Kids can be mean. When a boy gets bullied on the school bus, Debbie loses her temper.
NOTE: The vocabulary used is from the era of the 1960s . “Retarded” and “mentally retarded” were clinical terms and acceptable vocabulary. “Retard,” used as a noun, was an insult.
It all starts because some dunce calls another kid a retard. The “retard” is a shy, chunky boy who doesn’t seem to have any friends. He hunches down in his seat, a curled-up ball of hurt.
“Why don’t you shut up?” I’m out of my seat, nose to nose with Jimmy Puglisi, the number one bully on our bus. Have I gone crazy? Maybe, because I don’t back away like I’ve made a huge mistake. I double down. “It’s cruel to call people names.”
He sneers. “Like ‘retard’?”
My chin lifts to meet his challenge. “Yeah. My sister really is retarded.”
Since the doctors say Krista is retarded, I’ll use the word as a badge of honor. “Do you ever think before you open your big, fat mouth? Do you ever think that you might be ripping someone’s guts out?”
Everybody on the bus has gone quiet. I can see flecks of green in Jimmy’s brown eyes and the veins in his eyeballs. Daddy says the eyes are the windows to the soul. If you stare into someone’s eyes, you can see what they’re feeling. And you can tell when they’re ready to move.
My gaze bores into Jimmy’s. I want him to see my anger, and I want to know when he’s about to punch me. At least I’ve made my stand for all the Kristas in this world. I don’t care if it earns me a bloody nose.
Then it happens. Jimmy’s eyes change. The mockery disappears, and in its place, shame and … pain. Some kind of hurt all his own. A flicker of understanding flashes between us, and my anger winks out like the flame on a birthday candle.
“Sorry,” he mumbles. Hanging his head, he slouches back to his seat.