By: Catherine Olaso
~~Hershel crumpled his classmates’ hateful drawing into a wad and jammed it deep inside his backpack. He drew his knees up closer to his chest, the floor of the bathroom stall cold and hard. Angry tears stung his eyes. He blinked them away before they could smudge his glasses.
Last month, when his dad got a promotion that required they move to Philadelphia, his parents had sympathized that a new school might be a little difficult…
They had no idea.
Hershel scowled at the back of the stall door, feeling betrayed. He cringed at the constant ridicule that hounded him today – and everyday, in Mrs. Rasmussen’s fourth-grade class. Rage tightened his stomach. He hated Bowmont Elementary, and everyone in it.
The door to the boys bathroom scraped open, shattering the silence Hershel cocooned himself in. He stiffened at the footsteps shuffling down the long row of stalls. Had Josh or Austin come to razz him some more? His hands balled into rounded fists.
Brisk sweeping started in the corner, working a fast rhythm toward Hershel’s hiding place. Mr. Mosely, the school janitor, jumped in surprise when he noticed a pair of green tennis shoes drawn up beside the toilet. The broom stilled.
“Well now, looks like someone’s mighty upset in here.” His kind, brown eyes peered through the slit at the edge of the stall door. “Want to talk about it?”
Hershel dropped his chin into his hands and glared a hole in the floor. “No.”
“Okay.” The janitor shrugged. “Suit yourself. Old Mosely knows when not to pry.” He started sweeping the floor again…much slower this time.
Hershel watched Mr. Mosely’s work boots slide back and forth in front of him. A gentle whistling filled the bathroom. The simple tune eventually softened Hershel’s defenses enough that he stood and unlatched the door.
“You’re new here,” Mr. Mosely said – an observation more than a question. He continued working the broom, purposely avoiding Hershel’s half of the floor.
“I never wanted to come to this stupid school.” Hershel masked his pain with defiance. “But one day I’ll fix them. Then those jerks won’t laugh so hard. One day, they’ll get exactly what they deserve.” Revenge simmered in his dark eyes.
“Whoa, now.” Mr. Mosely set the broom aside. His brow furrowed with concern. “That way of thinking leads to a lot more trouble if you ask me.”
“I don’t care!” Hershel threw a withering glare at the bathroom mirror. The fury on his face made him flinch. This wasn’t who he wanted to be. He looked down, swallowing his burning frustration. “I don’t fit in,” he said. “I’m not good enough.” He threw his backpack on the floor. Books and papers scattered at his feet.
Mr. Mosely stooped and picked up a hardbound book. “The Hobbit.” He read the title, letting his fingers skim the worn jacket. A drawing of a winged dragon with a long tail embellished the bottom corner. “Good book,” he said, nodding his approval. “But you know…there is more to the little hobbit than meets the eye.” A sly smile curved his mouth.
“What do you mean?” Hershel asked, surprised and impressed that the janitor was familiar with his favorite novel.
Mr. Mosely rubbed his gray whiskers. “Well… seems to me that Bilbo didn’t settle on staying an ordinary hobbit. He didn’t let others decide who he would be. Sure, he was scared at first, but he believed in himself. And when it came down to light versus dark, Bilbo used his hidden strengths to overcome his enemies.”
“Bilbo started out a regular hobbit…but he became a hero because of things inside of him?”
“Sure enough,” Mr. Mosely said. “How do you think he confronted the trolls? Slayed the spider? Rescued the dwarves, or faced the mighty dragon?”
“You mean…it wasn’t just magic?” Hershel raised a brow.
“Magic that came from inside of him.” Mosely touched his heart. “The kind of magic no one but Bilbo could work. He turned things around with effort and courage, not anger and revenge.” Mosely pointed to the corner of the book jacket. “It’s like this here dragon.” He paused, letting the hint of a secret shine in his eyes.
Hershel waited for Mosely’s next words, his imagination wild with curiosity.
“We each have two dragons warring inside of us. One rages for hate and darkness. The other fights for love and light.” His voice turned quiet and solemn. “The dragon you choose to feed…is the one that wins the battle.”
The lunch bell rang, shattering the reverence of the moment. The clamor of shuffling feet filled the hall outside the bathroom. Hershel knelt to gather his books and papers. Mr. Mosely helped. “You gonna be okay?” he asked, watching Hershel heft his backpack onto his shoulder.
Hershel’s face brightened with determination, his anger gone. “It won’t be easy,” he said, taking his beloved book from the janitor’s outstretched hand, “but I’m the one who gets to choose who I am…not them.”
Tears moistened Mr. Mosely’s eyes. “Way to conquer the dark dragon,” he said with a wink.
Hershel smiled and reached for the door. He stopped to turn back. “Hey… um… Mr. Mosely? Do you think we could maybe um… you know, talk again sometime?”
The old janitor’s heart swelled. “Sure kid. Sure.”