by Joshua James Cole
Pedro liked telling his teachers far-fetched tales because he thought they made him sound cool and seem brave. His teachers liked to say he was allergic to the truth.
At school, Pedro was not the first to raise his hand in class. During recess, he did not win any of the races. In gym class, he certainly wasn’t the strongest; The strongest was Ricki Lobo, the new kid, who was also the meanest, ugliest, and smelliest kid at Poco Cactus Elementary. So the only thing Pedro was good at was lying. That was why he found himself in the principal’s office.
He didn’t mind visiting Mrs. Anciano. Though Mrs. Anciano’s skin was more wrinkled than a raisin, and her hair was grayer than a storm cloud, which frightened most of the children, Pedro found the secret was to just listen. Or at least appear to be listening. Mrs. Anciano’s office was adorned with all sorts of interesting trinkets and artifacts, not to mention degrees, certifications, and family photographs.
“Yes, Mrs. Anciano?”
“Were you listening to a word I said?” asked Mrs. Anciano.
“Of course. I was hanging on every word,” said Pedro confidently.
“Then you wouldn’t mind telling me—”
“It’s just that I was wondering who that was?” Pedro pointed an index finger at a picture of what looked like an unwrinkled Mrs. Anciano with brown hair standing next to a man in a military uniform.
“Wha…” Mrs. Anciano spun around in her chair and stared at the photograph. “Oh… that.” She made a noise that was between a coo and a chuckle. “That was my first husband, Pablo. He was a very brave man.”
Pedro noticed that Mrs. Anciano put a slight emphasis on the word first. Pedro knew he shouldn’t ask, but he wanted to know what made the man so brave, so he squeaked out, “what happen to him?”
With her back still toward him, Mrs. Anciano removed something from a drawer in the desk below the framed photograph. “He died in the war.”
“Oh,” said Pedro and he knew enough not to make eye contact with Mrs. Anciano when she turned back around in her chair.
“And though dying for a noble cause in a war is very brave,” she continued. Her face was soft but emotionless. “Going to war does not suddenly make someone brave. He was the bravest man I ever met long before he ever went to war.”
Mrs. Anciano paused and peered at Pedro over the light blue rim of her cat-eye-shaped glasses. Pedro’s mouth was agape like an Apache trout reaching for a worm. Her next question hooked him, “and do want to know what made him so brave?”
“Every morning he would put this on.” Mrs. Anciano slid a shiny golden square across her desk. Pedro raised an eyebrow. “What is it?” he asked.
“A belt buckle,” she answered.
“A belt buckle,” Pedro said in a tone that suggested he had opened a very big present on Christmas morning only to find it filled with clothes. “But—”
“But what does a belt buckle have to do with bravery?” Mrs. Anciano anticipated Pedro’s question and then answered it. “Everything. He called it his ‘Belt Buckle of Truth,’ and there’s nothing braver than telling the truth.”
“Oh boy…” Pedro rolled his eyes; he had a feeling he knew where this conversation was going.
“I want you to have it,” Mrs. Anciano said.
“You do?” said Pedro surprised. “But… but I don’t wear a belt, ma’am.” Pedro lifted his oversized t-shirt to reveal his shorts as evidence.
“That’s OK. You can keep it in your pocket. I see you have two of those.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Pedro reluctantly stuffed the buckle into his left pocket.
“Do you know why telling the truth is so brave?” asked Mrs. Anciano, but she did not wait for Pedro to respond because he looked like he would rather have watched paint dry than continue the conversation. “Because it’s almost always the hardest thing to do. Anyone can lie. Telling lies is easy. Telling the truth… that’s rare, and that’s why it’s so special. It’s kind of—”
“Like a unicorn?” Pedro asked with renewed interest; who didn’t like a unicorn?
Mrs. Anciano shrugged and then tilted her head to the side as if something occurred to her. “Tell me,” she said, “were you listening to me before you asked about my late husband?”
“No, ma’am,” Pedro said despite himself.
Mrs. Anciano smiled. “You may return to class now, Pedro.”
Pedro fell more than slid out of his chair and casually walked to the glass door. Then he turned suddenly and asked, “What if I lose it?”
“You won’t lose it.” Mrs. Anciano replied.
“What if I wanted to lose it?” Pedro asked.
“Do you want to lose it?” Mrs. Anciano asked.
“No,” said Pedro, without thinking. He had been more honest in the last two minutes than he had in the last two years of his life.
At first, he didn’t believe the buckle was anything special. He couldn’t believe it. He wondered if Mrs. Anciano had hypnotized him in some way. Did she have a degree in that, too? He couldn’t recall. He decided to test the buckle out.
Charlie, a pudgy little boy who preferred to be called “Churro” because he loved to cook fried dough, quick-stepped toward the bathroom when Pedro rounded the corner, and started down the hallway to his third-grade classroom.
“Churro,” Pedro called. “Come here, quick!”
“Oh,” Churro whined. “What is it? I really have to pee.”
“It will be quick, I promise,” Pedro said, and he meant it. He handed the buckle to Churro. “Try to tell me something that’s not true.”
“What?” Churro wiggled and pressed his knees together.
“Just make something up,” said Pedro.
“Oh, you’re good at that, not me,” said Churro.
Technically that was true, Pedro thought. Still, he wanted more proof. Then he saw an opportunity. The new kid, Ricki Lobo, was being escorted from the classroom by the school psychologist.
“Churro, it’s easy. Just say something like, Ricki smells better than lavender,” Pedro said loudly.
Ricki leered at them and continued down the hall next to the petite psychologist. It was like a curly blonde lamb guiding a rhino.
“But she doesn’t,” Churro said, and his body began to bend forward involuntarily. “Come on, Pedro, I really have to go!” Churro shoved the buckle into Pedro’s chest and lunged into the boy’s bathroom.
“Did you say something about me, pipsqueak?” Ricki Lobo asked. Her huge frame towered over Pedro.
Pedro stared at the buckle in his hand. “Um… yeah.”
“And…” Ricki said. She leaned in so close Pedro could smell the food stuck between her teeth.
“… and I said you smelled better than lavender.” Pedro smiled and closed his fingers over the buckle.
“Is everything OK?” asked the school psychologist.
“Is that supposed to be a joke?” Ricki growled.
“… Actually,” said Pedro, and he tried to force himself not to share anymore, but he knew telling only half of the truth was still telling a whole lie. So he continued in a whisper, “it was a lie because you smell worse than—.”
“OK. That’s enough you two,” interrupted the psychologist. “Come along now, Ricki.”
“I’ll see you at recess,” said Ricki, too low for the psychologist to hear.
Ricki lumbered away behind the psychologist and Pedro stared down at the buckle. He now had his confirmation.
By lunchtime, the entire school had heard of what took place. When the bell rang for recess, Ricki sought out her target like a great white shark, and the students skirted away from her like minnows. Pedro would have liked to run, too, but found his legs frozen to the pavement. He considered yelling for a teacher, but was transfixed on the hulking figure that moved toward him.
Pedro grabbed the buckle from his pocket. If he dropped it, then he could make up any story he needed to and maybe survive recess. It was that easy. Then Mrs. Anciano’s voice echoed in his head: Telling the truth… that’s rare, and that’s why it’s so special.
Ricki grabbed a handful of Pedro’s shirt at the collar and hoisted him off the ground. “You gotta problem with me, pipsqueak?”
A hush fell over the onlookers.
Pedro clasped the buckled and replied, “Yes!”
Again, the crowd gasped.
Ricki seemed a little confused. Her prey usually begged for their lives when in her grasp. She wasn’t exactly sure how to proceed. “What?” She bellowed in her most intimidating manner.
“I said, ‘yes’!” Pedro replied. “You pick on all the little kids, and you’re a menace to the teachers!”
Ricki chuckled. “So what!?”
“And another thing,” yelled Pedro as loud as he could. “Your hygiene is horrible!” Everyone’s eyes in the crowd grew as large as frisbees. At that comment, Pedro realized he may have gone too far. He tried to explain, “For those who have to sit next to you it’s really… disgusting!”
The explanation didn’t help. Ricki’s face grew crimson. She raised a sledgehammer-like fist high into the air.
“What’s going on here?” Hollered a teacher on recess duty.
Ricki dropped Pedro, who landed hard on the pavement. The buckle sprang from his hand. He went to reach for it, but the teacher pulled the two kids apart.
“I said ‘what’s going on here’?” It was Ms. Gomez the gym class teacher. She held each of the kids by the shoulder with her muscular arms.
“He started it,” said Ricki.
Ms. Gomez turned toward Pedro. “Is that true?” she asked.
Pedro eyed the golden buckle on the pavement and thought of something. Then he looked at Ms. Gomez and said, “I was just telling the truth.”
“And that was…?” asked Ms. Gomez.
“That she’s a big, stinking bully!” said Pedro confidently.
“Ricki, are you bullying kids?” Ms. Gomez looked quite angry; the school had a strict no-bullying policy.
Ricki opened her mouth, but before she could speak Pedro kicked at the ground in front of her. To most, it would look like a tantrum, and it made Ms. Gomez reaffirm her grip. To Ricki it seemed like Pedro was trying to attack her, so she stepped forward to meet the challenge, and unknowingly stepped on the buckle, which Pedro had purposely kicked forward.
“You just earned yourself detention, Pedro!” Ms. Gomez snapped. “Now, Ricki, answer my question: have you been bullying kids?”
“Yes…” Ricki found herself admitting.
“Oh?” said Ms. Gomez, just as surprised.
“The other kids don’t understand me, Ms. Gomez,” Ricki continued. “I can’t help it that I’m so big. I don’t want people to be afraid of me. That’s why my mom pulled me out of my old school. Well, that and because Poco Cactus has an amazing choir program. I’m a really good singer.” Pedro checked to see if Ricki was still standing on the buckle. Sure enough, she was.
“Oh… um… Well,” said Ms. Gomez who was clearly caught off-guard. “I really appreciate your honesty, Ricki, but you do know about our no-bullying policy. There’s going to be quite a bit of detention in your future.”
Ricki nodded sullenly.
“But afterward,” said Ms. Gomez. “We’ll see about the choir.”
Ricki’s frown turned into a big toothy grin.
Detention with Ricki wasn’t as bad as it could have been for Pedro. Not only did Ms. Gomez help Ricki join the choir, but she also introduced her to deodorant.
After that day, Pedro no longer told far-fetched tales. Instead, he looked for kids like Ricki, and himself, who had found it easier to live a lie than live truthfully. He used the buckle to help them tell the truth, and be who they were created to be. So in the end, Pedro, by telling the truth, became more famous and braver than he ever had been when he told his many lies.
Read about Joshua James Cole here.
Next (On Growing Up and Shoes) >
< Previous (Seeds of Grace)
Photo modified by Veronica McDonald.