The boy sat quietly at the front of the classroom , staring out one of the windows , waiting for Mrs. Kennedy to finish reading the letter that he had been sent to school with. Through the open windows , the sounds of children at play could be heard. In fifteen minutes the bell would ring , signaling an end to first period recess. Every now and then , the boy would smile , perhaps seeing something that caught his fancy , or recalling something pleasant from his past.
As she read the letter , Mrs. Kennedy glanced up at him every so often. He never once looked her way. He just stared out the windows , smiling that half smile , as if he had a secret. When he wasn’t smiling , his face was devoid of emotion. Blank and empty. He hadn’t said a word since his mother dropped him off with the letter. She remembered how the other children had stared at him as if he were an undiscovered species of insect. She had asked him his name ; he had not looked at her , and he had not answered. He had just stood there with his hands behind his back , and his head lowered , as if in shame.
He was an enigma , but the letter did explain some things about him. He was a loner. He kept to himself , and did not socialize with others , especially children his own age. He seldom spoke , even when spoken to.
None one knew where he had come from , or who his birth parents had been. All that was known of him , was that one day he had suddenly and mysteriously appeared on the door step of the Third Street Orphanage , in a fruit basket , with a note that read : “My name is Jeffrey. Please take care of me.”
Because nothing was known about his background , other than his name , most people were reluctant to adopt such a child. The first seven and a half years of his life had been spent in and out of the orphanage. From the time of his arrival , the Sisters noticed something strange about him : the child never cried , not even when he was hungry.
The other children knew that he was different , not like them. Over the years , they had heard the nuns talking about him , and so the boy became an easy target. They did their best to torment him. They made fun of him and called him names , and once had received a beating severe enough to be hospitalized.
As they were being questioned by the Mother Superior , some of the children swore that the boy had become translucent , as if he were beginning to fade.
But , these were children , and children could not always be believed , so the Mother Superior dismissed it as an attempt to distract her attention from their guilt.
Jeffrey was adopted soon after his sixth birthday , but returned to the orphanage just after five weeks , with no explanation. When he was almost seven , he was adopted a second time , but once again returned , this time after eight weeks , again with no explanation as to why.
Jeffrey was adopted once more , but was returned to the orphanage for the last time. He was never adopted again , and was soon placed in a foster home.
Mrs. Kennedy finished with the letter and put it away.
“Would you like to go outside , Jeffrey?”
The boy didn’t answer. He continued staring out the window. He was no longer smiling.
“I’ll let you go outside if you answer some questions. Do we have a deal?”
He was silent so long , she didn’t think he would answer. Then , without looking away from the window , he said in a voice so low that she could barely hear him. “It depends what you want to know.”
“Well , I’d like to know why you’re so distant.”
“People don’t like me.”
“Why don’t people like you?”
This time he did look at her. There were unshed tears in his eyes. She felt a sudden urge to hug the boy.
Turning back to the window , he said ,”Because I’m different. They’re afraid of me. But I don’t want them to be afraid of me! It only happens when I get lonely and want to go home.”
“When what happens , Jeffrey?”
“When I fade out.”
Jeffrey sat on one of the swings , watching the other children play. Mrs. Kennedy watched him through the same window he had been staring out only moments ago. None of the other children paid the slightest attention to him.
As if he knew she were watching him , he raised a hand , as if to wave. But it took her a moment to realize that he wasn’t waving. He was staring at his raised hand. He continued staring at it , realizing that something was about to happen , something he had been waiting for. Then , with a wistful smile , he began to swing , pushing himself forward , faster and faster , higher and higher , building up speed , picking up momentum , until he was swinging for the sky , swinging for all he was worth , swinging as if for the first time in his life.
He felt a sudden joy , and laughed , and was surprised to hear himself laugh. It was the first time he could ever remember laughing , and it was like nothing he had ever felt before. The confusion , fear , and loneliness of the past eight years – which felt more like a lifetime – was slipping away. Now , all he felt was joy. Now he was beginning to understand what was happening to him. He was going home. Not to a place where he was feared , but a place where he had already been accepted , long before he had been born. Where he belonged , and always had , where he was loved , and his parents would be there waiting for him , parents he had never known.
He smiled again , remembering their faces from his dreams. He knew he would be seeing them soon.
Mrs. Kennedy glanced over at the clock on the wall. In less than two minutes , the bell would ring. When she looked back at him , he was gone. She gasped. She looked around the school yard , not seeing him anywhere among the other children. Panicking , she ran outside , and halted at the swings. The one he had been on , was moving back and forth , as if he were still swinging on it. Back and forth it moved , reaching for the sky. She stared at it , noticing that there was no wind.
It continued swinging for a moment , or two , and then came slowly to a stop. Several of the nearest children were watching her closely. One was a girl of about seven , with a freckled face , and pig tales.
“Are you OK , Mrs. Kennedy?” she asked.
“Did you see where he went?”
“The boy on the swing.”
The girl frowned. “There was no boy on the swing , Mrs. Kennedy.”
“Yes , there was. How could you not have seen him? It was Jeffrey. His name was Jeffrey!”
The girl frowned again. “Who’s Jeffrey?”
The bell rang. The girl turned and ran back to classroom with the other children. Mrs. Kennedy started to follow , but stopped when she noticed something lying in the dirt below the swing. It was a piece of paper with something written on it. She picked it up and read it. It was addressed to her. It said :
“I’m going home now. Where no one is afraid of me. Where I don’t have to be lonely anymore. Where I am accepted for who I am. Please remember me. Jeffrey.”
As she stared at the words , tears filling her eyes – her mind unable to comprehend what had just happened – she noticed that they were beginning to fade. In a moment , they too would be gone forever , like the boy who didn’t exist.