The Web: Hands

by Mitchell Harding

written on 4/11/00

He brought his hands together in a slow, calculated rhythm. He continued clapping as Billy walked to the front of the classroom to collect his award. Some eyes were on Billy, but most eyes were on him, studying his expression. Children learn at an early age to discover which kids were bullies, and to observe them carefully.

Brad was the bully in this case. He was ostensibly joining the class as they congratulated Billy on his accomplishment, but no one (not even the teacher, who also paid attention to bullies, but not with the grim urgency that the children did) was fooled. It was well known that Brad didn't like Billy. Although Brad made many comments about Billy's clumsiness, his dislike of Billy ran much deeper. Billy represented the things that Brad didn't have -- a pet dog, a mother who made him lunch, and a family that gave him praise (not scorn). This award was just the latest crime in Billy's history of offenses against Brad.

Billy collected the glow-in-the-dark mechanical pencil from the teacher. Brad continued to clap, deliberately and ominously.


Later at recess, Billy was showing his new prize to some other children. He did not notice Brad's approach until he heard the other kids leaving, and saw Brad standing in front of him. Billy knew what Brad wanted -- Brad had taken many things from him over the years.

Billy did not feel like being beaten up on that day. The pencil was neat, but it was nothing special, and it was not worth a bloody nose. Besides, maybe Brad's hatred of him was not a fact of life. Maybe Brad wanted a friend, but didn't know how friendship worked. Billy tried something revolutionary, something that had never occurired to him before. He held out the pencil to Brad.

"Here, you have it, Brad. I was going to give it to you after I showed it to those guys. I want you to have it."

Brad appeared surprised at this. He considered Billy for a long moment, sizing him up. Billy returned his gaze, hoping that Brad realized his earnestness. There was a protracted silence. Then, fianlly, Brad spoke.

"Thank you." Almost a whisper.

Billy had started to smile when Brad pushed him over roughly. Billy hit the ground hard. Brad pulled the pencil out of Billy's still-open hand and then walked away, giving menacing looks to the rest of the playground.


It was on this day that Billy learned a valuable lesson. Some people know only force. Some people want desperately to feel that they are better than you. Kindness may touch these people, but it won't change who they are. From then on, Billy didn't try to appeal to bullies. He treated them like beasts, and he never regretted it.

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