This story is by Kenneth Harris and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Savard stood in the doorway of the kitchen. He stared at a brown paper bag on the counter. It contained his lunch, three sandwiches; peanut butter/jelly and a bologna. He shook his head and sighed. It all came back again.
“Say, man, where you get that paper bag? Do you use the same bag for your lunch?” Walter cried, he slapped hands in hands with the other three guys, Lamont, Benson, and Cle.
You that poor? Your mama and daddy can’t get you a lunchbox?” They exploded with laughter.
Almost every day at lunch time, He thought. With two fingers, he pulled the bag off the counter, unzipped his backpack, and then stuffed the bag in the front compartment. He heard his mother sneeze.
“Good morning, mama, he cried. I already ate this morning with Dad,”
He went behind the door and sat at the table across from her.
“You finish your homework?”
“Dad helped me.” He pulled his cap from his back pocket, and then covered a head full of braids that resembled caterpillars.
He gulped down a glass of water. “Mama at lunch, the guys has their sandwiches in lunch boxes with pictures of the Flintstones. They have money, they-they rich. My sandwiches in a brown paper bag. They make fun of me. They call me poor and laugh at the paper bag. Are we poor?”
Cora stared at her five feet, six inch, eleven-year-old son. He had always been tall for his age.
She sighed, “We have a nice apartment. You have your own bedroom. Your father is a hard-working man. We get what we need and not all the time what we want. You think you’re poor because you don’t have the extras?”
“What extras, mama?”
“Savard, sandwiches wrapped in wax paper or in small, brown paper bags does not mean that you are poor. You can be rich and poor.”
He frowned, “Rich and-and still poor?”
“Sure, we need money to survive. It’s difficult for me to explain this, but I’m going to try.” She cleared her throat and leaned back. “Um… I cannot imagine my life without you and your father. Money can’t take the place of that. So, I feel like I’m rich because of this. Peer pressure, well, as kids growing up, we all have to deal with it. One other thing, don’t sit there and tell me that you have not made fun of someone. When it happens to us, we forget.”
I-I have made fun of -of Marvin, he thought. He wiped his eyebrow with his finger.
“We’ll talk again. You have to get to school, but let me just say this. Someday, you’ll experience something in your life that has to do with being rich and poor.” She stood up and straightened the back of his shirt. “There is always somebody that has less than you.”
“Mama, you said a difference in my life?” he asked.
She wiped off the table. “When it happens, you’ll understand.”
He grabbed his backpack and walked toward the back door. He turned around. “Mama, I. That’s okay.” He whispered.
The Short Cut
I’ll take the shortcut, Savard thought. He needed to think. He turned at the corner past the mailbox. Fall had started and dead leaves trickled from the oak trees. As he walked, the leaves crackled under his feet. On the next block, Langston House, a burgundy, brick building with yellow curtains nearly took over the entire block, hidden by a black wired fence. Behind the fence, a Bench set in the middle of the grass.
What kind of place is this, he thought. He looked down the narrow path and up the stairs. One of his friends, Little Marvin, push opened the glass door. He rushed down the path. His back pack bounced up and down. He stopped a couple feet in front of Savard.
“Say, man, what’s up,” he cried. “Why are you going this way?” He bit into his sandwich.
“Man, I Just needed to think. This is a big building. I remember you telling me that you live here. I never thought that it was this wide.”
Little Marvin stuff the last piece of his sandwich into his mouth.
“Why are you eating your sandwich now?” Savard looked down at him.
One year older than Savard, Little Marvin could not have been any taller than four feet.
“I don’t like to eat my lunch with the other guys. They make fun of me. We ain’t got no money. I use paper bags for my sandwich. That’s why I eat my sandwich before lunch.”
They make fun of him, thought Savard. They already call him munchkin. I-I usta do that, too. He rubbed his chest as if in pain.
Little Marvin pushed his hands into his pocket.
“You know why I live here?” He whispered, “I don’t want the other guys to know.”
“I won’t say anything, you know I won’t! What is it?”
“We had a fire months ago. Langston House helps people .They helping mama get a job and another apartment.” Little Marvin looked up into his eyes.
“How did the fire start?”
Little Marvin looked away, “It started at night. We got out of the house. Now, I share a room with three guys. A lot of our clothes burned up. Mama work part time cooking. She always says that God works in mysterious ways.” He looked up into Savard’s eyes. “They all say that.” He rolled his eyes to the sky.
They lost their apartment, thought Savard. A fire! They have nothing. No clothes! No Furniture! And, the guys make fun of him too.
Savard said, “I got two sandwiches. When lunch time comes, I’ll meet you in the cafeteria and give you one of mine. I can only eat one. I don’t like bologna.” His face wrinkled.
“I like Bologna.” They turned and walked slowly down the block. “I’ll meet you in the cafeteria next to that window with a pink shade, I got to go. I don’t wanna be late,” said Little Marvin. He raced down the street.
TWO WEEKS LATER
Two weeks later, Savard received the first semester of his report card. His grades had improved. At dinnertime that evening, when his parents signed their name, they smiled at each other, and then looked at him.
He stood at the door of his room. He stared at his desk. His arms dropped to his side and he leaped up. “Man, I-I got a lunchbox!” He hollered, and then covered his mouth. A Small, colorful lunchbox with pictures of The Flintstones set underneath his lamp.
“Mama and dad, Thanks a lot,” he thought aloud. His voice cracked. He set down at his desk. A sealed envelope peeked from underneath the box.
He opened the envelope, “You raised your grades and we know you did your best. Always remember that we are so proud of you. Mom and Dad
The next day
Little Marvin and Savard sat on the bench behind the fence of Langston House. Pigeons tiptoe all around them, and then, soared toward the sky.
Little Marvin rocked back and forth, stretched his legs out. He could not keep still. “What-what you wanted to tell me? What is it? I got something to tell you first.”
Savard reached into his backpack and pulled out the lunch box.
“Oh man!” Little Marvin cried. “You got the lunchbox?”
“I’m giving it to you.” Savard pushed the box into Little Marvin’s hands.
“I already ate my sandwich.” Little Marvin cleared his throat.
“Man, now you can eat lunch with the other guys and pull it out of the box,”
Little Marvin’s face lit up. “Why you wanna give it to me? First, let me tell you what happened. Remember when I told ya that mama always said God works in mysterious ways? It is true. We got an apartment. My mama was right!”
Savard patted him on the shoulder. “Man, a new apartment, a lunch box. It’s yours. I don’t need it now.”
Little Marvin stared into his eyes. “Your mama and daddy brought this for you.”
“I know.” He whispered.
Savard stuck his thumbs through the straps of his backpack. “I can use the paper bag.” He squeezed Little Marvin’s hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Savard walked slowly down the block. Little Marvin watched him until he disappeared around the corner.
They lived on the first floor of a gray, brick two-flat building. Savard stared at his home. I got my own bedroom, mama and dad, he thought, He sat down on the top step, and then thought about his mother’s words. Someday, you’ll experience something in your life that has to do with being rich and poor. When it happens, you will understand.
I think I do understand, he thought. I’m glad that I gave him the lunchbox.