class. It made me think about what we were doing, that this was evil even though we considered it harmless fun, that children were capable of much worse than we’d assumed. I began to reassess our actions. This boy had, for all I know, done nothing to do us any harm. He’d never even returned us the ill-treatment he was subjected to. Never made his hate visible, though I am very certain it existed somewhere in his tortured heart.
I thought about his family, his past, his childhood. Maybe he’d had enough pain for one lifetime. Enough suffering for a tender soul. Maybe I should defend him. Let him not be
a tool, a stool, a sidekick, a background, an underdog, a supporting actor, an unaccredited help, an apprentice, an acquaintance, a punching bag, a disposable utensil, an amusement, an absorb-er,
a bullied mute nameless somebody.