We watched him everyday. A chorus of laughter - nervous, boisterous, fake. Pecking the ground for loose change, he seemed unaware of our mocking. Jeans too short and stonewashed, he had obviously bought them at the Salvation Arm; and while it was hip for us to pick up old t-shirts and retro jackets at the thrift store, we wouldn't dare to shop there.
A few of the boys took to dropping their change. Their delighted faces reflecting in the medals pinned to their letterman's jackets. I didn't laugh, but I watched. Day after day, I watched. My social status was tenuous. I was thin, pretty, and I had an unearned bad reputation. There was always a crowd, or the bell was ringing, or a teacher was nearby, so I shut up and watched. Every day I imagined what he did with the change. Did he buy lunch? Did he take it home to his mom? Everyday a lump sat in my throat.
The last day, the boys with the wicked eyes dumped out a barrel of pennies collected either for many days or from many people. I don't care to know which.
They thundered in the crowded hallway, scattering and bouncing across our feet. He sprang at them, darting between our legs, knocking into his audience. He didn't care what we thought. If he heard the laughter, he ignored it. It was a great joke. I wanted to cry.
By all accounts, I am a poor person now. My family and I live a lifestyle based on our ideals and goals, and it doesn't pay much. For years I looked at that memory and hated myself for staying silent. I've silently raged at those boys for ten years. I now know two things about the boy who chased pennies. The first is how he felt - to be so poor that there was no pride left sometimes. The second is that he was smarter than us. He wasn't caught up in the glory or the drama, and if people are going to throw away money, someone else, someone who deserves it, should have it.
I'd like to think by the time my children are adolescents, money won't be such an issue and that our ideals when coupled with determination and work will yield fruit. But no matter what, I will have succeeded in my life, if my child will bend down to help a boy chasing pennies.