I once met a boy named Louie, who stole my brownie, in that childhood hell we call pre-school. I was 5 years old and it was my first time to attend formal school. In those days, pre-school was merely an option; kids weren’t required to go through kinder or prep before entering the elementary level. Not like today, when kids have to labor and maneuver their way through First Step, Kinder 1, Kinder 2, and Prep just to prepare for Grade 1. It’s first grade, for chrissakes. What the hell is there to prepare for? Is there a pre-alphabet to the alphabet, or a make-believe set of real numbers to the actual, real set of real numbers? What do these kids do in kinder? In my day, early childhood education consisted of old Sampaguita and LVN movies in the afternoon courtesy of Channel 9.
But back to pre-school, and Louie, who stole my brownie. My parents had decided to enroll me in a small pre-school that styled itself a Montessori one. It was, I remember, a serious school. I don’t remember much playing. What sticks to my mind, instead, are the math lessons. At prep level, our teachers thought we were cognitively mature enough to handle the inverse applications of addition-subtraction and multiplication-division. I guess our teachers weren’t cognitively mature enough to fully understand Montessori’s concept of sensitive periods, but I don’t like to criticize.
I remember only 2 people I met in that place. One of them was Sunshine, who had curly hair and who always wore frilly, girlish, party dresses when everyone else wore shirts and shorts. She was the Paris Hilton of our set, and she befuddled my childhood mind. Once, I asked her why she always wore Sunday dresses. She said it was because it was her birthday that day, and every other day, in fact. According to her mom, everyday was Sunshine’s birthday. But that’s impossible, I said. If everyday was your birthday, you’d be 1000 years old by now.
Sunshine didn’t like me all that much.
And then there was Louie. While I have an image of Sunshine in my head, the same cannot be said for Louie. Louie is a named but faceless memory to me. It doesn’t matter what he looks like, see. Only that he stole my brownie. Or, more accurately, ate half of it.
I was a shy child, given to making observations without due regard for tact, yes, but shy nonetheless. Louie knew this. I think he was the devil appearing to me as an ugly, little bastard. Or it could just be residual anger talking. Anyway, Louie had taken to teasing me. I tried to ignore him. Until the day he touched my food.
It was recess, and I had just gone to the girl’s lavatory. I returned to my table to find half of my brownie gone. Just gone. I looked around in confusion; I didn’t remember eating my brownie. I had taken it out of the lunchbox but I hadn’t taken a bite out of it yet. Or had I? The kids at my table were laughing. Louie ate your brownie, they said. I was furious, enraged, livid. I was homicidal, suicidal, mad as Miriam Defensor Santiago. And, most of all, I was hurt. In my world, no one stole no one’s brownie. No one snacked on no one else’s snack.
Louie didn’t even bother denying it. I guess he couldn’t talk because his mouth was full of brownie. He just looked at me, smug, daring me to do something about it. I marched up to my teacher and told her, Louie ate my brownie. Thereafter, Teacher told Louie not to eat my brownie anymore. Which is, really, the stupidest thing anyone can say in this situation. He’s already eaten it! Of course, he’s not going to eat it anymore. To be fair, she did say afterwards that it’s not good to eat other people’s food without asking if you can have some. But they remained empty words to me. My brownie was already half-gone, and we all know half-gone is as good as gone.
You know that first bite, when your teeth first sink into a piece? It could be a cut of meat, or a chunk of bread, or a melting sliver of chocolate confection. You remember that anticipation that thickens your saliva, curls your tongue, flares your nostrils, and makes your taste buds stand erect? Louie took that away from me. He didn’t just eat half of my brownie. He stole a first bite from me.
Some things cannot, must not, be forgiven.