It was time for another story from the old man. The village campfire was strong and warm, pushing back the chill of the night air. We’d gathered around the fire, taking our places on hour logs and benches, the children sitting once more on the ground. We watched the old man move slowly, carefully through our midst, greeting each of us along his way to his log. Once he was there it was time for his story to begin.
It was a day like any other day. Jillian woke to the sound of her alarm clock, and fell into her routine of getting ready for another day of work. Years ago she’d learned to set the alarm as late as she dared, giving herself just enough time to get to work without being late. She’d fallen into the habit of always rushing through her morning routine, cursing beneath her breath at having to endure another day of work, in a job she didn’t really like, with people who didn’t care if she lived or died as long as they got paid. She rushed through her shower, drying her hair, getting dressed, getting her makeup on, grabbing an energy drink and a cold slice of pizza to eat as she raced out the door on her way to work.
Tommy woke to the sound of his alarm too. He dreaded what he had to do. The daily nightmare he had to face at the school bus stop, and all day long at school. He wished he could say home, not have to endure another nightmare day of being insulted, being called names, being pushed around, shoved out of lines, sitting alone in his classes, and at lunch. They laughed at him all day. Called him a klutz. Called him Sally. If only his parents understood what he went through, but no, they didn’t. His Dad always said, “Buck up, little man. It’s life. Get used to it.” He spent all the time he could in the safety of his home, before he stepped through the front door and made his way to the bus stop.
When Tommy arrived, the fun began. The biggest boys at the bus stop took his book bag. They pulled everything out, until they found his lunch. One boy took his sandwich, another took his apple, one his cupcake, another his little box of fruit punch. Tommy tried to take things back, like he’d tried a million times before. But it was no use. The other boys were bigger than him, and stronger too. They pushed him around, and all the girls laughed about how funny it was to watch.
Tommy reached for his book bag, trying to grab it from one of the boys. That boy bellowed out, “No you don’t!” and shoved Tommy away. Tommy staggered back, stepping off the curb, where he tripped and fell.
Jillian never saw him. She was late for work. She was in a hurry. She knew there were kids at the bus stop, but she knew they were smart, and wouldn’t be out in the street. She’s raced past that bus stop so many times before. But suddenly, there Tommy was. Stretched out on his back in the road. Right in front of her. She never even had time to hit the brakes. Her car bounced twice, like she had hit a bump in the road.
Little Tommy got his wish. He didn’t ever go to school again. He never got picked on again by the bullies at that bus stop. He never got laughed at.
When Jillian finally got her car stopped, she leaped out and raced back to see what had happened, pulling her phone out of her pocket, calling 911 for help. But it was too late. Tommy was already gone.
No one admitted they’d done anything wrong. Jillian was just doing the same thing she’d always done. Just like everyone else. Racing to work, so she wouldn’t be late, so she could keep her job. The bullies at the bus stop didn’t do anything wrong. Tommy just fell, they said. And the girls agreed with them.
But everyone knew the truth. If Jillian hadn’t be racing to work, if she’d been driving her car like she knew to, paying attention to the world around her, she’d have seen what was going on.
If the bullies at the bus stop hadn’t pushed and shoved Tommy around that day, he would have never fallen off the curb into the street in front of Jillian’s car.
If Tommy’s parents had listened to their son, they might have know what was going on, and been able to stop the bullying before it was too late. Before the son was gone.
Yes, no one was to blame.
Because everyone was wrong.
With those words, the old man bowed his head as he slowly pushed himself to his feet, and walked once more from the campfire to his home.