From Chicken Soup for the Child's Soul

Someone to Count On

If we survive danger, it steels our courage more than anything else.

Reinhold Niebuhr

As the littlest of the Stubbs Street kids, I always had to run to keep up. If someone said, “Let’s go to the mangroves,” I’d jump up right away, ready to run. Then off we’d go, my short legs moving fast. There were two ways to get there: over the bridge or through the swamp. We always went through the swamp.

Whatever the kids said, I agreed with them. It was better than staying at home. Anyone who stayed home was a baby.

Tom’s big brother, Sam, hung around with us sometimes. Sam was older than all of us and had a job. We thought he was rich.

One day when Sam was with us, someone suggested that we all go to the brick pit. I got up so quickly that I was in front of everyone. We went through the scrub and up a bit of a hill. After a while, I was at the back, and Sam was in front.

The brick pit was a deep hole in the ground. A fence made from metal sheets wrapped around it. Signs were everywhere that said KEEP OUT, but we could get in at a couple of places where the sheets had been pulled apart. I know we shouldn’t have gone in there. Our parents always told us not to go to the brick pit. But I was little then, and I did what everyone else did.

We always went close to the edge, threw stones into the pit, and waited for them to hit the bottom. The sides were so steep we couldn’t see all the way down. We had to listen until we heard them hit. This, time we were all throwing, but nobody heard anything.

“There might be some water in it,” Sam said. He walked past me over to the right and said, “I’m going over there. It’s a bit higher, and I might be able to see the bottom.”

The soil was loose, and a bush had its roots in the air, like it had been ripped out. That’s when I heard myself shouting. “No, it’s dangerous! The dirt’s falling in.”

Sam looked around. All the kids looked at me. It felt strange. Usually I didn’t say anything, and now I was shouting madly.

“It’s falling in,” I said a bit more quietly.

Sam looked back to where he was going to walk and said, “No, it isn’t.”

So all the kids said, “No, it isn’t.”

Sam walked on to the ground—and vanished! The soil simply fell away under his weight, taking him and the big bush with it. I remember hearing Gavin scream like a girl. I’d never heard him make a noise like that before. Then he turned and ran away from the edge. All the other kids were pushing past him to see what had happened.

“Sam’s gone!” he kept calling out.

But Sam was still there. He was hanging on to the roots of a big tree. I saw rocks and soil bumping down the slope beneath him and over the pit edge. He was covered in dirt and grass. But he was strong and lifted his knees up to get a better grip on the root. Then he moved his hands and his elbow and got a better hold. And that was how he climbed back up to the top. I noticed that he was shaking and, for a moment, I thought he was crying, but he wasn’t. This was the only time I ever saw Sam look scared.

We all walked back home, and no one said a word.

But on that silent walk, new and different thoughts ran through my head. I was the only one who had seen the trouble ahead. Nobody, not even Sam, had been able to do what I did. And that surprised me.

I could tell that the other boys were looking at me differently—as if I was someone to count on, as if I were, finally, really part of the group. Tom even put his hand on my shoulder as we walked along.

A few weeks later, one of the kids said, “Let’s go to the brick pit.” A couple of other kids stood up.

I knew it was deadly dangerous at the pit, and I didn’t want any of them to get hurt or killed.

“No,” I said. “Let’s go to the mangroves.”

So we went to the mangroves instead.

Richard Brookton

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