The Orlando-Vincente fight during lunch recess began with loud name-calling and pushing and shoving. It quickly escalated to shouting profanities and throwing fists. The whole thing lasted only a few minutes but left both boys sniffling and bleeding.
Then both second-graders were brought to my office for their trial and sentencing.
“Thank you, Ana,” I said in greeting the playground aide. “Another fun day, huh?”
“Nothing I can’t handle,” she replied with a grin. “But they’re all yours now. I need to get back out there. The third graders are coming.”
I turned my attention to my latest clients. I checked both for any signs of serious injury. Vincente had a small cut on the knuckles of his right hand. Orlando had a minor scratch on his cheek. He was also holding on to the back of his head. I examined his skull and found a small lump. I handed each one a tissue to wipe off their blood and made a mental note to send them to the nurse when I was done interrogating.
“Sit down boys,” I ordered. “I don’t know what this was all about, but you’re going to help me sort things out.”
Of course, they had other plans. Vincente jumped from his seat and raised his wounded fist at his opponent. I leapt from my own seat and grabbed his tiny body and moved it back into his chair. This time I stood between the two boys.
“How did this start, Vincente?” I barked.
“He started it!” the little boy shouted. “He said that I’m short and my feet are too small to kick a soccer ball!”
“Well, you are short, kid. All second graders here are short. But I’ve seen you playing soccer and you are pretty good at keeping the ball away from your opponent. Orlando, did you really say that?”
“Yeah,” the second boy fumed. “But he called me ‘four-eyes’ because of my glasses.” Orlando pointed to his now twisted frames and the scratch on his cheek. “See what he did?” he screeched. “He broke my glasses and he cut my face!”
“I did not!” yelled Vincente. “I never even touched your face! I hit you in the stomach!”
“Thanks for admitting to that, kid,” I said. “Orlando, what did you do?”
“Nothin’,” he muttered.
“You know, boys, we have a rule against fighting on this campus. No matter who started it, you are expected to behave at this school.”
The fighters glared at each other and then glared at me.
“You are not telling me everything. All I know is that you both were calling each other names, Vincente supposedly hit Orlando in the gut, and Orlando is extremely innocent because he…what did you say…oh, yeah… he did ‘nothin’.”
“I ain’t talking,” Orlando seethed. “I want my lawyer.”
I stifled my laughter at this preposterous request from an eight-year-old. “Well, kid, it doesn’t work that way at school. I am the judge and the jury, and I have to make a decision. Since neither of you really want to help with this investigation, I will need to pull a witness or two to the stand. Orlando, I’m sending you to Mr. Calderon’s fifth grade room to cool off. Vincente, you are going to Mrs. Washburn’s sixth grade room. I’ll call for you both when I make up my mind as to what your consequences will be.” I called each classroom and asked for a student to guide each boy first to the nurse and then to their respective holding cells.
Once my office was cleared, I called Ana on her two-way radio. “Ana, were there any other kids around the second-grade fight today?”
“Well, sure,” she said with a slight chuckle. "Practically the whole grade level wanted to see the action.”
“Could you name one who might be an honest witness? I’m having a hard time breaking these two.”
“Hmm,” she thought. “You know, Santiago would be a good kid to call up. He is never in trouble. Always standing on the side watching, observing. I never see him running around or playing, but I never see him in any trouble either. Why don’t you call him?”
“Okay. Thanks,” I replied. I asked Valerie, our school secretary, to call my witness to the stand.
In minutes, little Santiago arrived. The tiny 40-pound boy stood before me shaking. “Relax, relax,” I said, putting my arm around his shoulders and guiding him to the seat where only moments before Orlando had squirmed.
“What did I do?” the little boy whispered.
“Nothing, nothing at all,” I assured him. “You know about the fight at recess?”
“Um, yeah,” he muttered.
“Well, I heard that you have some pretty good detective skills. Did you see what happened between Orlando and Vincente?”
“Um, yeah,” he muttered again.
“Well, what did you see?” I pressed.
“Um…,” the boy stalled. “Um…will I be anoma…anoma…”
“Do you mean ‘anonymous’?” I asked.
The little boy nodded his head up and down.
“I assure you,” I said. “I will make sure that no one knows that what I find out came from you.”
“So, I’m a witness?” he asked meekly.
“Yes,” I replied. “An anonymous witness.”
“I was a witness before when I was five. I don’t think I was anoma…whatever you call it.”
“Anonymous,” I answered and then asked in wonder, “You were a witness at age five? Whatever for?” I sat looking at Santiago in amazement.
My Tio Martin had his car stolen from the apartments. I was outside playing with my cousins, and I saw the teenagers who took the car. Somehow, they got it running and screeched out of the parking lot. I ran inside and woke my uncle up. I got a good memory, so I described the one who was driving pretty good. Martin knew right away that it was that boy who lived upstairs in 252. He called the cops. They asked me a bunch of questions. They said I’d be an anomanous witness.”
“Well, they do a pretty good job of keeping witnesses safe, especially kids,” I offered.
“Um, yeah,” the boy whispered.
“Santiago, did you see anything today?” I prodded.
“Yeah. Both boys were pushing each other and punching each other. Vincente’s brother, Carlos…I think he is in fourth grade…saw the fight going on. He snuck away from the fourth-grade playground and pushed Orlando down on the ground. Orlando fell on his back. His head kinda bounced on the ground.”
Santiago paused and looked up at me. “You’re not going to tell him I told, are you?” he asked timidly.
“Of course not,” I assured. “I’m going to tell him that the playground aide reported the facts.”
Santiago let out a deep sigh. “Mr. Ramsey,” he continued, “have you ever been shot?”
The question threw me off-guard. “No…” I answered hesitantly.
“Well,” the tiny boy announced, “I have.” Before I knew what was happening, Santiago stood and pulled up his t-shirt exposing his tiny brown belly and the small circular scar in the center of his chest.
My eyes were opened about as wide as my mouth. I could not speak. The scar was about the size of a Cheerio. The healed edges were raised and slightly darker than the rest of his skin.
Santiago lowered his shirt and continued. “The teenager was mad at my tio and me. He told his brother. We were standing at the corner waiting for my tia to come home. The guy drove down the street and stuck his gun out the window. Next thing I knew I was in the hospital, but that was a few days later after the operation. The doctor said I was lucky to be alive. The bullet missed my heart but ripped up my lung. I can’t run around much now or I get really tired.”
I sat speechless. The boy stared at me, his brown eyes imploring me to continue the investigation, to get things done and to send him back to class.
“Oh, my…,” I began, but the words stuck in my throat. “How do you...how do you feel now? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Mr. Ramsey,” he said.
“Oh, my...,” I repeated. I got up from my chair and gave the boy a gentle hug. “You are an amazing kid,” I said.
“Can I go back to class, now?” the child asked.
I quickly regained my composure. “Certainly!” I replied. “You’ve helped me a great deal. You’re an awesome kid!”
Santiago rose and headed for the door. He stopped before turning the handle. “So, you’re sure I’m going to be anomanous?” he asked.
Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2017.