Benny had finished his morning classes then sped to his room to change into work clothes before lunch. Lunch was as crowded and noisy as ever but this time all the talk was of the mysterious event of the ship stopping the previous day and the strange ragged boy that had been reportedly seen in the Captain’s office. A new student was always an event when they didn’t come at the beginning of the school year, but to stop the ship! This student must be something special, or something strange. All sorts of wild and improbable stories flew around—the boy was a shape shifter, or maybe he was a child prodigy, or maybe he could read minds! Who knew?
Benny quickly ate his lunch, letting the excited rumours fly over his head without taking any of them seriously, and made for the kitchen.
As the kitchen crew got to work cleaning dishes while simultaneously gossiping about the new student, Benny began to feel a little bad for contributing to the rumours. It would take forever for this to quiet down—how was the poor new kid going to adjust or fit in with everybody talking about him? Once the dishes were done, most of the helpers drifted out until just the group who delivered snacks were left. It was then that Mr. Dower pulled Benny over.
“Son, I’ve been told from the top that the new kid needs time to adjust and won’t be going to mealtimes for a little while.”
Not going to meals? That was strange. Every student was required to go to meals.
“So we’re supposed to deliver him his meals,” Mr. Dower continued, “right after lunch and before dinner. I’m looking after his breakfast, but I thought you could deliver the other meals. This time you can’t come back and tell us what you see. You should not see anything strange, but if you do, you only tell me, otherwise it’s hush-hush. Understand?”
Benny nodded. “Yeah. I won’t spread any rumours.”
“Good,” Mr. Dower grinned his wide grin and leaned back. “Now, why don’t we bring him some roast potatoes and lasagna and a nice green salad. I hear he’s got an appetite, the little fellow.”
And so Benny found himself carrying a laden tray to the rear of the ship and knocking on a little door to a room not far from the captain’s. Jimmy opened the door and smiled down at Benny.
“Thanks mate,” he said and took the tray and closed the door.
That was a disappointment. Dinner was the same. And lunch the next day, and dinner again. Benny began to wonder if he would never get to meet the new student.
Then, on the third day, the new student opened the door to Benny. He was a bit shorter than Benny, and looked a bit younger too. He was now dressed quite respectably in a pale yellow button down shirt and black dress pants which looked a little odd on his extremely slender frame. But it was his eyes that drew Benny’s gaze, for they were bright green, but blank as an empty sheet of paper. The boy was blind.
“Hi, I’m Benny.” Benny’s voice was chipper, more so than normal on account of the excited nerves curling and uncurling in his tummy.
“I, am, Josh-u-a,” the boy paused slightly before each syllable, as searching for the right sound to say next.
“Nice to meet you.” Benny grinned and frantically searched his own mind for something to say to continue the conversation. Nothing good was coming, so he blurted out, “are you blind?” then regretted it.
“Yes,” the boy actually smiled a little.
Benny laughed nervously and Joshua joined in, possibly just as nervously.
“I heard,” Benny began, “I mean, I think. I mean, I’m sorry if I’m wrong and this is just silly, but, well, do you want to feel my face?—So you can get an idea of what I look like” he hurried on before Joshua could replay “er, well, feel like, I mean. You know, because you can’t see me?”
“Ok.” said Joshua, cautiously reaching out his right hand and cocking his head a little to the side, with the remains of a smile still on his lips.
Benny held very still and silently tried to ascertain why this was making him feel so excited and thrilled. Perhaps it was just because he felt like he was doing something kind, to help someone else. Maybe because he felt like he was making a new friend.
The boy shyly felt his jaw, then his nose. He ran his little fingers along Benny’s eyebrows and felt his hair before withdrawing his hand.
“Thank you,” he said solemnly. “I’ve nev-er, done, that, be-fore.”
Just then Benny heard footsteps at the end of the passageway and glanced to see Jimmy turning into the hallway.
“Oh, here—take this!” he pushed the tray into Joshua’s hands and began to briskly walk down the hall in the opposite direction that Jimmy was coming.
“Hey—wait!” Jimmy called, “Benny, come back!”
But Benny, driven by the nerves that had now become more frightened and guilty than excited, had sped down the passageway and into another, then all the way back to the kitchen. Those nerves had giving him no leeway for stopping or coming back.
He didn’t tell Mr. Dower what had happened, so when Jimmy came into the kitchen later that afternoon and took a seat by the computer, Benny wished he could crawl into a dishwasher and hide, or perhaps wash away the crime he had committed in talking to the new student.