The sun was just beginning to rise over the March horizon as Ollie’s new alarm clock began to ring. He struggled to open his eyes, but with the room still dark and the bed so invitingly warm, he fought to resist the temptation to lay back down for just a few minutes more. The last time that he closed his eyes for just a few minutes more, he ended up being an hour and a half late for school. This is the reason why his mother bought him this damn new monstrosity. As he struggled to consciousness, the fleeting thought popped into his groggy head that this was no ordinary clock; no, this was Big Ben! As he threw his arm up into the darkness toward his nightstand to silence its thunderous ringing, he missed it altogether and instead hit his glasses lying near the edge of the stand causing them to crash to the floor. The sound of shattering glass on the cold tiles was all he needed to wake up completely.
“Crap”, he muttered to himself as he carefully slung one leg and then the other onto the floor. He knew he had broken his glasses, but he couldn’t see the shards, so he slowly and carefully scooted his feet across the icy cold floor instead of picking them up and walking. He groped his way to the light switch on the wall and tuned on his lights. “Oh that’s better,” he thought to himself as he turned back around and saw his broken glasses lying on the floor. First things first though. He went over to his night stand and turned off the clock that was still shaking the room and his drowsy nerves. He picked up his glasses and saw that the damage wasn’t as bad as it could have been; only one shattered lens.
After taking his shower, Ollie looked at his face in the bathroom mirror checking to make sure that he didn’t have any new zits. He was pleased with the mustache of very fine dark hair that had started growing on his face in the past year. It wasn’t a real mustache yet, but that wasn’t important; it was more than most boys in his class had and that made him proud because it made him feel more mature. As he turned his face from side to side in the mirror, he felt relieved to see that, at least today, he was pimple free. Nothing was worse at his age than having to go to school with a pizza face, and this was especially true on days like this. Today was picture day at school and although he really didn’t want to have his photo taken, he knew his mother would throw a fit if he didn’t take a school photo each year. Ollie’s mother was an Iranian mother; she didn’t ask for much in life, but she wanted her new photo each year, come hell or high water. She had decorated one wall of the house with all of his school photos since kindergarten. Much to Ollie’s embarrassment, every time they had guests over, she proudly showed the wall off whether they wanted to see it or not. Ollie’s friends at school gave him a hard time about it. In fun, they told him that it looked like some kind of cult shrine to Elvis, but they dared not tell his mother that. They knew that Ollie was her baby, even though he was the tallest boy in eighth grade, and they knew better than to laugh about her eagerness to add a new photo to the “wall of fame” each year.
When he finished getting ready, he went down to the kitchen. As always, his mother had his breakfast prepared and waiting on the table for him. Just like every other day, he had three boiled eggs, a piece of toast, a banana and a glass of milk waiting for him to gobble down. Ollie was the kind of boy who liked routines, and his breakfast routine was very important because in his mind, it set the tone for the rest of his day. He didn’t like it much when there was any deviation from his set morning menu, and his mother knew this fact well. As he began to eat, he said, “Maman joon, I may be home a little late from school this afternoon. I want to go to an information meeting that the track coach is having after school for people who are interested in trying out for the track team,” he said. “The track team… why in the world would you want to join the track team,” she asked dismissively? “Sports are for boys that can’t make it any other way in school,” she added. Ollie could see that his mother was not going to cooperate with him, at least not this early in the morning, so he decided to drop the subject for the time being. As he swallowed the last gulp of his breakfast, he grabbed his mother’s small hand and told her that he would be home at around five o’clock. Then, he grabbed his school bag, gave her a peck on the cheek, and like a flash, he was out the door.
Ollie usually rode his bike to school, but today he walking because he had ridden over a nail or something sharp the day before and punctured his rear tire. He made a note in his head to get that tire fixed as soon as possible. He didn’t mind walking since the school was only fifteen minutes away by foot and the spring weather was growing nicer day by day. As he began the short trek to school, he began thinking of how much he would like to become a member of the school’s track team; this might be the one sport that he could excel in. He wasn’t very good at football, and he was even worse when it came to basketball, but he was fast on his feet. If he was going to have any chance of earning a “Letter Jacket,” it would have to be as a member of the track team. Ollie dreamed of being able to proudly wear a Letter Jacket around school and to be readily identified as one of the school’s premiere athletes. He knew that his mother would never understand his desire, but he was determined to convince her to let him be on the team if he qualified after the team tryouts.
Just as he was crossing the street near Washington Park, Ollie saw his friend Reza. Nobody, but Ollie called him Reza though. Reza liked being called Reg, and that is what all the other kids at school knew him as. Reza was originally from Ahvaz, Iran; however, he had spent all, but two of his fourteen years living in the United States. From outward appearances, Reg was just like any other teenage boy in Missouri. That part of his life which was still purely Iranian, he preferred to keep from the view of the other kids at school. He had learned over the years the very painful reality that being Iranian in America could at times be a distinct disadvantage. This is why Reza had decided to introduce himself as Reg to all the kids when he moved to town a year and a half earlier. The only person to know his secret was Ollie, and he only knew by an accidental twist of fate. A little over a year earlier, Ollie and his mother were attending an Iranian party in town to celebrate Shabe Yalda, or “the longest night” when he and his mother met Reg and his parents. The boys didn’t think anything about it at the time because they were attending different schools then, but when they saw each other on the first day of class this year at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, they both knew the secret which each kept to himself.
“Hey Reza, wait up,” called Ollie. “Salaam Ali, sobh be khayr,” said Reg with a smile. “Morning,” Ollie replied. As the boys continued toward the school, they began to talk about their social studies report that was due. Each student in the class had to find an interesting current events article in a newspaper and give a short oral report about it. Reg was worried because he hadn’t been able to find a good report -- one that would really stand out from the same ole boring reports that all the other kids had been giving for the last two days in class. He felt that if Mr. Bothello, the Social Studies teacher, had to hear one more boring, gloom and doom, report about global warming that the old man would immediately go brain dead and collapse onto the classroom floor in front of all twenty-seven kids. Ollie told him not to worry; he had found a great article in Arab News, an English language newspaper in Saudi Arabia that would have the students sitting on the edges of their seats. Ollie didn’t want to use it for his own report because he had found an even better one. He said that he would show Reg the article on the Internet when they got to school. Reg felt much better knowing that Ollie was going to help him out with the assignment. Ollie was a better student in English, History and P.E., but Reg had him beat in Math and Science.
As the two boys got close to the school, Ollie asked Reg if he was planning to attend the track meeting scheduled in the auditorium after school. Reg shook his head and explained that his father expected him to make “straight As” in math and science and that he would not have enough time to study if he had to attend daily practices after school. Besides, Reg explained that he didn’t like many sports except soccer and basketball; track just wasn’t his cup of tea. Ollie said that he was going to the after-school session to get some information about the team, but added that he wasn’t sure if his mom would let him join. With a tinge of mystery in his words, Reg told him to come by his house that evening if he really wanted to find out whether he had a chance to make the team. Ollie was curious about what exactly Reg had in mind, but he didn’t ask any questions; he simply stated that he’d drop by after dinner.
When the boys arrived at school the halls were already teeming with happy, enthusiastic students. There were groups of students everywhere, but the different groups for the most part ignored each other. There were the popular kids, the jocks, the party-hardies, the computer nerds, the band members, the Jesus kids, the straight-A-ers, the hillbillies, and the redneck wannabes. Neither Ollie nor Reg felt like they fit into any of the groups very well, so they floated through the hallway as invisible to the other kids as they felt on the inside to themselves. There were fifteen minutes left until first period, so they quickly headed to the library to find the article Reg could use in Social Studies class later in the afternoon. Ollie promised Reg that the story was going to freak him out! They sat down at a well-worn, scratched-up computer table in the back of the library. Ollie’s fingers quickly typed in www.arabnews.com
In an instant the newspaper’s online edition popped up. Ollie then went to the archive page and entered March 3, 2008 and up popped that day’s online edition. He scrolled-down the page and there it was a headline that screamed, “Man Butcher’s 15-Month-Old Nephew in Jeddah Supermarket!” “Now, this was a story,” thought Reg, “that is bound to get everyone’s attention.” As his eyes darted quickly through the text of what Ollie had already obviously read, Reg felt a sick feeling come over him. This was not some nightmarish Hollywood tale; no, this really happened. A deranged, young Syrian man had actually cut off his baby nephew’s head in a crowded supermarket and rolled it down the paper towel aisle like a bowling ball in front of a store full of shocked and horrified customers and store employees. When the police arrive on the scene, the executioner calmly explained that he decapitated his nephew, so that the child’s father could not gain custody of him in a pending divorce case between the child’s parents.
This was just the kind of story that Reg needed to make a good grade in Social Studies! He was ecstatic! Soon the morning bell rang and the boys were off to their classes; Ollie went one direction and Reg ran down the hall the other way unable to get that baby’s rolling, bowling ball head out of his mind>>> Chapter 2
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