“You are wrong, there are only ten.”
“No, there are not, trust me, there are eleven.”
“You don’t know what you are talking about, there are twelve”, said a skinny youngster with an unsteady adolescent voice that broke on strong vowels like a yodel.
“Care to count them, nerd-face?” a tall girl with glasses advanced to the center of the group.
“I don’t have to, I know there are twelve,” the slim youngster replied, irritated.
He hated bullies and was always incensed by the way she imposed her views on the group with complete lack of courtesy but was too shy to protest. The tall girl was just about to embark on a lengthy and hopelessly irritating argument when one of the kids, and a younger one at that, dared to beat her to the punch.
“No, there aren’t,” the little guy mumbled with his mouth full.
The small disputing group drew closer, staring at the nondescript gray box in front of them. It had been there since morning, one rectangular bit of frustration.
“What’s going on here?” Mrs. Davenport approached, graceful as usual, her elaborately coiffed hair sleeked back and stepping lightly on her heels.”Are you guys still debating?” she smiled and weaved her way through the group to get to the other side. “Make sure you’re not late for class,” her sweet admonishment lingered behind her, shifting the students’ focus away from the box for a second. The youngsters watched her go, then returned to the bone of contention.
“I’m telling you there are eleven” a very fair skinned boy insisted. His hair and eyebrows were almost as light as his complexion.
“And how would you know?” the tall girl clamored with a shrill tone in her voice that made several people shudder.
“I just know”, the boy insisted, looking down with great conviction, loathed to engage the girl in yet another fight.
She delighted in conflict and seldom needed a reason to start another argument.
“Does anybody actually know what they are talking about?” she dared the audience, hoping that somebody would take the challenge. Nobody was eager to pick up the gauntlet, except, again, for the little guy who was still munching. He seemed to have an endless supply of snacks squirreled away in his pockets, supply he relied on to calm his jitters. He eyed the box with longing eyes, unwrapped another tootsie roll, preoccupied, then interrupted the conversation, speaking with his mouth full.
“I think he’s right, there are eleven”, he concurred without offering any explanation for his opinion.
They all looked at the box again, trying to assess the contents by volume. The tall girl puffed dismissively at his comment, eager to move on to her own estimation.
The bell rang and everybody rushed to the next period, concerned not to be late and forgetting all about the box for a while. Forty five minutes later the discussion resumed. Groups formed, contradicting each other, each more certain than the next and ardently defending their convictions.
The tall girl tried to drag the little guy into a heated argument, her efforts thwarted by a small but very noisy bag of pretzels. ‘Where does he get them’, she thought, irate, staring him down and waiting for the munching to subside. When the bag was finished, to her dismay, a chocolate cookie appeared to take its place. She gave up on the challenge of showing the little chipmunk what a real debate looked like, it didn’t seem to be worth her trouble.
“You are not going to lunch?” a friend asked the skinny guy who shrugged and shook his head, too absorbed in the conversation scene to miss ten minutes.
His friend waited for a few moments and then left. The argument expanded and rose above their heads like the air in an overheated room; just when the tension was about to burst the bell rang again and they all went to class.
“So why are we wasting our time with this again?” the fair skinned boy asked, another hour later.
“Don’t you want to know how many there are?” the tall girl asked.
“No, not really, who cares?” he retorted with non-dissimulated boredom.
“See, this is exactly what I’m talking about, it’s people like you who care for nothing but themselves who are the problem”, the tall girl took the opportunity to be offended and ran with it.
Mr. Schneider, the science teacher, approached the group, opened the box, took a doughnut, closed it right back and left.
“I think there were ten”, the skinny guy said, mad at himself for not paying attention.
“Nine”, the tall girl screeched.
“I tell you there were ten”, he insisted.
“Did you count them?” asked the girl, aggressively getting in his face.
“Did you?” he countered, standing his ground.
The box defied them from the table, light gray and rectangular object that it was, impervious to opinion, inquisitiveness and frustration.