A Lesson From a Friend

“So? She must’ve liked it.”

I sat chatting with my friend, A when another girl informed us that J had worn multi-coloured sneakers to school that day.

A brushed it off with a shrug and an uninterested statement. J was the class weirdo. She had moved in from another state and had a different way of doing things than we did. And it bothered most of us in class. All except A.

A would never comment on how J wore her pinafore, her hair, or how she’d crack her knuckles hard enough to crack them.

Even when the rest of the class huddled in a corner making crude jokes at J or sneering at her walk, one scathing look from A shut them up at once. She was the only person who didn’t join in. But she never told anyone to stop tormenting J either. I was her best friend, and I’d laugh at J too. She had even seen me a few times at it.

Still, she never advised me to stop or threatened to break my nose if I didn’t. Even when we hung out together — just A and I — she’d never mention J.

Though A made no violent gestures, she was always on J’s side, a silent supporter, watching her back.

As primary school went by, I got accustomed to A’s nonconforming behaviour. All the teasing made her uneasy and hated to disappoint A. I grew less thrilled about the “J’s a fool” club.

We moved through middle school, and then on to high school, but the name-calling didn’t change. I had, though. I couldn’t tolerate it. We weren’t friends or even lab partners, but J no longer was a weirdo to me. She was just J, my classmate.

And one day, just before the summer holidays began, A and I sat in class making plans for our vacation.

“Hey guys, we’re planning to dump mud on J’s head. Wanna come watch?”

Before I knew it, I had stood up with my hands clenched. I was ready to defend J even if it came to a fistfight.

She deserved respect, and I had grown up at last.

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