The children are spread across the playground, not yet broken into the cliques that will define their allegiances.
A boy and a girl kick their black-and-white ball back and forth. They are relatively quiet, and they are soon joined by others. The game is a subtle competition, with no real losers or victors.
One child, taller than the others, joins the game.
“What is this?” he asks.
“Football,” they say.
“Football? What a weird name for soccer,” he replies.
And despite the newcomer’s clear lack of skill, the children accept him as one of their own. Maybe it’s his charisma, maybe it’s his height. Maybe it’s the confidence shown by his casual stubbornness. But the children are drawn to the new one with a magnetism that they don’t feel toward each other.
Yes, all seems well at this dysfunctional little elementary school.
But in the corner, all alone, sits a chubby little boy with a stuffy gray uniform that seems too tight. Action figures litter the ground around him; they are his only friends, separating him from the schoolboy drama that envelops his pathetic surroundings. The child’s fingers are littered with the crumbs of sour snack cakes he snuck from his brother’s lunch box.
The boy’s beady eyes dart around, tracing the other students hungrily, craving their attention.
The boy picks up his action figures. He crashes them together in a spectacular display, weaving together what, in his mind, are cosmic battle entrenched in meaningless phrases like “power,” “patriotism” and “the motherland.”
Suddenly, he looks up. He watches the newcomer enviously. How did the other children accept an outsider? What has he done?
The boy is frustrated. Understandable, but unfortunate.
And in a rash moment of weakness and strength, he lashes out.
The newcomer turns.
The boy’s voice cracks as he continues to yell.
I’ll show my toys to the tall boy, the boy thinks. He’ll be impressed.
The newcomer stops at the edge of the playground.
“See my toys?” the boy says, his voice still fluttering. “Cool, huh? Want to play with ‘em?”
The tall one looks at the boy with a mixture of pity and curiosity. After a few moments, he laughs. “No thanks. I have better ones at home.”
The newcomer turns to leave. Not another word to the pariah.
The boy is furious.
His world has been crushed, challenged, by someone who has never experienced its intoxicating illusions. He’s not worth it, he argues with himself. His only chance at social salvation is to embarrass the newcomer, but he doesn’t want to look weak in front of all the neighborhood kids. At least, not again.
He’s got no choice. How will the other kids ever play with him if he isn’t tough? Clumsily, he picks up his favorite figure and hurls it at the tall one; the toy barely clears half the distance.
The tall one looks down, stifling a pitying laugh. Clearly he had met kids like this on the playground before. Turning around calmly one final time before heading back to his game, he says, “Enough of that, Kim Jong-Un.”