In the fifth grade there was a boy named Plumstreet. That wasn't his real name. We called him Plumstreet because he came from the projects.
Even the nuns called him Plumstreet.
Sister Mary Snapper — we called her The Whip — didn't like Plumstreet and beat him nearly every day for something.
"Where's your homework?" The Whip would ask.
"I ain't got no homework," Plumstreet would sneer.
And no matter how many times she hit him with a pointer over the hand, he would never cry. He wasn't afraid of her. He wasn't afraid of anything.
One day Sister Snapper burst into the room and cried out, "I need five boys!"
She looked at me and four others.
"Plumstreet has run away," Sister Snapper said. "I want you to go out and find him."
A posse. We were a posse!
Today, of course, parents would be called, and police and firemen and social workers and psychologists and government agents. But, back then, all Sister Snapper did was pick a few boys and told us go out and find Plumstreet and haul him back to school!
We ran outside and went off in several directions.
"Plumstreet," I shouted. "Where are you?"
I never worried about what I would do if I found him. I just assumed that as an official deputized arm of the nuns — he would surrender and let me take him in. Ha! Plumstreet would have spit in my face and pulverized me.
I wondered why Plumstreet wasn't afraid. Was he too stupid to be afraid? No. I don't think he was stupid. I think he just hated school. Was he hateful — was that it? Do hateful people not fear anything? I don't think he was hateful. I was the smallest kid in the fifth grade — much smaller than Plumstreet — and he never bullied me.
Today — I realize that he was a kid who was trapped in some fashion. Either by his family or poverty — something.
And that's probably why he suddenly ran from Sister Snapper. He had to break free! From what, maybe even he didn't know. But he had to try.
I didn't think along those lines back then. But I did think that I would have liked to have had his courage. To jump up in front of a nun — look her in the eye — and turn and run for freedom!
And then I heard the school bell ringing. The Snapper was sounding recall. It was time to return to base.
"Get inside," she said. "Get back to work."
"Did we find Plumstreet?" my friend Eddy asked.
She hit Eddy.
The answer was no. Plumstreet was not found that day. Or any other day, for all I know. He never returned to school.
I think of Plumstreet now and again. Running down the streets — out in the cold — easily outdistancing his pursuers, pausing for a minute to look back in our direction and defiantly shake his fist — in a salute — to courage.