Lothar smiled his crooked smile at Rudolf. He saw Rudolf sneak a look at the angry red welt on the side of his head. “Rudi, don’t look so worried. It doesn’t hurt, not too bad anyway. ”
Rudolf and Lothar sat together under a large Horse-chestnut tree in the schoolyard eating their noon meal. Rudolf had a thick piece of ham stuck into a Kaiser roll. Lothar eyed it with envy as he pulled a small piece of white cheese out of his sack. After peaking at his friend’s wound, Rudolf handed him part of his lunch.
“Herr Braun always picks on you. Sometimes, I don’t know how you stand it,” Rudolf said, his voice sad.
“I look at it this way, Rudi: I’m a baker’s son and I guess Herr Braun has a problem with that. My parents are proud that I have made it into Gymnasium, and they work extra hours because I am not at the bakery to help them. Because of that, I will take whatever punishment Herr Braun gives me just to have him as a teacher. He is the best—you know he is the best—and if I work hard enough I will get into university and make my father proud.”
“You don’t get any beatings at home when they see you have been hit by Herr Braun?” Rudolf asked in amazement.
“No. Father says I should be proud to have been hit by such an excellent teacher.”
Rudolf wondered why Herr Braun had singled out Lothar rather than himself or any of the other boys who were late to school. Although he was the brightest boy in Herr Braun’s class, and his hand was always raised to answer questions, Rudolf noticed Herr Braun seldom, if ever, called on him.
Lothar’s thrashing could have been me, Rudolf reasoned. What if Lothar had said he was late because we were talking about Der Führer, but Lothar did not do that; Rudolf looked sideways again at Lothar’s wound and felt a flood of gratefulness to his friend. Just coming home with a lump like that on the side of his head would raise the anger of his grandmother to a fever pitch, and then his grandfather would find out there was a problem at school. He knew he could deal with his grandmother’s fury, but he never wanted his grandfather to confront him. Never.
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