2nd place || 2016
7th through 8th grade


by Claire Spencer


We’ve seen him on multiple occasions: around town, at a bus stop, in the park, and he’s always alone, with a worried look on his face. Despite my fears, I decided to stop wondering about this mysterious person and meet him.

I had a plan; most people do when they take on something like this. I wasn’t going to just walk up and say, “Hey, random stranger, why do you always look so worried? Are you a loafer? A criminal?” Nope. I, Essie Lambert, had a well-thought-out plan of perfect proportions.

Earlier that week, my writing teacher, Mrs. Flannery, had given her students an interesting assignment. In short, we were to find someone we didn’t know and ask them five questions. The first three were simple: name, age, and profession – if they were old enough to have a job. We came up with the other two, and then after gathering all the answers to those questions, we were to write a paragraph stating what we thought that person’s personality was.

Immediately, I knew who my person would be – the mysterious man I’d wondered about for so long.

Right after school, I headed for the library, where I usually went to anyway. In the past couple of weeks, I’d noticed that Mr. Mysterious, as I’d taken to calling him, was spending a lot of time there as well.

I was thrilled to see that he was at a lonesome table in the corner, reading a thick book. Bursting with excitement and wasting no time at all, I headed over to him.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Hello, I’m Essie Lambert. I go to Laketon Middle School, and I have an assignment which requires that I ask a stranger a few questions. Would you consider letting me ask you some questions?”

Mr. Mysterious looked quite bewildered. I was surprised to see that up close, he wasn’t that old.

“Uh… sure,” he said, uncertain.

“Great! Thank you.” I slipped into the seat right across from him. “This shouldn’t take too long. All right, my first question is… what’s your name?”

“Gus Bancroft.”

I scribbled it down in the notepad I’d brought. “And your age?”

“I’ll be twenty in a month,” he replied. I noticed that he glanced longingly at his book, and I wrote down that observation as well.

“Gus, what’s your profession?” I looked up and his face turned angry.

“I don’t have one,” he said. Then, in a voice so soft I could barely hear, he said, “That’s why I’m in this dumb town in the first place.”

I didn’t probe him further, as the subject of a job was clearly a sore one.

“You’re doing great so far. I believe I have about two questions left. Okay. What’s your favorite color?”

Gus actually thought about this one. “My favorite color’s kind of weird. It’s like that type of blue that almost looks grey. You know what I mean?”

“Absolutely. It’s a great color.” I smiled. “And now, this is the last one. What are you most afraid of losing? It doesn’t have to be material.”

To my shock, Gus’s eyes filled up with tears. He thought for another moment and then said, “Myself. I’m most afraid of losing myself because I don’t have anything else.”

Okay. Maybe that wasn’t the last question. “Why not?”

Gus looked at me angrily. “It’s none of your business!”

I was calm. “You’re right, Gus, and I respect your privacy, but my assignment will have a hole in it if I leave now.”

His anger dissipated, and he kept his voice quiet. “Fine. Well, to make a long story short, I have almost no family and no friends. No one cares about me. My parents disowned me a year ago, and so I don’t have a job or a car or anything. I’m living with my aunt right now, but she’s so mean I don’t even count her. Is that enough?”

I sat with his words for a second. “Gus… you’re wrong about nobody caring about you.”

He cocked his head at me. “What do you mean?”

“Well, after telling me all that, I care about you. But so does Jesus.”

Gus looked angry. “I tried all that nonsense. It’s not real, Essie, so the sooner you learn that the better.”

I straightened in defense of my Savior. “Gus, Jesus is real and he loves you. He died for you. I can’t force you to believe anything, but maybe you should hear it from somebody besides me.”

I left with that and then headed for the mystery section to call my dad.

Six months later, I turned in my paragraph. Mrs. Flannery, a devout believer herself, had given me more time. We both knew that more than just a personality determination was going on in Gus Bancroft’s life. But in the end, my paragraph touched on how I’d met Gus and the questions I’d asked, and what he’d answered. But it didn’t stop there. I went on to say that – to make a very long story short – Gus had started going to church. With the help of my family, he got a job and an apartment and was working on completing his GED. But most importantly, Gus wasn’t a desperate young man anymore. He was a child of God, and like a brother to me. I wrote about how similar to Gus’s favorite color, he was a calm, young man who had more to him than meets the eye. I wrote about how he liked jokes and loved coffee and how caring he was.

I got an A on my assignment, but I was just thankful that I had been a part of showing someone God’s love. I shudder to think of how Gus’s life would have turned out if it hadn’t been for that paragraph assignment.

Claire is a thirteen year old homeschooler. She lives in Texas with her awesome family: her two parents and four siblings.