Mark had just moved; his parents were busy unpacking boxes and moving furniture. He didn"t know anybody and was sad he had left all his friends.
He walked down the gravel path behind his house to the playground. It was full of children about his own age. Most of them were playing kickball. Mark sat down on one of the swings and watched them play. Soon a girl with long brown hair came up to him. "Hi! My name is Joanna. Who are you?"
"I'm Mark. I've just moved here. I live in the middle of that row of townhouses." He pointed towards the brick buildings. "What grade are you in? I'm in the fifth grade."
"Me too. Maybe youll be in my class; there are only two grade five classes."
Mark and Joanna sat on the swings talking. After awhile the others stopped playing and came over to meet Mark--Amy, Michael, Harry, Bobby, Susan, Peter, Janice and lots more. Mark was sure he wouldn't remember all those names. "It's easy for them," he thought, "they only have to remember one more name but I've got to remember tons!"
Joanna stood up from the swings, "I've got to go home now. I'11 see you at the bus stop tomorrow." She walked over to the sandbox where a boy, an older boy, was playing by himself. He took Joanna's hand and they left the playground.
"Who is that?" asked Mark.
"That's Paul--he's Joanna's brother," Amy replied.
"He's a retard-spastic!" Harry said nastily.
"Is not. Paul's exceptional," Amy answered back.
"Exceptionally stupid," Harry retorted and some of the children laughed. Amy's face burned red. "I'm going," she said and ran off behind Joanna and Paul.
Mark was troubled and embarassed. Soon he left the playground, too.
The next day Mark's mother drove him to school. He had to enroll so when he went up to his room, the class had already started. Mark was in Mr.Humbert's class and Joanna, Amy and Harry were sitting at their desks. Mark liked the students and Mr.Humbert seemed like a nice teacher, but-the work was much harder at this school. Mark never had had to do math word problems or diagram a sentence at his old school.
Everyday Mark liked school more. He enjoyed doing experiments in Science, was good in Reading and learned the trick of math word problems. But he still had problems in Grammar. He was good in sports, too, and everyday after school Mark went to the playground and played with the other children. He felt odd, though, when he saw Paul playing in the sandbox alone. Joanna would take Paul to the sandbox, play with him for a bit and then join the others.
One day at school Mark asked Joanna why Paul didn't play with the other children.
"They don't want to play with him because he's retarded and he's clumsy," she said.
Mark didn't say anything because he knew how clumsy Paul was but he didn't think it was fair that Paul was always alone. That afternoon Mark brought his own ball to the playground. He went
over to Paul and said, "Hi! Do you want to play ball with me?" Paul looked up at Mark and said, "No. You just want to make fun of me."
Mark was horrified. He felt his face burn. "No," he said, "that's not true. I just want to play with you."
Paul smiled, "OK."
Mark helped Paul up from the sandbox and they walked to a quiet corner. Mark felt a little awkward holding a big boy's hand but inside he knew he was right in doing so.
"You stand there," he told Paul, "I'll kick the ball to you and then you kick it back to me." Mark gently kicked the ball to Paul's feet. Paul looked at the ball, hesitated and then kicked. The ball went wide and Mark ran to retrieve it. Paul looked upset but Mark smiled at him and told him not to worry.
"Hey look! Mark is playing with the retard!" Harry yelled.
Mark was angry but tried to ignore Harry. Paul's lower lip trembled as though he was going to cry.
"Don't listen to him," Mark said.
"Mark and the retard! Mark and the retard!" Harry jeered.
Mark was really angry then but he just clenched his jaw tight and continued to play with Paul. Joanna came up to them and said, "I'm playing with you guys."
The next day at school Harry went up to Mark, "Hey," he called, "why do you want to play with that retard? You're good at sports you should play with us. Anyway, if you keep on playing with him you'll be a retard too. That stuff rubs off."
Mark trembled with rage. "Paul is my friend," he spat out, "and I like him. Just because he's slow doesn't mean he's not a human!" Mark stalked off. He knew if he stayed there he would punch Harry.
That afternoon in the playground Mark took Paul aside and taught him how to kick the ball. Every atternoon Mark helped Paul and little by little Paul improved and learned different techniques. Mark learned to ignore the shouts and jeers of the other children. It became easier because everyday fewer children teased Mark and some came to play with him and Paul.
One day Amy said to Mark, "It's more fun playing with you because nobody calls you an idiot everytime you miss the ball or fall down."
Harry and a few of the others still laughed at Mark. He didn't care because he knew that most of the children liked him and admired him not just because he played with Paul but because he was able to find time to help anyone who asked. At the end of the school year Mark, the new boy, was voted the most popular boy in school.
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