Roman shrugs into his favorite Yoda tee-shirt and pulls a baseball cap backwards onto unruly dark hair. Mom is calling from downstairs, and Roman knows that she will insist. It’s always the same—“Roman, please put down the book and go play outside. That’s what boys do, honey.”
He is perfectly content in his world of books. In the people-world, Roman cannot decide what the faces mean—that woman’s eyes are crinkled: is she happy or mad? That boy is talking loudly: is he scared or excited? But in his books, the people all make sense, and the words tell Roman exactly what they are feeling.
…Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden…
…But Mom calls and calls, so Roman has carefully marked his place in Tom Sawyer with a blue bookmark and has replaced it precisely on the shelf, scooching the books a bit until they are perfectly aligned.
“Have fun,” Mom says, and she touches Roman’s shoulder. He walks heavily outdoors, holding his arms close to his sides and squinting as the sunlight hits his eyes. Looking back at Mom, hoping that she isn’t watching, Roman almost makes it back into the house through the side entrance. But Mom is at the window, and she gestures go to him, so he walks stiffly down the block, unsure what to do next.
He stops where the sidewalk ends and looks back. Still Mom.
Ahead of him, across the street, is a park where some boys from school are playing. There are lots of loud voices, too many of them, and Roman covers his ears. Mom would like him to play in the park, he knows, so he walks forward twenty steps, then sits where the grass meets the trees.
The sun is hurting Roman’s eyes; he looks down. There in the grass he finds a nickel, smudged with dirt and unpleasantly sticky…
Captain Roman the Fearsome planted his shining sword in the sand. “Here’s where ye’ll find the buried treasure, mateys!” he shouted. “Thousands of galleons, ours fer the taking, me boys!”…
“Watch out, dude!” A Frisbee lands near Roman’s knee, followed by a boy with a shiny, red face. Roman silently hands him the toy, wipes his hands on his jeans, then stands and takes ten steps into the shelter of the trees. It is quieter here, and cooler, and the glare of the sunlight is subdued. Ten steps more, and Roman spots a glimpse of pink, out of place in the green and brown of his leafy haven. It is a hair ribbon, caught on a dead twig…
Chief Detective Roman Armstrong examined the newly discovered evidence. He turned the scrap of fabric over in his hands. “I now know,” he solemnly declared, “that the robbery was committed by the infamous Girl Burglar of London…”
A small noise causes Roman to shake off his imagination. He cocks his head; the boys are still playing off to his left, but this sound is in the other direction. It scares Roman a little—it is not a sound he can interpret, but he doesn’t think it is a happy sound. He looks to the left, considers walking back into the park. He wants to get away from the sound, but it pulls him forward.
He walks, climbs over a fallen and rotting tree, listens. The sound isn’t any louder, but it’s closer, and it’s a person. Roman is almost sure. Yes, over there—more pink, a blonde head—it’s a little girl, and she is whimpering, her face stained with tears and dirt.
Roman remembers Mom and Dad talking in the living room…missing toddler…police…must be dead…search party. He had wondered: what is a search party? Is there cake?
He does not want to get his hands dirty, but he knows what he must do. “Don’t cry,” he says, and he takes her pudgy hands in his. “Let’s go.”
Roman Sawyer, boy hero, snatched the little girl from the kidnapper’s lair. He laughed at the bad man, tied tightly to a chair. “I have stopped your evil plan!” he declared. The rescued child held on tight…
He listens for the sounds of boys playing, and walks with the little girl into the sunlight.
Excerpt from Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, 1876.
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