© Yelena Yasen. The Stone Man, 1995. Editing by Ms. Jean Fiedler—the author of more than 20 books for children published by David McKay, Abelard-Schumann, Whitman Publishing, Western Publishing, Holiday House, and Hart Publishing Company. Ms. Fiedler has also written an adult novel, Atone with Evil, published in 1976 by Bantam, and she co-authored The Science Fiction of Issac Asimov published by Frederick Unger. Her children novel, The Year the World Was out of Step with Jancy Fried, was published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
THE STONE MAN
Initially no one took Mr. King seriously: short, bald, with tons of books and papers in the old brief case. Leroy could bet that during his first month a new teacher did not feel comfortable while following the hallway and hearing nasty jokes about his looks.
About one week after the beginning of the fall semester, Mr. King brought the slide projector to Leroy’s class. Without saying a word, he turned the projector on and started to change pictures on the wall behind his desk.
After several minutes, when the noise had gone down, he suddenly asked,
“Does anyone recognize any of these cities?”
The class kept silence.
“These are the sites of major European capitals. Make sure you’ll know enough about European countries when we have the advanced placement test for the world history course. It’ll happen sometime around the spring break.”
The class burst into deafening laughter.
“Advanced placement test?” someone asked. “You’re kidding!”
“No, I’m not,” Mr. King said firmly. “Yesterday I spoke with the Principal about your new schedule that he approved. After this week, we’ll be studying each Saturday, from nine to one.”
“On Saturdays?” cried Denzel.
“Right… Until the winter break. Then we’ll see.”
“No way,” the whole class was screaming almost in unison. “We aren’t going to do this. Why?”
“Let’s make a deal,” Mr. King said after a while. “The first Saturday only those will come who got bored killing time before TV… and no obligations for the first time. We won’t stay until one; maybe an hour, or so. Deal?”
“Ha, than you won’t have anyone,” Denzel said and smirked.
* * *
Five people came to the school that Saturday. Leroy was one of them. Mr. King asked everyone to put their chairs in the circle. After everyone found his place, Mr. King sat in the middle, looked around, and asked:
“Who remembers the Bible story about how David defeated Goliath?”
The Bible was the last subject Leroy was prepared to discuss that morning.
“We have better things to talk about,” he said after a long pause.”
“Like what?” Mr. King asked quickly. “Please tell me.”
“How about drugs, gangs…Crap like this?”
“These are serious things to be concerned… Well, do you want to know how David’s story can help?”
“What do you mean–help?” Leroy tried to hold back his aggravation.
“Let me show you something.” Mr. King opened his brief case and pulled out a thick book in the bright, blue jacket. Everybody was distrustfully watching him playing with the book marks inserted in the book here and there. Finally, he found the page he was looking for, opened it, and leaned the book against the board.
“My goodness,” exclaimed Lee Cameroon. “The guy is totally naked. Who is this white guy, anyway?”
“This is,” the teacher was waiting until everyone would stop laughing, ‘David who defeated Goliath,’ he finally said. “Well… it’s not the real David, you understand! This is the sculpture of ‘David’ by Michelangelo. It was created about 500 years ago, in Italy… Do you like it?”
Leroy didn’t really know what to think about the photograph. Something in this stone–made figure was so different from any photograph he had ever seen before.
“I have a suggestion,” said Mr. King quickly. “Let’s first talk about biblical David. The Michelangelo sculpture will be your homework–I’ll explain later. So, what do you remember about David?”
“I kind of… remember… the Reverend had once said… David defeated this mighty Goliath guy who was not Jewish,” Lee said.
“That’s correct,” Mr. King stood up and started to walk around their little circle. “Let’s now recall the rest. There was a war between the Philistines and the Jews. Goliath was… something like… the Philistines’ chief. He was so strong that the Jews were scared to death of him. When David arrived on the battle field, Goliath started teasing him. The thing is that compared to Goliath David was too young, inexperienced, but David responded to Goliath in an interesting way. He said, ‘You think your sword and shield will help you to kill me. But I’ll defeat you by God’s name. Remember this?” Mr. King suddenly turned to Lee.
“It’s okay. So, what happened next? David had started the fight and defeated Goliath with a piece of stone from his sling. What do you think about this?”
“A nice Bible story,” someone said.
“Okay. Let’s put it this way–for now. By next Saturday I would like you to prepare brief reports, no more than half a page. Think of how Michelangelo was able to express David’s feelings in his sculpture? Here are the copies of the photograph for each of you. That’s all for today. You may go home.”
“That’s it? But you were going to talk about us and stuff…” Leroy began indignantly.
“We will. Next Saturday, when your reports are ready. And please, ask your parents’ opinion about the sculpture. Who knows, you may have some useful feedback.”
Feedback… from Mom? Leroy was slowly walking down the deserted street.
Never heard her using a word like this. She’ll laugh at this Michel… stone naked guy… at first. Then she’ll start her usual stuff about arrogant white people… He reached the end of the street and turned to the big desolate field which he had to cross to get home.
Why did he show us this white fellow? Maybe I just won’t go to this Saturday class anymore. What can I say about him, except he’s huge and doesn’t have any clothes on? It’s too bizarre.
“Look at him.”
Now Leroy noticed three figures waiting for him at the opposite end of the field. One of those three was Denzel. Leroy didn’t recognize the two others, and definitely didn’t like it one bit.
Damn! I messed it up this time.
“He wants to be smarter than everyone around.” Denzel was grinning.
Leroy’s instant thought was to turn back and run. But those three were too close. He stopped for a moment, then started to move in their direction feverishly saying to himself: The only way to get strong is to act strong. The only way… get strong… act strong.
Now they were standing face to face against one another. Denzel was touching a metal glittering thing in his right pocket which looked like a knife point.
“So, how did you enjoy your weekend class with the short buddy? Maybe, you went just to play with Ms. Cameroon? She’s hot, isn’t she? Don’t you have a crush on her?”
Denzel pushed him in the shoulder, but Leroy had kept his balance and stayed on his feet.
“Come on, man! What was so good about this Saturday class? Did the bald shorty teach you some magic, and now you’ll teach us?”
A strange thing happened at that moment. All of a sudden Leroy had envisioned the marble David who was looking at Leroy as if he were alive. Obvious were the pride and fearlessness in David’s eyes and face, and in his arms and his vigorous body. For some weird reason Leroy almost heard the stone man saying, “The only way to get strong is to act strong.”
Leroy looked sternly at Denzel’s face, and said, “Let me go!”
Something sparkled in Denzel’s eyes; for some seconds he was silently staring at Leroy, then waved at his two pals, and slowly stepped aside. The next thing he remembered were three figures sauntering down the street behind the school building.
‘Wow,’ Leroy’s heart was jumping up and down as if he just finished running a high-speed race. ‘I definitely won’t go next time. What for? For this?’
* * *
“Who wants to read the report first?” Mr. King asked when all twelve people, who had come to the class next Saturday, were sitting around the circle. “Leroy, would you be interested?”
“I don’t have a big report. I’ll just say…” Leroy shrugged. “It’s weird. This stone man is like… he is like alive strong man who can help you to believe in yourself… myself. How could this Michel… ?”
“Michelangelo,” Mr. King said.
“Right. How did he make this thing 1000 years ago, or something?”
“500 years ago.” Mr. King smiled. “We’ll talk about this very important period of Italian history later. First, let’s talk about how Michelangelo could express so much in his ‘David defeated Goliath.'”