I have known him for more than thirty years. We are of the same age. A long time ago, we used to have an active friendship. Back then, we were children. He was always different, smaller, and thinner. He wore glasses, always with muddled lenses, and was all messy and untidy. When he spoke, he lisped and twisted his lip in a strange way, so his saliva was on his lips and in the corners of his mouth all the time. I found that disgusting. To be honest, I used to avoid him. He was not a fast runner, he was clumsy with a ball and had no bike. I simply had no idea what to do with him.
When we did play together, he slowed down the whole team. We would lose games, ruin our reputation in the eyes of the neighbourhood boys, we were teased because of him. That is why he spent most of his time alone, playing with needles. We called him a tailor for that. Sometimes he cried, and that would made us even louder:
Tailor, tailor, dirty as a sailor!
Tailor, tailor, ugly as a jailor!
I have never been at his place. He came from a workers’ family with a lot of children, but they were not poor. They were in the same situation as everyone else in those times of political troubles and crisis. His mother, unlike mine, was untidy, always wearing an apron. I didn’t like to touch her and avoided shaking her hand although she practiced that when we would meet. Every time would pretend that I was in a hurry and would pass her as fast as I could, with a loud hello, as my upbringing required me to do.
We started to go to school. From three schools in the surrounding area and from five classes in a school, somehow he came to be in my class. I was angry. I remember that I screamed when I came home and threw my bag at the wall. I broke a vase doing that, and the water from it fell on the carpet. Then I was punished for that, and then I hated him even more.
During breaks between classes I would try to run away before he approached me. Once he found me, it was impossible to get rid of him. Often I would hide in the toilets or behind the school. During lectures I would laugh loudly if the teacher would ask him something and he couldn’t answer. With other boys I would hide his stuff all over the classroom and would rejoice when he cried for not being able to find it. During physical education classes, we put chewing gums into his sneakers and balloons filled with water in his bag, so when he would put books inside they would break and make a mess. We would cry from laughing. The first class ended in that way.
I had known some of the boys in my class from before, and some I got to know better. I started to ignore him completely.
Willard Wigen had troubles with learning. That didn’t interest me a lot back then. He didn’t interest me. I had my own problems, I had to win the school tournament and prove myself in front of other boys. I wanted to be the fastest, the most precise in goal shooting and I invested every atom of my strength and concentration into that. The day before the tournament, after the classes ended, he approached me in a hallway. I was nervous and packing my things to go home. I noticed he was hanging around me, but I didn’t pay any attention to him. I had better things to do. Shyly, he told me:
• Mathew, can you help me with math? We have an exam in two days and I’m afraid I will not do well. My final marks depend on it.
• What?! Are you crazy?!? Tomorrow is the tournament; I’m not going to waste my time on you!
I pushed him as hard as I could and left. He followed me.
• Mathew, please. You have good marks in math. Just a bit about fractions, I don’t understand the subtraction of the negative ones…
I didn’t react, although I was terribly nervous. He followed me till the exit door. In front of the school he approached me again.
• Mathew . . .
Then I exploded. I turned around and hit him in the face so hard he fell on the ground. Blood streamed from his nose while I kicked him and screamed all the possible insults I could remember at that moment. The last thing I told him, the most expressive and probably the loudest:
• Fuck off you disgusting tailor!
A few days later, after we received the results from the math exam, I have heard the conversation between our teacher and Willard’s mother. It happened by accident. His staying in school was uncertain. His marks were bad, he could hardly read or write, he had difficulties comprehending things we learned in the school. The teacher accused him of being lazy, and Mrs. Wigen accused the teachers of discrimination. Willard stood next to them, silent and looking at floor. I could see him twisting his lip, and his saliva dripping from the left corner of his mouth to his chin. Then, for the first time in ten years since we had known each other, I realized I somehow felt sorry for this boy. Obviously, he was suffering. The elders were trying to solve the problem, but no one paid attention to its source – to Willard.
I spoke with my father about what I had heard and when I told him that Willard had difficulties with reading, writing, and with simple math functions, he explained to me that Willard most probably suffered from dyslexia, the syndrome of special lexical difficulties, and that he was neither lazy nor stupid as he had been tagged, but he simply could not do some things. No one noticed his talents – the drawings and mosaics he made on the small spaces of paper, on the back sides of his notebooks.
He couldn’t pass that class so he was sent to another school. I’ve heard the teachers were even worse to him there, that pupils bullied him and that he hardly finished primary school. I haven’t seen him or heard anything about him for a long time.
After I finished my studies I moved to the capital. Higher chances for success have led me a couple hundreds of kilometres away from my home town and the street where I had spent my childhood. My town, family, surrounding, conditions, and life had been totally changed and I had forgotten about Willard. Entirely.
Yesterday, I was returning home from work following the route I am accustomed to. I hardly found a place to park my car, two streets away from the building where I am living. I was standing at a traffic lights waiting for a green light when a man stopped beside me. I looked at him and he smiled with pearly white teeth. The moment he spoke I recognized him.
• Mathew? It’s you?
• Yes, it’s me. Hello.
• Hello Willard. Why are you here?
• I came to be a guest in a TV show.
• I’m glad to hear that Willard. When is the show on?
• Tonight in the news.
• Ill watch it. See you around.
• See you Mathew.
He was walking in front of me, so I had a chance to take a better look of him. In a suit he looked much different from his picture in my memory. He spoke more clearly and understandably, and there was not a trace of his untidiness. He was all tidied up in some “microscopically precise’ way.
I’ve heard passers-by whispering:
• That’s the guy who sold his sculpture for twenty million!
I couldn’t wait to see the evening news and the report about Willard. That made everything clear.