A THEFT OF IDENTITY

     School started the first week in September.  Joey and Butch were both assigned to the same bus stop, on Main Street, across from the Wachovia bank.  That first morning, Joey attempted to make amends and said, "hello," to his former friend.  But Butch stood off to one side, with some of the older boys; he glared at Joey with his cold, blue eyes.  Joey went and stood with the younger kids at the curb.

     Soon, he heard an unfamiliar voice say, "Who's that tall, skinny geek with the glasses?"

     "Him?" Butch spoke up, sounding bored and indifferent.  "Oh, that's nobody.  His name's Joey Duduka."

     There was a moment of uneasy silence.  Then the first kid said, "That's not Joey Duduka."

     "It isn't?" Butch said.

     "Nah, that's Pickles."

     "Pickles?"

     "Yeah, Pickles.  See where the back of his greasy noggin seems to stick out and come to a kinda rounded point?  It makes him look like a pickle.  A dill pickle."

     Butch snorted.  "You're right.  His head does look like a pickle."

     Some of the younger kids twittered.  Joey hung his head and silently prayed that the school bus would somehow miraculously appear from out of nowhere.

     "Hey, Pickles!"

     A hand enclosed itself like an iron vise around Joey's lumpy, right bicep, whirling him around.  Joey found himself staring up at Wayne Jarrett for the very first time.  Wayne had dark, beady eyes like a ferret and large, square teeth like a horse.

     "Listen, Pickles.  Why don't you answer when somebody calls you?"

     "Because that's not my name.  It's---"

     "From now on, your name's Pickles.  You got that, Pickles?"

     "Yeah..."

     Wayne loosened his tight grip on Joey's arm.

     The bus arrived at last.  A grateful Joey jumped down off the cracked, yellow-edged sidewalk.  The moment the yellow doors folded back, Joey dashed like a wild man up the steps and plopped himself down hard on the first empty seat, behind the driver.

     "Hey, you, kid," the ancient driver's grizzled visage growled at Joey from the murky depths of the rear view mirror.  "Just who do you think you are, getting on my bus like that?"

     "Why, that's Pickles," sniggered Wayne, who was the first person on the bus, after Joey.

     "Well, listen, Pickles---"

     "That's not my name! "

     "---If I ever catch you getting on my bus like that again, I'll make sure you walk to school every day for the rest of your life.  You understand what I'm telling you, Mr. Pickles?"

     "Yes, sir."

     Joey hung his head in shame and humiliation.  He shut his eyes and tried not to cry, while the cold, cruel laughter of the other children rolled over him like a deep, dark wave.  He couldn't believe his terrible misfortune.  Only a few, short minutes ago, he'd been plain, old Joey Duduka.  Now, he was some strange, new creatured called Pickles!

The End

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