THOUGH Sam Gibson was not broadly disliked, he did suffer from the kind of missteps readily seized upon by ten-year-olds for ridicule. He invariably showed up in school uniform on mufti days and was not nearly covert enough about allowing his mother to kiss him goodbye outside the school gates.

The greatest detractor from his social standing, however, was his association with Eric Pyle, a hulking child whose fingers smelled of crushed ants. Dried streams of mucus bridged his nostrils and upper lip, forming a salty moustache he periodically licked. He also sported at least one scabbed knee at all times.

Their friendship was solid, insofar as they lived in the same street and their mothers got along. While Eric was the more disliked of the pair, he was brash and physically imposing enough to endure negativity. Sam, nervous in the presence of large dogs or adults, was far less equipped to deal with the bad press.

It was during the same week as show-and-tell that Sam first decided he was in love. The girl germs epidemic of the previous term had faded from the collective playground consciousness, making it socially acceptable for genders to intermingle once again. At recess he sat, clammy-palmed, picking apart his sandwiches while seagulls skipped and hovered nearby like clumsy marionettes.

{excerpt to be continued}

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