“Junjun Big Head! Junjun Big Head!”
In an elementary school playground, three big boys surrounded a small, thin boy whose backpack lay on the ground, his things scattered around it.
Junjun looked up from where he was kneeling, putting his things back into his backpack. The three boys magically disappeared around him. He saw Ms. Tagle, his pretty grade one class adviser. She knelt beside him and noticed his scraped knees.
“Did they do this, Junjun?” Ms. Tagle asked gently.
Junjun smiled. “No, Ms. Tagle. I tripped and dropped my bag,” Junjun answered.
“But they were calling you a mean name!”
“It’s true, Ms. Tagle. I do have a big head, and my mama says that’s why I am so smart,” Junjun said with a smile.
“Are you sure, Junjun?”
“I am sure, Ms. Tagle. They’re just joking around, and I am okay. Thank you.”
Junjun stood up, slung his backpack on his thin shoulders, and walked away with a slight limp.
Ms. Tagle looked sternly at the three boys—Lito, Tunying, and Kulas. They looked at her innocently.
Junjun stopped just outside the school gate. The scrapes on his knees hurt, but he tried not to cry. Then he heard a high-pitched meow. He saw a scrawny dog growling at a tiny frightened black kitten, which looked like it was wearing socks and a white mask.
“Hey! Stop that! Shoo!” Junjun shouted, stomping his feet. The dog ran away, whimpering. Junjun picked up the frightened kitten. “Hey there, little kitty cat. Where did you come from? Where is your mama?”
The kitten meowed and purred against Junjun’s thin chest.
“All alone, huh? Are you hungry?” Junjun took some sandwich scraps from his backpack and fed the kitten. “I’m Junjun,” he said. “Let’s see, I will guess your name. Tiny? Socks? Mask?”
The black kitten had white splotches on both eyes and on all four feet. “Meow?” The kitten looked up at Junjun.
Junjun nodded sadly. “Right . . . you shouldn’t be called something because of how you look. Like I wouldn’t want to be named ‘Big Head.’ How about . . . Dex?”
“Haha! Dex it is!” Junjun picked up Dex and brought him home.
“Junjun! What happened?” Junjun’s mother asked when she saw his scraped knees.
“I tripped, Mama.”
“Oh, my clumsy beautiful little boy!” His mother covered his face with kisses, and tended to his wounds. “You know you can tell me anything right, Junjun? Is someone picking on you at school?”
“I am okay, Mama. They just always joke about my big head. But it doesn’t really bother me because it is true,” Junjun said with a smile.
Junjun’s mother looked at her son and smiled. She hugged him tight, and Junjun felt good. She then noticed Dex. She got some milk for the kitten, and when Junjun’s older brother, sister, and father arrived, they also loved Dex on sight. Junjun was happy. He had the best family in the world.
After dinner, Junjun went to the backyard with Dex to play before bedtime. He heard shouting from the house next door. There was always shouting in that house—between Mang Teban and Aling Socorro and their five kids.
Junjun saw one of the kids running to a corner at the back of the house next door to cry. It was Tunying, his bully classmate. Dex jumped from Junjun’s lap and ran clumsily to Tunying.
Tunying looked up and saw Junjun running toward him. Then he noticed the kitten snuggling at his feet.
“Please don’t hurt him, Tunying,” Junjun begged.
“He’s yours?” Tunying asked. He softly touched the kitten’s fur and felt him purr.
“What’s his name?”
“Cool name. Looks like a masked hero.”
Junjun kept silent and stared as Tunying allowed Dex to jump on his lap. After a while, Tunying had stopped crying.
“Junjun! Time for bed!” Junjun’s mother called out.
“Let’s go, Dex,” Junjun said softly.
Dex meowed, clumsily jumped off Tunying’s lap, and followed Junjun.
“Thank you . . .”
Junjun stopped and turned to Tunying. “For what?”
“For not telling Ms. Tagle. She would have talked to my parents and they would have . . .”
“It’s okay. I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“But I’ve been terrible to you since we started school. Why aren’t you . . . why are you protecting me?”
“Someone has to. No one seems to be,” Junjun said.
Tunying stared at Junjun seriously. Then Junjun smiled.
“By the way, you can see Dex anytime you want!”
Tunying smiled. “Really?”
“Thanks, Junjun. Sorry I called you Big Head.”
“It’s okay. It’s true anyway, and my mama says that’s why I’m smart!” Junjun smiled.
Tunying laughed. “Good night, Junjun and Dex!”
That night, Junjun slept in a house filled with love. Dex slept in a box in Junjun’s room. Junjun thought of Tunying’s unhappy home. Tunying may be bigger and stronger than Junjun, but between the two of them, it was Tunying who needed more care and understanding. Junjun already had a lot of care and understanding from his family.
Junjun brought Dex to school the next morning for Show and Tell.
“What’s his name?” one of his classmates asked as they surrounded him, admiring the kitten.
“Dex,” answered Junjun.
“Dex, the Masked Hero!” chimed in Tunying.
“Stupid name for a stupid kitten!”
Junjun held Dex protectively as Kulas, who spoke, and Lito approached. Junjun and Tunying’s other classmates scattered.
“I’m sure my dog will eat up your kitten!” Lito sneered.
Tunying stepped in front of Junjun, shielding him from the two big boys.
“If any one of you hurts the kitten or Junjun, you’ll answer to me.”
“Why, Tunying? Kitten made you soft?” Lito said and he and Kulas laughed.
Tunying smiled. “We all know who can fight better among us three. So again, no one touches Junjun and Dex.”
For a few moments, Lito and Kulas just stared at Tunying. Junjun was afraid the two boys would tackle Tunying. Junjun walked forward and stood beside Tunying and looked at the two boys.
Lito was about to charge, but Kulas held him back. “Okay . . . ,” Lito said slowly. He and Kulas walked away, disappointed.
From the corner of his eyes, Junjun saw Ms. Tagle nodding in approval. Dex purred in his hands.
“Don’t mention it, Big Head.”
Junjun smiled. He secretly hated being called that name, even if it was true. But if it was a friend who called him that, it was not hurtful at all.
In fact, it felt very good.