May 272011
 

A little boy threw something out the window of his school bus. The driver saw him and gave him a note to take home to be signed. This little guy is bright, full of life, and his eyes shine with hope, joy, and irrepressible potential. Why had he done this and what is to be done?

Coming in the door, our intrepid miscreant meets his waiting grandmother. I can imagine his apprehension and hesitation. He already knows he’s in some kind of trouble. Worse yet, Grandma is a retired elementary school teacher. Grasshopper stands nervously in front of Master. She sees instantly that something is amiss. Still, she doesn’t hesitate to reward his homecoming with her biggest smile and warmest hug.

“Can I go out and play with Bobby?”

“What are you holding?”

“A note.”

“Well, then I had better read it.”

The usual suspect reluctantly surrenders the charges against him to the officer of the court and examination begins.

“What did you throw out the window?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Uh huh. What did you throw out the window?”

“A piece of paper.”

“Why?”

“A boy told me too.”

“Why?”

“I don’t remember.”

“What did the bus driver say?”

“I don’t remember.”

Grandma is no fool. “Well then, I need you to sit on this chair and try to remember while I finish cooking supper.”

For our little boy, time passes like he were crossing a turbid stream. He cannot see his feet nor the uneven bottom of the stream bed where he must place them. Surging water constantly threatens his balance. He is alone; with no one to hold his hand. The far bank is in sight, but his immediate future is clearly at risk.

Granny loves him enough to let him suffer for a while. Eventually—no, actually at a thoughtfully chosen interval—Granny turns from her work and, offering a reassuring smile, resumes the interrogation. “What did the bus driver say?”

“He said, ‘That was stupid.'”

Granny’s diaphragm spasms and she barely suppresses the impulse to cackle hysterically. “Well, do you think it was stupid?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“You know you shouldn’t litter.” Grandma has made a misstep, but she doesn’t realize it yet. She had him on the defensive but has just appealed to the knowledge and rationality of a prepubescent child.

Seizing the opportunity to object, he asserts himself. “But I wasn’t littering.”

“You threw paper out the window.”

“But, littering is when you throw a can out the window.” A cunning twitch of satisfaction caresses his lips. But now he has made a misstep; forgetting that he is arguing against prosecutor, judge, and jury.

“Littering is when you throw anything on the ground.” Objection denied. There is no further response from the accused; he has no recourse but to throw himself upon the mercy of the court. The verdict is in and It is all over except for the defendant’s statement and the reading of the sentence.

“How do you feel about your littering?”

“It was wrong.”

“Should you do things just because another boy tells you to?”

His pupils dilate momentarily as he considers the potential loophole of being told to do something by a girl. Sanity returns. “No.”

“What should you have said to the boy that told you to do it?”

“I should have said, ‘I’m not stupid.'”

“Do you promise to not litter like that again?” “Like that,” she said. Grandma has deliberately given him some discretionary wiggle room. He understands that he just got a suspended sentence with probation. This will be a test of his character.

“Yes, I promise.” No hesitation. No caveats. Just so. Well done. She signs his note and hands it back. The trial is over and the jury is dismissed.

“Okay, then I guess you have about fifteen minutes to play with Bobby before coming in for supper.” He glances at his wristwatch. Granny knows that he will be back soonish. She bends down to give him a hug and kiss before he dashes off.

Hesitating, he looks back briefly and says “I love you.” They both know that his record has already been expunged.

Copyright 2011, David Satterlee

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