Mural, mural on the wall.
"Oh my gosh," screeched Rachel, who had come in behind me with some other kids. "What happened?"
"Looks like a bit of water damage," said our classmate Jeffrey.
A bit of water damage? That was an understatement! Everything back there was soaking wet--the floor, the shelves, and worst of all, the art wall.
"I can't believe it. All of our paintings are ruined," I said, gazing at the sunset picture I had done earlier that week. It was a streaky, soggy mess.
"Oh relax, Ellie," Rachel said to me in a snide voice. "Your painting wasn't that good anyway. You know," she fake-whispered to some other girls, "I think it actually looks better now than it did before it got wet."
My stomach suddenly felt very heavy--the way it always did when Rachel said something mean.
Rachel and I used to be friends. She still acted like my friend ... sometimes. But other times she was cruel to me for no reason. Once she even made some of my other friends ignore me at recess. I couldn't understand why she acted that way.
I was about to say something to her when our teacher, Miss Moss, entered the classroom.
"Good morning, everyone," Miss Moss said. "As you can see, last night's storm caused some damage here. Luckily, Principal Chan has arranged to have everything fixed up this weekend. Our classroom will be as good as new by Monday morning."
Rachel raised her hand. "But Miss Moss, what are we going to do for today? I don't want to stay here. The whole room smells like mildew."
"I'm glad you asked, Rachel," Miss Moss answered. "We're going to have our lessons in the library. Now I'd like you all to walk there in an orderly fashion and find a seat at the far tables. I'll join you in a few minutes."
A few kids groaned, but we all got in line and walked to the library. On the way there, something pretty typical happened. The biggest kid in fifth grade, Nathan, started making fun of Jeffrey, who was at the front of the line.
"Could you go any slower, four eyes?" Nathan called from the middle of the line. "Oh wait, I forgot. Your legs are just so much shorter than everyone else's. Are you sure you don't really belong in kindergarten with the other babies?"
A couple of kids chuckled, but most of us stayed quiet and kept our heads down. No one wanted to be Nathan's next target.
A New Project
After we were all settled in the library, Miss Moss made an announcement.
"I know some of you are upset that our art wall was ruined," she began. "I am, too. But next week we're going to have a fresh new wall at the back of the classroom. And instead of hanging new paintings on it, we'll be doing something more permanent. A mural."
My heart sped up in excitement.
"Have you already chosen a theme?" I asked, forgetting to raise my hand.
"Yes," Miss Moss replied. "The theme will be peace."
She continued to explain the plan. "Each of you will get to paint something that represents peace to you. But I want you to put some real thought into choosing your topic. After all, the mural will be with us for the rest of the school year."
There were excited murmurs throughout the library as everyone discussed the project.
Miss Moss cleared her throat and the room fell quiet again. "We can brainstorm ideas later, but for now, let's open our math books to page 57."
At lunch, everyone was talking about their plans for the mural. "I'm going to paint a dove flying over a globe," Rachel said as she pulled a granola bar out of her lunch bag.
"I think I'll paint a picture of me and my family at the International Peace Gardens," said Megan. "We went there last summer when we visited my grandpa in Manitoba."
"I'm going to do a poppy," said Denise. "Or maybe I'll paint a peace tower, like the one on Parliament Hill."
I listened to my friends as I munched on my sandwich.
"Ellie," Megan said, "you're the best artist in the class. What are you going to do for the mural?"
"I haven't decided yet," I answered honestly. "All I know is that I want it to be special."
Just then, Rachel made a fake gagging noise. "Eww," she choked. "Ellie, is that an egg salad sandwich? It stinks."
She stood up. "C'mon guys, let's leave Sm-ellie alone before I get sick."
"Sorry, Ellie," Megan said with a frown. She and Denise got up slowly and left the lunch table. The knot in my stomach tightened as I watched them walk away.
After school that day, I walked home with Jeffrey. His house was down the street from mine.
"So, do you know what you're going to do for the peace mural yet?" I asked him while we walked.
"Nope," he answered. "Actually, I think the whole idea of a peace mural is a joke. There's nothing peaceful about our classroom."
I couldn't disagree, even though I wanted to. Our class did have some problems. Nathan and his friends bullied Jeffrey all the time, and the rest of us were too scared to say anything. Then there was Rachel and her mean ways.
"Who knows, maybe a peace mural will help bring us all together," I said.
Jeffrey was thoughtful for a minute and then mumbled, "No matter what I paint, Nathan's just going to make fun of it."
That weekend, I spent hours thinking about what I was going to do for the mural. I searched books and websites for inspiration. I doodled ideas in my sketchbook. Nothing felt quite right.
On Monday morning, the classroom looked as good as new. The back wall was patched up and painted white.
"Hi everyone," Miss Moss said when we were all at our desks. She pointed at the wall. "There it is. Our blank canvas. For the next two weeks, we're going to use the last hour of class to work on our mural."
Everyone cheered. A whole hour away from regular lessons was a reason to celebrate. But when the clock struck 2:00 pm and the rest of the class prepared to start painting, I stayed at my desk.
Miss Moss came over to talk. "Is something wrong, Ellie?" she asked.
"I don't have an idea for the mural yet," I admitted, embarrassed.
"That's okay," she said kindly, "there's no rush. You'll think of something."
But two days later, I still hadn't thought of a thing. So I just stayed at my desk and watched my classmates work on the mural. It wasn't going well. Nathan and his friends kept painting over Jeffrey's work and then snickering about it. Miss Moss didn't seem to notice, and Jeffrey looked miserable. Meanwhile, Rachel would whisper things to her friends and then point at me and giggle.
Jeffrey's right, I thought to myself. What's the point of painting a peace mural when kids in the class are being bullied and nobody is doing anything about it?
I wished everyone could see how they were behaving.
Suddenly, an idea formed in my head. I went to talk to Miss Moss ...
The following day, the class was surprised to see a round mirror hanging in the centre of the mural.
"Why is that mirror there?" Jeffrey asked Miss Moss.
"Yeah, what's it doing in the middle of our mural?" someone else chimed in.
"It's not going to stay there, is it?" demanded Rachel.
Miss Moss looked over at me. "Ellie," she asked, "are you ready to explain?"
The room got a hundred degrees hotter. Slowly, I rose from my desk and walked over to the mirror. I could feel everyone's eyes on me.
"This is my contribution to the mural," I said.
"A mirror?" Megan asked, confused.
"Y-yes," I stammered.
"But why?" Jeffrey asked.
I took a deep breath and hoped no one would make fun of me. "Well, I think that in order to have peace in the world, we need to stand up for it here in our classroom first. And maybe if we each look in this mirror and see peace in ourselves, we'll remember to treat each other better."
When no one spoke, I muttered, "Peace needs to start with us."
"I think it's a great idea," Denise said, finally breaking the silence.
"Me too," Jeffrey agreed.
Most of the other kids nodded eagerly--even Rachel.
The next Friday, our mural was done. As everyone celebrated, I looked in the mirror and saw myself surrounded by peace.
Take a Stand!
Did you know that November 15-21 is Bullying Awareness Week?
Bullying is an issue that touches all of us in one way or another. But we can all do our part to stop it. Visit www.bullying.org and bullyingawarenessweek.org for tips and advice on how to stand up to bullying.
Written by Casey Charles
Illustrated by Steve Mack
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|Title Annotation:||FeaTURe STORy|
|Publication:||Kayak - Canada's History Magazine for Kids|
|Article Type:||Short story|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2009|
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