by Robert Fantina
Once upon a time at a school district far away there was a student named Jake. Jake was an orphan who bounced from one foster home to another, and was constantly being picked on. This started in kindergarten; he had a few friends, but most of the other kids ignored him, and a couple of the bigger kids would often steal his lunch, push him to the ground and taunt and insult him.
The principle, teachers and other administrators didn’t pay much attention; there was nothing about Jake that drew their notice. There were other kids, including some of the bullies, from wealthy or influential families, and they didn’t want to get on their bad side.
This situation worsened with each year until, in junior high, a few of the bigger kids ganged up on Jake and beat him so badly he nearly died. At this point the principal and the administrators had to do something. So they looked around and noticed Paul, another boy who was also an orphan. Paul had been living quietly for several years in a modest but comfortable foster home, and the principal and administrators decided that that was just the place for Jake. So they entered the house, grabbed an unsuspecting Paul by the collar and threw him into the street. Then they escorted the badly injured Jake into the house. Most of Paul’s clothes fit Jake, and he was hurting so bad he didn’t even think of Paul. He was just happy to finally be safe.
With nowhere to go, Paul – angry, frightened and alone – walked to a small park not far from his former home. He lay down by a bush and cried himself to sleep.
The principal and administrators, having been so negligent of Jake in the past, decided now to watch out for him a little more carefully, especially since Paul was so angry about being kicked out of his home. He and Jake had never particularly liked each other, but had generally left each other alone.
In time, Jake healed. The principal had grown very fond of him, and since he (the principal) had become very wealthy (mainly through some very questionable business deals), he spent a lot of money fixing up Jake’s house. Paul could see it from the bush he lived under in the park; the modest house he’d lived in for so long was now a beautiful mansion.
One day at school, Jake and Paul walked by each other, and Paul, still angry about the loss of his home and possessions, said something very impolite to Jake. Jake shoved him and Paul shoved him back. The principal saw this interchange, and rushed over and gave Paul after-school detention for five days. “But he pushed me first!” Paul said. “It doesn’t matter,” said the wealthy principal. “You are not to push Jake.” This did nothing to endear Paul to Jake or to the principal.
A few days later, Jake was in the library studying when Paul walked in. Paul took a book down from a shelf, sat several tables away from Jake and began studying. Jake walked over to him, grabbed him by the arms, dragged him out of the library and threw him down the stairs. The principal, who always seemed to be hovering around Jake, rushed over to him. “Are you all right, Jake?” he asked, his face showing his concern.
“I think so,” said Jake, as Paul lay at the bottom of the stairs, only semi-conscious. “I think you had better take karate lessons so you can better defend yourself in the future,” the principal said. “Don’t worry; I’ll pay for them.” He then marched to the top of the stairs and looked down at Paul, lying there. “You have two days of in-school suspension,” he said sharply. “Why?” Paul asked, incredulous. “I didn’t do anything!” But the principal was already walking away, his arm around Jake’s shoulders.
It wasn’t long after this that Paul found some change on the sidewalk. He was really excited about this because, ever since he’d been kicked out of his foster home, he hadn’t had regular meals. With the money he’d found he’d be able to buy at least some French fries, and possibly a glass of milk. He stood in line in the subsidized school cafeteria.
Jake was just returning from lunch at a four-star restaurant the principal had taken him to; he decided to take a short cut from the parking lot to his class, through the cafeteria, when he saw Paul standing in line. Now a Black Belt in karate, he kicked Paul to the ground as the other students and the teachers watched, then dragged him out to the parking lot and kicked him some more. The principal watched in disgust. Paul was so weakened from living outside, and hardly eating at all, that he couldn’t defend himself. After a few minutes, Jake walked away. The principal, his face livid with anger, approached Paul. “You have a full week of in-school suspension, and you must write a 1,000 word essay on why you are so worthless. It is due in one hour.” Paul said nothing; he was enraged, but no one ever listened. Now he wouldn’t even be able to eat, because while there was a sub-shop down the block, and a diner just around the corner, he wasn’t allowed to leave school property, even to buy food. And even if he had been able to, the principal was a major shareholder in those businesses, so Paul would have been turned away even if he tried to shop there.
Things progressed this way for some time. Oh, it wasn’t as if no one ever came to Paul’s defense. That nice girl from Seattle tried to help him but she was expelled for her efforts. Once in a while even one of Jake’s friends asked him why he was so mean to Paul, but Jake just accused them of being disloyal, and stopped being friends with them. Even one of the teachers, who really liked Jake, tried to help Paul, but he was fired for doing so.
The administrators didn’t all like what was happening, but the principal was so fond of Jake, and he’d become so wealthy, that they really didn’t want to cross him. If they did he might stop giving them the expensive gifts they only had to ask for. And Paul was such a little guy; he could be an annoyance once in a while, like when he was whining about how mean Jake was to him, but no one paid him any real attention. Once in a while he’d throw a stone at Paul, but it only caused him more negative consequences. He knew it wasn’t worth doing, but sometimes his rage at the unfairness of the situation, and his own poverty, got the best of him.
Paul and Jake are still in school; the same man is still principal, and while some of the administrators change now and then, they all bow and scrape to the principal, so Paul has little chance of getting a fair shake. If only some of the other students would recognize how much he was hurting, eventually someone would have to listen. But for now he lives under the bush, trying to make it as comfortable as he can. He still tries to learn even though he isn’t allowed in the library any more. It’s hard to get food, because the cafeteria is off limits to him, too. He doesn’t understand any of it; really, is he all that different from Jake? All he wants is a safe and comfortable place to live; the opportunity to have good food when he wants it; to get an education and eventually a job and perhaps even someday raise a family and provide for them. Does having influential friends really make one person better than another?
With tears in his eyes, Paul huddles under an old blanket he found, and tries to sleep.
Cast of Characters:
Paul: Palestinian people
Bush Paul lives under: Gaza Strip
Principal: United States
Administrators: United Nations
‘Nice girl’: Rachel Corrie
Teacher: Norman Finkelstein