Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"Noted Needs"

A week before the end of summer holidays, Emily and her mum left the house for the all-important back-to-school shopping trip. They never spent extravagantly, but Emily was always given a few new things to wear, a new backpack (if the old one needed replacing), a pack of hair ties and some office supplies. One of the things that she requested last August was a box of golf pencils.

Golf pencils are most often found in the pockets of people who golf, as the name suggests. Golfers are given a new pencil for nearly every game they play, and so the life of their golf pencils is rather a short one. Most golf course golf pencils are thrown away at the end of a match, whether or not they have recorded a winning score on their cards. 

But golf pencils can be found in other places, too. Reliably, librarians favour the stunted little graphite implements, scattering them around the shelves and computer tables with stacks of scrap paper, ready to hand whenever someone needs to scribble a note or scrawl down a reference number for whatever book they were hunting. Like the scrap paper, library golf pencils tend to walk away from their posts, never to return. Golf pencils are assumed by everyone, it seems, to be essentially disposable. 

Emily had seen her first golf pencil in a library. It was yellow, about the length of her finger, and had no eraser on its end. She had picked it up with a scrap of paper and had spent a few minutes filling the sheet with doodles while her babysitter tried to find them a suitable movie from the online catalogue. Emily had absentmindedly slipped the pencil into her pocket on the way out of the library. It went through the wash a few days later and got lost sometime after that.

The memory of it came back to her while standing in Staples last August, staring at the wall of perfectly sharpened, multi-coloured pencils. The display had been almost overwhelming, but then she had noticed a chunky, almost square box sitting down on a shelf near the ground. For $10.96 (plus tax) she could buy a set of 144 pencils. Emily had already picked out a few soft white erasers, so it didn’t matter that these ones were without rubber tips of their own. Her mother looked quizzical but agreed to the purchase. 

Emily started school with a pencil case that was absolutely stuffed full of writing utensils. It felt like a treasure chest of sunny gold every time she unzipped the pouch, and she felt almost guilty, somehow, for hoarding so much wealth. It was for this reason that she was so willing to share when Danny had tapped her on the shoulder a week into their September classes. 

“Emily,” asked Danny, “do you have a pencil I could borrow for the rest of the day? I think I’ve lost mine.”

Emily grinned. “I have a pencil you can keep,” she said, handing over one of her 144 golf pencils.

Later that very afternoon, Emily’s class was preparing to take a math test when she felt another tap on her shoulder. When she turned around, Danny was pointing over to Eric, who was looking a little sheepish. “I can’t find any pencils in my desk,” he confessed. “Can I borrow one from you? Danny says you gave his one this morning when he was in a pinch.”

Emily smiled, happy to help again. “Keep it,” she told him, handing Eric another of her pencils. She had so many, after all. She could certainly spare a few more. 

Over the next several months, Emily developed a sort of reputation for being well stocked with pencils and quite willing to share. Other kids in her class came to depend on her generosity when a lack of pencils left them in crisis. Some of her classmates had asked more than once, but she never begrudged their carelessness because she knew from first-hand experience how easy it was to lose a golf pencil. 

Emily had been carefully keeping track of how many pencils were left in her original box. She had used more than twenty pencils on her own over the school year and had given most of the others away whenever asked for help. She’d even offered a golf pencil to her teacher once or twice! By early May, she was down to just nine little yellow pencils, and she was starting to get nervous. As with most of her worries and woes, Emily brought the issue to her mother. 

“I know we usually only go back-to-school shopping in the summer, but just this once can we go end-of-school shopping too?” she asked. “My classmates rely on me, and I don’t want to let them down.”

Though slightly baffled at how even a whole class could go through such a big box of little pencils, Emily’s mother agreed to restock her supply. Together they went back to Staples and bought another case of 144, so that she would be well-equipped and ready to help whenever a friend was in need. 

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