Countdown to Midnight #2: The New Kid

Posted by TERESA

My second story was called THE NEW KID, and in it, I plagiarized MYSELF!  🙂  When I got the assignment (Location – A perfume shop.  Genre – Political.  Object – A hamburger.), I immediately thought of an old short story I wrote years ago called The Sandbox.  I reworked it into a 1,000 word version, and I incorporated all the necessary elements.  It’s not wrong if I’m ripping myself off, right?

flea-market

THE NEW KID

Abdul wasn’t sure what to think of it.  It wasn’t a perfume shop so much as a perfume stand, though they did manage to provide the appearance of walls with plastic piping and brightly colored fabric so that it could generously be referred to as a perfume booth.  On one hand, his mother’s perfumes were always a hit at Crescent Elementary’s PTA flea market.  For as long as his family lived in the neighborhood, and his older siblings attended the school, his mother was involved in school fundraisers.  However, more than a way to ensure her children’s welfare, her booths had also proved an intelligent business decision.  Abdul’s father had to acknowledge his wife’s ingenuity when he saw that her stands at various school functions drove business to their perfume shop downtown. Women from all over the neighborhood flocked to her booth when they saw it and marveled at her selection and professionalism in the face of their homemade handicrafts and baked goods.

On the other hand, there was something about the way they talked about her items that disturbed Abdul.  Very often, customers’ comments would grate his seven-year-old sensibility.  Oh! This scent is so exotic! they’d say.  Where’s it from?

A factory in New Jersey, Abdul wanted to say.  It was the truth, after all.  But he never did.

However, he never understood why even return customers commented on the foreignness of his mother’s wares.  His family had lived in the neighborhood for over 30 years.  His mother had been born one town over.  Yet whenever his mother was behind the counter of her perfume stand, booth, shop, his family was treated as other.  As if they didn’t share the same history as the non-brown, Christian people in town.

But Abdul never said anything.  He knew it wasn’t his place.

He was usually bored at these functions, where it seemed mothers and daughters ruled and everyone seemed a little too interested in things like knit caps and tea cozies, but this one was different.  A family he’d never seen was setting up a booth next to his, and they had a little boy with them.

His name was Benjamin, and he was The New Kid.  He’d been placed in Abdul’s class, but he’d never had a chance to talk to him before.  Benjamin had arrived two weeks earlier, and Abdul thought it odd that his parents were already getting involved in a PTA function.  Benjamin was quiet and kept to himself, and so the rest of the second grade had spent the time since his arrival filling in the blanks of his story for themselves.  Abdul watched as Benjamin’s parents set up what looked like a craft table.  Benjamin stood off by himself backed up against the school gym wall, occasionally fiddling with his glasses, but otherwise seeming to want no part in his parents’ efforts.  He seemed skittish, and the one time he caught Abdul’s eye he immediately looked the other way, terrified.

Sam had heard rumors about Benjamin, but he wanted to know for himself.  He was never one to be swayed by the other second graders.  He left his mother sitting at the planning committee table and bounded over to Benjamin’s side.

“What are you doing standing all by yourself?”

“I don’t think anyone here likes me.”  Benjamin stole a quick glance at Abdul.  “Everybody’s looking at me funny.”

“I’m not.”
They continued to talk, and Benjamin felt more at ease.  He was amazed that someone like Sam, jovial, popular, and confident, would take an interest in him.  At his other school, his diminutive stature had gotten him into trouble, and he got beat up often.

Sam was moved by him.  While he had no concept of skittishness, he felt for this poor boy, backed up against the wall by his own shyness.  Sam became determined to be Benjamin’s friend. I’ll make him popular, too!  He’s gonna thank me!

Sam took Benjamin by the wrist and pulled him toward Abdul.

“Hey, Abdul!” Sam called out.

Abdul had seen them coming, and his stomach had immediately knotted itself.

“Abdul, this is Ben,” Sam said.  “Ben, this is Abdul.”

Benjamin’s heart flooded with joy.  He called him Ben!  Ben!  A cool, shortened nickname, like Sam for Samuel!

“How do you like it here so far?”

“It’s OK,” Ben replied.  “I haven’t been here that long…”

“Do you wanna hang out and have lunch?” Sam interjected.

“Sure,” Abdul replied.

Ben glanced at Sam, who glanced at Ben and smiled.  Abdul caught their silent exchange and felt a pang of jealousy.  Sam barely knew this boy, and already they were standing together like old friends.  It had taken Abdul all of first grade to establish a rapport with Sam, and even then their relationship was mostly based on lunchtime trade.  Sam hated the lunches his mother packed for him every day.  The constant barrage of ham-and-American-cheese-mayo-on-white-bread sandwiches was too common for a boy with Sam’s adventurous spirit.  And so their relationship began.  Falafel for American cheese.  Baba ghanoush for peanut butter and jelly.

“Let’s go get bacon cheeseburgers!” Sam said.  “The guy with the truck is already outside, and my mom will give us money.”

“My mom already made me something to eat,” said Abdul.  “She says they charge too much for food here…”

Sam looked at Ben, who seemed suddenly uncomfortable.

“I can’t eat those,” Ben said.

“Why not?” Sam asked, concerned that his hanging out plan might unravel.

“Well, my mom says that I’m not supposed to eat anything made from pig, ’cause it’s against our religion.”

“Us, too!” Abdul exclaimed, suddenly more interested.  “‘Cause pigs are unclean animals, right?”

“Yeah.  And they have cheese on them,” Ben continued.  “My mom says that we can’t eat meat and dairy stuff at the same time.  So, bacon cheeseburgers are like, a double whammy.”

For the first time, Sam felt left out.  He couldn’t think of any dietary restrictions to bring to the table.  His parents didn’t talk to him about their religion much.  But he brushed his insecurity aside.

“We can just get plain hamburgers then,” he said.  “They have those, too!”

Ben smiled.  “Yeah!  I can do that!”

Abdul glanced at his mother, who had carefully packed his lunch for him in a cooler on the floor beside her chair.

“I can’t guys,” he reminded them.  “My mom already made me something to eat.  She’ll be mad if I don’t eat it.”

Sam shrugged, and looked at Ben.

“I guess it’s just you and me,” he said.

Abdul watched them walk away toward Sam’s mother.  He watched as she supplied them with money, and he watched as they walked, chatting the whole way, out the gym doors and toward the hamburger truck.  He felt forgotten.  He felt annoyed.  He wondered what school would be like on Monday.

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Published in: on October 7, 2009 at 5:55 PM  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] I got the feedback for my second story, The New Kid.  And it made me want to rip my hair out. But that’s because this story and I have a […]


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