On his first day of school David was unsure of his new surroundings. After all, he had just been moved from one foster care to another. From one town to the next. And now he had a new home in Illinois. Somehow this one felt different. Although not the ultimate in either luxury or even security, somehow this one felt right. This one felt most like home.

After a brief time, David had grown to call his foster father ‘Uncle’. For one reason or another he had called his new foster mother ‘Edith’. His foster parents made it clear that while they would always be there for him and would provide him any and all the nurturing David required, David’s decisions would ultimately be David’s.

He would have liked his trip to school to have been as uneventful as possible. Unfortunately, his bus driver was surly. Had it not been for his Uncle, the bus would not have stopped for David at all. The bus driver was not uniformed. He was an older man with a four day growth of beard, very dark eyes, a big belly and a receding gray hairline. He eyed David suspiciously. David was relatively small and was certainly not the best dressed young man the driver had ever seen. He instantly didn’t like David. However there was something about this young man that told him to keep him at arm’s length and not to get into it with him.

Before David was able to find his seat, the driver observed his awkward navigation, sneered and started the bus, giving David a bit of a startle. David turned in order to admonish the driver but the driver had already turned to the business at hand and David found an empty seat.

“Hey kid!”

David turned and saw a bigger kid in the seat across the aisle from him. David gave the big kid a non-committal look which seemed to force an explanation.

“Hey kid! That’s Paul’s seat! You better leave now!”

David took this in and quickly looked around to see if he might have been sitting on Paul’s lap.

He was not.

“I don’t see Paul. Will he be on the next stop?” David was more curious than threatened. But somehow he felt compelled to engage a bit of conversation.

The bigger kid looked David up and down and then offered, “Nah. He’s not here today. But it don’t matter. That’s his seat. Now get out. Now!!” David received the finger pointing and the spittle accompanied observation with a plain face and no emotion. David faced forward and decided to ignore this confrontation.

David had been threatened and yelled at from the time he could remember. He had reached the point in his young life when he had long since realized there are times to engage and times to ignore your confrontations. He had decided this was one of those times where a blatant disregard of this hostility would serve him best.

The bigger kid was not letting go, however.

“Ok punk! You’ll get yours!”

Other kids on the bus in front and in back of him collectively decided to collaborate. David ignored the taunts and jeers. “Yeah kid.” “That’s Paul’s, kid.” “Get lost.” “Who needs ya?”

David felt quite badly. There was no small piece of him that just wanted to get out of there and go back to Uncle and Edith. But he took their instructions to heart. This was his business and no one else’s.

The bus finally reached the school. There was much jostling and yelling as the kids got off the bus. David decided to follow the majority of the kids through the school’s doorways and, luckily, he found the school’s administration office.

He told the secretary there, he was new and needed to know the location of his class.

The secretary was very business-like. There were no smiles or small talk. But David was given all the information he needed to find his way around. With a stone face and a wordless gesture, the secretary indicated the door. David equally stone faced and wordless found his way to his class.

Opening the door of his class, a very plain looking elderly dour woman with well-coiffed silver hair took note of the unfamiliar face and spoke in a tone very similar to the secretary’s.

“Hmm. You must be David. I was expecting you. I am your teacher. My name is Eunice Wary.” She indicated a seat. “Please sit there.”

The kids surrounding that seat spoke up loudly at once. “Wait a minute, Mrs. Wary, that’s Paul’s seat.” “I don’t like him Mrs. Wary. Tell him to sit somewhere else.” “Tell him to go away. He doesn’t belong here.”

Mrs. Wary was again, very matter of fact. She raised her right hand and silenced the babble. “Now class. You all know quite well that Paul has never been in that seat. Paul has always been welcome to sit next to any one of you. But every time this was offered, you acted the same way. Paul hasn’t been here in a long time and now David is here. So you all behave and treat David nicely.”

“Now. I have a meeting to attend for a short while. You all behave. Introduce yourselves to David. Get to know each other and become friends.”

And with that, Eunice turned to the door and left for her meeting.

There were seven kids on all sides of David and they waited for a brief until they were satisfied that Mrs. Wary had indeed left and was out of ear shot.

At that moment they all stood and surrounded David. He looked up and recognized each of these kids from the bus.

The bigger kid from the bus pulled upward on David’s shirt and David rose to his feet only coming up to the neck of this kid.

With David’s back to him, the bigger kid placed both his hands on David’s shoulders and gave him a shove. David lurched into one of the standing kids who stood in front of him. This second kid pushed him back announcing loudly, “Watch it kid! Don’t step on me!”

David landed with the back of his head against the larger boy’s chest. This infuriated this large boy who spun David around by grabbing his shoulder.

“That does it, little bitty David!” The bigger boy growled. “You’re in for it now!” And as soon as he said it, the bigger boy took his right fist and buried it into David’s belly.

David immediately doubled up and grabbed his stomach. But he was able to right himself almost instantly.

The kids surrounding David started to chime in. “Yeah Eddie! Give it to the little squirt!” “Take him out, Eddie!” “Yeah! What a punk!”

At this point David recalled his years in previous foster homes. He had been shoved many times. He had been struck many times. He had been denied meals, beds, clothes and had never received kindness from either those foster homes or the families surrounding him.

And so, David learned how to fend for himself. He had to teach himself when and how to take a slap and a punch. At the same time, he taught himself the best way to rid himself of those who attempted to further abuse him. He learned their vulnerabilities. He learned his own strengths and was able to use them.

At this point, David recalled his years of self-taught reality. Before Eddie could take his fist out of David’s belly, David curled up his own right fist and buried it in Eddie’s mouth. Teeth and blood flew everywhere. The kid behind David shrieked and decided to kick him. David took the kick but also grabbed the foot and pulled it towards him, setting the second kid off balance landing on his back. David took that opportunity to pivot on his left foot using his right heel to slam into the balls of kid number two. This one howled and there was a third hand and a fourth pair of hands that took hold of David.

For the next minute, for every pair of hands that punched or shoved or hit, David struck back with fists and elbows until the surrounding seven had backed off bleeding and crying.

They all returned to their seats nursing their injuries.

Finally Mrs. Wary returned.

And she was quite unhappy.

She surveyed her classroom and wide-eyed took in the black eyes, the blood on the desks and the torn clothing.

Pointing further she raised her voice. “You had better explain what happened here!”

Wordlessly the seven kids seated around David pointed to him.

“What? David did this?” All but David nodded their heads. Eddie finally spoke up.

“The little bastard punched me and broke my teeth! I’ll kill him!”

Kid number two chimed in. “Yeah! He kicked me!”

And then the other kids shouted at once claiming the transgressions David had taken upon them.

Mrs. Wary silenced her brood with her raised right hand. “David? Is this true?”

David calmly and softly responded. “Yes Mrs. Wary.”

“Then David,” Mrs. Wary advised through clenched lips “I’ll have to call your parents.”

David considered this. He offered the following.

“Mrs. Wary. You do what you have to. And so will I.”