That day Thing wasn’t sure how he felt and if he had had someone to talk to, he might have asked them if they had days like that too.
Before his mother had gone off to the hospital and never returned (although he still hoped that she would), she had told him to be happy, regardless of what people said to him. As long as you are happy they can’t destroy you.
Thing had never done anything wrong to anyone that he could think of, but that hadn’t stopped the kids in school throwing things at him and calling him names.
It had taken him a time before he’d told his mother what had been happening in school.
“Is it because I don’t look like them?” He asked her.
She told Thing to sit beside her and she gave him a hug.
She told him that the universe was truly a beautiful place and all hearts were born unblemished. But for whatever reason, hearts got tainted by thoughts, or deeds, or painted strange colours by those who should know better. She told Thing that his heart was truly untainted and therefore, the others would pick on him because he showed them what they had been once – kind.
After that, Thing would always remember his heart was unblemished. It wasn’t the other kids faults that some of their hearts had been painted black.
One day at the end of all this when his time in this great universe was over, he would realise that everyone that he had met - no matter how good or bad they were - had been put in his path for a reason.
Thing realised that he was actually happy today and that that was the kind of day he was going to have.
It didn’t matter that his mother hadn’t returned from the hospital yet because she lived on in his heart and that was good enough for him.
The only time that Thing would ever make it down to the town was on the day of his birthday. His mother had marked this special day on the calendar and so every year he would tick the days off until his birthday came around again.
However, if truth was told, it was the same old calendar he used year in, year out and so what day his real birthday was on had disappeared into the mists of time.
When he was younger, his youthful energy and bravery had made him walk up to the others and invite them to his birthday party. Some said no, some said yes, and some just ran away.
Thing didn’t take this as being offensive as he understood that people didn’t know what to say to him and so they just ran off. What did disappoint him was the fact that very few actually showed up for the party ; after he had told his parents that there were many who had said yes, so they would buy in all the food and lay the table for a score of people.
But when only one or two showed their faces, his parents would be silent for a while, wipe away a tear then slap a big smile on their faces.
“Oh well, we can just have a treat for a few more days,” was what his father said.
“That’s exactly right, husband,” said his mother.
And that’s just what they did - they would spend the next few days eating the cakes and chocolate. The ones who had bothered to turn up thought that it was one of the best parties they had ever attended.
Now that Thing was on his own, at least for the time being, he thought it only right and proper that on his birthday he should head down the mountain side, cross the creek and hitch to town.
He knew he was near town when he would hear doors being slammed shut, but he guessed that it was such a cold night that folks wouldn’t want the heat getting out of their house.
At the far end of Dewson Street stood a small sad café that was very rarely used by the good and the great of the town. So on his birthday, Thing always made it his business to celebrate his party in that small and sad café.
Frederick, the café owner, looked forward to Thing and his party as once a year the café would have a smile on its face again and the room would be alive with laughter and music.
Now that Thing was older, he was not so brave and youthful, so he didn’t bother to ask people to his party. Instead he would set up a table in the café with all the sweetest things in the world and hope that people would come to him.
Some times there was only Thing and Fredrick sitting at the table while a thousand noses were pressed against the outside window looking in. When Thing went to the door to invite them in, they would all scream and run away.
This year Thing decided on a different tactic and wrote invitations, by name, to everyone in town inviting them to the café at 6pm for cake and chocolate.
Some ripped their invites up there and then, and told everyone who would listen that they weren’t going to mix with a freak like that Thing. Some said politely that they couldn’t make it, but emphasised how sorry they were.
And some just walked right through the door and sat down and got stuck into the cakes.
And it was because of those people that Thing sat with the biggest smile on his face the whole night.
Sometimes Thing grew suspicious of situations. Not often, but enough to get him worried. Take snow for instance - to him it seemed as if the Great Thing in the sky was trying to cover up its
mistakes. Snow made everything look neat and tidy.
mistakes. Snow made everything look neat and tidy.
It was the way that Thing used to clean up his part of the cave when his parents got fed up with the mess. Thing would just gather up all the stuff that was lying around and throw it to the back of the cave.
Everything looked so much better after that. Except his family knew Thing too well, and they would gather his stuff, throw it out of the cave and tell him to put it all back in a proper order.
And it was the snow that gave Thing the strangest idea he had had in a long time. Sometimes he grew tired of people moving away from him or crossing the street as he approached to say hello.
Why did people have to behave that way? Why did people think that different looking meant an ugly heart? Why did people think that beauty meant a good heart?
So Thing went into his parent’s room and found his mother’s makeup and just like the snow, Thing thought that perhaps covering up his face with makeup would make the people stop crossing over and perhaps believe that he really did have a good heart.
Thing put on white creams, and red lines, and black dust and then he looked in the mirror. He was more like People now, than before the onslaught of his face. Satisfied, Thing decided to take a trip down the mountainside, across the Creek and walk into town.
Two drunken guys waved over to him, “Hey, ain’t that Bert?” One of them shouted.
So Thing waved back. That was the first time that someone had waved to him in the longest of times.
If someone had been standing close to Thing, they would have seen through all the cream and the red and the black, a smile that also included a twinkle in his eyes.
Thing then walked through a little market in the middle of town and folks either smiled or ignored him, but what they didn’t do was run or pull their children to their sides then hurry off.
Just as thing crossed the Town Square, he saw a little creature, not a Thing, or a People but something else; folks grabbed their children and crossed the road to avoid the poor little creature.
Thing walked over to say ‘Hi’ but the creature looked at Thing and saw a People rather than a Thing and ran into the shadows. The little creature had been attacked by that kind in the past and didn’t like to hang around and be hurt.
Thing couldn’t understand why he was accepted by People now but shunned by another shadow dweller.
Then Thing caught his own reflection in the window and realised that he had lost an opportunity to have a friend because he had tried to be something he wasn’t.
The makeup was only skin deep and People had been too ready to accept it, but he’d lost a pal in the process.
Thing washed the ‘snow’ from his face and wandered back home.
Thing was trying to remember when it all changed between the Creek boys at the bottom of the hill and himself. It was probably something to do with that snowball.In the hot sultry days of summer, Thing and his gang of kids played at the Creek almost every day. In the winter they slid down the mountain snow in races of two or three. Old boxes where used for sitting in and Thing remembers it was the fastest he ever went in his life.Then around about the time that Jimmy Jones got a new dad the situation began to change. Thing remembered Jimmy calling him ‘a freak’ under his breath. He was never really sure at first but Thing later heard Jimmy telling the other guys the same word and all of them stopped talking when Thing got up beside them.
Then there was a snowball fight and he was sure it wasn’t Jimmy Jones, or Robert, or Pete who threw it but whoever threw it, it hurt really bad. Thing felt a thud on the side of his head, then he saw stars and when he looked down there was red blood dripping on the snow. One of his friends had put a rock inside the snowball and it had walloped him.
Thing was wondering why someone would do that as he sadly walked back up home. Jimmy shouted to the rest of the gang that who ever did that should own up, but no one ever did.
Thing’s mother asked him what had happened and it was then he did a stupid thing. He lied. He told her that he’d slipped during one of the races and she told him he had to be more careful in future. But that lie was a biggie, because it was the first time he had ever done it to his family and he’d done it to hide the shame of what had happened – not that he fully understood it, himself.
Then life got cold between them. Not between members of the gang, you understand; just between the boys and Thing. They had spent their early years in and out of each others’ houses, having sleepovers, laughing and crying and hollering at life then all this happened.
Thing was sitting by the Creek one Saturday morning when the guys passed on the other side. Thing stood and shouted but they didn’t seem to hear him. Then he noticed that they were all off on a fishing trip with Jimmy Jones’ new dad. Jimmy saw Thing was about to wave when Jimmy’s new dad got them all in a circle and whispered something and they all laughed. Jimmy walked on without looking back at Thing.
Thing’s Grandma had told him that it was true what they said about sticks and stones breaking bones but words can never hurt. She said that when she was bullied in school she used to take the names they called her and she would turn them into something beautiful. So the next time that Thing was called a Freak – he took each letter and made it into something good: Fantastic Rock ‘n’ Roll Exciting And Knowledgeable. Okay Thing admitted he wasn’t Shakespeare and it didn’t kill the pain but it helped a little.
He still couldn’t tell his mother about the name-calling as he knew it would hurt her. He thought about telling the teacher but she always looked so busy, so every time a note landed on his desk with the word ‘Freak’ written on it he would smile, think about what FREAK meant and feel at peace.
Sometime in the autumn the police took Jimmy Jones’ new dad away for beating up the Chinese man next door. Jimmy never mentioned him again and things kind of went back to normal. The boys started playing with Thing again and there were more races down the mountainside but something deep inside Thing had changed. He saw that it didn’t take people much to turn on one another and that stopped him smiling sometimes.
No one ever put a stone in a snowball again but somehow it was always there.
Thing was never going to sing at the Paris Opera but that wasn’t the point; he sang because he liked it. It made him happy. Thing’s father was always whistling a tune and he did it so often that most times he didn’t seem to notice.
“What’s that tune?” Thing would ask.
“Heck, if I know,” said his dad.
Thing's mother would also ‘tut’ at that point because she didn’t think that folks should say ‘heck’.
Thing’s father had told him that the Great Thing in the sky probably put a tune in everyone’s heart when they were born and that was the tune they worked by all their lives. It was the one they sang when they were scared, or happy, or in love, or sad or just because they felt like it.
Thing had a song about jumping as high as the clouds and on those days when he was blue or later on when he missed his parents, he would shout it out as loud as he could all around the cave and do you know what? He felt a whole lot better.
Sometimes in town he would sing the song real quite like so the he didn’t feel so alone.
Some sunny days in spring, folks would bring their geetars down to the town square and they’d sing about this and that and the other. Big one and small ones would stand and listen and join in -, if the feeling took them. It left everyone humming tunes as they walked home.
Thing wished he could sing just one song that would make folks happy and have them all whistling tunes and perhaps they would stand around and join in.
One day at school his teacher asked each person in the class to stand and do something special, tell a joke, perform a card trick, tell about their grandma – anything that was a little unique to them.
Thing listened in awe at the folks in his class, he laughed, he cried, he applauded and he hollered when the person deserved it - although as Mrs Hills said, ‘hollering was for outside’.
Then it was Thing’s turn and he stood and he sang his jumping song. I think it was Casey Briggs who shouted ‘What cha call that? A thong? He ain’t singing he’s thinging’ and most of the folks in the class began to laugh. Mrs Hills clapped her hands, thanked Thing and asked him to sit again.
For a long time after and a long time after that, folks would shout across the street at him about ‘Thing the thinger who sings thongs’. Now I ain’t telling you this story about Thing so you’ll feel sorry and all – Thing wasn’t like that - Thing had a song in his heart which had been placed there by the Great Thing in the sky the day he was born and it was his duty to sing the song if it made him happy.
Thing once asked his Dad, when he’d had a bad day with the folks in school, if maybe the problem was that we all had different songs in our hearts and that some folks didn’t want to listen or couldn’t hear the other folks’ tunes.
“Heck, you just might be right there, little ‘un’,” said his dad.
His mother gave out another ‘tut’ because of that word being used again.
Thing realised that the way he heard his song was probably not the way the other folks heard it. It didn’t mean anyone was wrong or right. It was just that a tune is a tune and only really exists to make you happy. If the others don’t like your tune then you should just sing it to yourself.
So you’re already packing up this story and thinking we’ve arrived at the end of it - but you’d be wrong.
One day when Thing was sitting at the door of his cave, some horses were grazing nearby and just at that point Thing felt the need to sing the tune he’d been given.
One by one the horses came over and stood and listened and shook their heads, they way horses do, and then they rubbed their heads against Thing as a way of thanking him.
You see, you couldn’t make everyone like your song - that wasn’t why you had been given it - but sometimes when you least expected it your song might seep into someone else’s heart and make them feel a whole lot better .
Thing decided you should never let anyone stop you singing your song and never ever change it or you just might miss a friend who likes your tune.