One day, after Li’l Donnie’s driver dropped him off at school and Donnie had put away his golden lunchbox filled with Diet Coke, ketchup and cold hot dogs, and he sat down at his seat between his two best friends Steve and Vlad, the teacher told the class that they would be joined by a new student. At that moment, the door to the classroom opened and in walked a little boy Donnie’s age. Only this boy wasn’t like Donnie. In fact, he wasn’t like any of the other children in class. This boy’s right elbow and wrist were bent very sharply, and his arm was skinny. Donnie’s arm, on the other hand, was so plump that his golden watch barely closed over it. The teacher said “Oh, hello Serge, welcome to our classroom! Everyone, please say hello to Serge.” Everyone in the class said hello except for Steve and Vlad. They just snickered.
“What’s so funny?” asked Donnie. He always had a hard time understanding why people laughed.
“What do you mean? Look at that kid!” said Steve. As usual, his nose was covered in Pixie Stix and he smelled like mouthwash. He looked like he had been crying but Donnie knew he hadn’t because Steve once said he didn’t feel emotions like other kids.
“Yes, this boy, he is very weak,” said Vlad.
The teacher interrupted them. “Boys, say hello to Serge. Vlad, put your shirt back on.” Vlad did not like to wear shirts. He and Steve mumbled hello. Serge sat down in the back of the classroom and the teacher began the day’s lesson. It was about numbers or lions or something. Li’l Donnie stopped paying attention very quickly.
Finally, it was recess. All the children ran out onto the playground, while Vlad and Steve pushed Donnie in his Big Wheel. It was painted like the American flag, and Donnie rode in it everywhere. He didn’t like to pedal it though. They went over to where the girls were playing kickball, so that the boys could explain to them why they weren’t good at it because they weren’t boys. On the way they passed Serge, who was sitting alone.
“Hey new kid,” said Steve. “What’s up with that arm?” He belched.
“Yes,” said Vlad, “back at my home, such an arm would force you out to be food for wolves. Why are you not eaten by wolves?” He flexed.
“Yeah,” said Donnie. “If I had an arm like that, my daddy would love me even less than he does right now, and he barely loves me at all. I bet your daddy doesn’t love you huh?”
“My dad loves me a lot,” said Serge. “He always tells me how smart I am and how good of a writer I am, and he tells all his friends about me.”
“You’re lying,” said Donnie. “That’s not how daddies are.”
“Well, it’s how mine is. And my arm is like this because of a neurological condition called arthrogryposis.”
Donnie stared blankly at Serge. “You made that up. That’s fake.”
“Is not. The doctor said so.”
Donnie bent his arms up and shook them and made himself sound like a stupid person. “Uh, uh, doctor said so!” Serge got up and ran away. The boys all laughed.
After recess the children all came back into the classroom. The teacher was standing by the door, and when Donnie, Vlad, and Steve walked in she asked if she could talk to them. “Boys, Serge told me that you were all very hurtful to him at recess, and that Donnie especially was mean. Is this true?”
Donnie said “Serge is a great kid, really fantastic kid, just one of the best kids. We have the best kids in this class, really, the best–”
Steve cut him off because he knew Donnie could keep going until school ended. “What we’re dealing with is a conspiracy between Serge, the principal, and certain members of the school board who don’t work on Saturdays if you know what I mean.”
Vlad said “I will pay someone to poison this boy’s father. This will not be a problem in one week.”
The teacher said “Well, whether you did it or not, it’s important that you welcome Serge. He’s new here and he doesn’t have any friends yet, and I know he seems a little different but you shouldn’t judge people. You should always be nice, because it makes the world a better place.”
Donnie thought a lot about this in the back of the limousine on the way home, while he ate his after-school snack of fried tacos and old chicken tenders. When he walked into his house he found his mother drinking her afternoon drink in her study, a room that was all gray and very cold. He told her what happened and asked her if what the teacher said was true.
“The world is a better place when everyone is nice, because when everyone trusts you it’s very easy to get what you want from them.”
Donnie thought about this, and asked “Is that what the teacher meant though?”
Donnie’s mother refilled her glass. “Oh god Donnie I don’t know, go ask your father. I have a headache.”
Donnie went upstairs to his father’s room. He thought about telling his father what the teacher said, but he didn’t think his father would like it. He knocked on the door. “What?” shouted his father from inside.
“Hi daddy, it’s Donnie. Today I made fun of a new boy whose arm is bent all funny. Do you love me now?” There was silence on the other side of the door.
Donnie waited in the hallway for an answer.