“I’m so bored,” sighed Iggy.
“I know,” I agreed, “there’s nothing to do this summer.” We both sighed dramatically.
Iggy and I had been best friends ever since we’d met in school three years earlier. Like me, Iggy was a rather mischievous Mynci; we looked nearly identical, except for the fact that his fur was green and mine was blue.
“If you weren’t so lazy, you could get jobs,” called my older brother, James, from the kitchen. “It would give you something to do, and you’d learn a lot. But I can see that’s never going to happen.” He looked pointedly at the two of us, lying around in the living room watching Neovision, and raised an eyebrow.
“Just because you work doesn’t mean we have to,” I snapped. Ever since he started working at the Chocolate Factory, he’d considered himself to be vastly more mature than me, and I’d grown irritated with his superior attitude.
“And we’re not that lazy,” added Iggy.
“Speaking of which, could you bring us some Neocola?” I asked.
“Fat chance,” laughed James, “I’m heading for work.” He strode through the living room, wearing his official Chocolate Factory uniform; the brown of the uniform matched his brown Lupe fur.
“You know,” said Iggy suddenly, staring at James’s outfit, “working at the Chocolate Factory might not be such a bad idea. Do you get all the chocolate you want?”
“Yes,” said James, “but I don’t think the Factory’s hiring. Why don’t you guys head to the Employment Agency and apply for a summer job?”
Iggy and I looked at each other. On the one hand, a job sounded an awful lot like work, something we both studiously avoided. On the other hand, a job would ease the summer boredom, and it would certainly stop James from acting like he was so much more mature than me.
“All right, but we’ll have to take a Uni Carriage from here to Faerieland, and we don’t exactly have the money to pay...” I hinted.
James sighed. “Fine, Harken, I’ll loan you the money. But you have to spend this money to get there and back, and nothing else, understand?”
“Of course,” we both agreed, nodding vigorously.
“We won’t spend it on anything else, we promise,” I added.
James looked doubtful, but he gave me enough neopoints to get the two of us a flying carriage ride to Faerieland.
“If anything,” I said to Iggy as we left the house, “this will certainly give us something to do for the day.”
So it happened that my best friend and I were successfully employed for the summer. As James had predicted, we learned a lot, but not in a way any of us expected.
“Iggy! Harken! We’ve got another shipment of dining tables coming in,” called Larue, the green Eyrie shopkeeper of Neopian Furniture, where Iggy and I were now employed.
Iggy and I groaned. “Great,” I said sarcastically.
Originally, when the faerie at the Employment Agency told us the job description for “shopkeeper assistants”, it had seemed simple enough: “Assist the shopkeeper in selling products and restocking the shop.” However, we soon discovered that our job could be summed up with two words: manual labour. Restocking the furniture shop involved hauling heavy pieces of furniture off the delivery carriages (sent from the factory) and carrying them into the shop, where Larue would force us to move them repeatedly until they were situated to his satisfaction.
Besides Larue, the only other employee was a scrawny, quiet Ogrin, ironically named Lenny, whose job involved helping customers find furniture. He was a few years older than us, and had recently graduated from school. The fact that someone named Lenny was not, in fact, a Lenny was a source of endless amusement for Iggy and me. Lenny tolerated our incessant wisecracks with silence and, occasionally, a timid smile. Lenny rarely spoke, and when he did, it was always about the job, never about anything personal.
So, Iggy and I worked at Neopian Furniture for almost three months without learning much at all about our coworker. As the summer drew to a close and the threat of school loomed, Iggy and I began to reflect back on our time at the store. It was, I decided, a good experience, even if we were both exhausted. The only thing that nagged at me was how little we knew about Lenny, even though we’d spent eight hours of each day with him.
“Hey, Iggy,” I said one night as we were trudging home from work, “I was thinking...”
“Oh no,” said Iggy. “Things always go wrong whenever you start thinking.”
“I was thinking,” I continued, as if I had not been interrupted, “that the whole summer is nearly over, and we still don’t know anything about that Lenny guy.”
“So?” said Iggy. “What do we need to know? Do you think he’s a criminal or something?”
“It’s not that,” I said. “It just bothers me that we wasted all this time and never really got to know him. We know everything about Larue, after all, since we spent hours talking to him.... What if we missed out on knowing Lenny? Making friends with him?”
“Lenny doesn’t want to make friends,” argued Iggy. “He keeps to himself. He doesn’t want to be bothered. He’s probably been waiting for us to leave him and Larue alone.”
“Maybe he doesn’t talk to us because we spend all our time teasing him,” I argued. “He and Larue don’t talk to each other much, but you can tell there’s some kind of... connection between them. They understand each other without speaking.”
“So, what do you want us to do about it?” asked Iggy, still not looking enthusiastic.
“Why don’t we invite him to hang out with us?” I asked. “What could go wrong?”
“If he really is a criminal, a lot could go wrong,” joked Iggy. Reluctantly, he agreed that we would invite Lenny to do something with us the next day.
“Is this it?” Iggy asked, peering down a grassy lane, lined with small, neat Neohomes.
When Iggy and I had asked Lenny if he wanted to go to the Battledome with us to watch some matches, a shocked look had crossed his face. “Sure,” he had agreed, his voice thin and timid. He didn’t really sound sure at all, but I thought his agreement was a good sign.
After all the details had been sorted out, it was agreed that Iggy and I would pick Lenny up at his house after dinner, and then the three of us would head to the Battledome.
“This is the right address,” I said, first glancing down at the paper in my hands, on which Lenny had scribbled his address, and then back up at the street.
As we walked down the street, we could see that Lenny’s neighbors kept cheap but quaint homes, not fancy but warm and inviting. Lenny’s house, as it turned out, was the same. Not knowing what to expect, we stepped up to the front porch and rang the bell.
After a moment, we heard someone shout, “It’s open, come in!” Iggy and I exchanged hesitant glances before pushing the door open and entering. Lenny’s living room contained nothing more than an old sofa and a battered Neovision set. The room connected to a small, tidy kitchen. Everything was worn but very clean.
“I’ll be down in a minute,” Lenny called, his voice echoing down the small staircase. Iggy and I glanced around the small room, our curiosity piqued.
“Hey, what’s this?” Iggy said, crossing the room to look at something on the coffee table.
“It’s none of our business,” I warned, glancing at the stairs to see if Lenny was coming down.
Iggy didn’t seem to hear me; he was staring fixedly at a small, tattered notebook lying on Lenny’s coffee table. “Poetry?” he asked, a note of incredulity in his voice.
Sure enough, when I moved closer I could see that the notebook had the words “Leonard’s Poetry” scrawled across the front. My curiosity overcame my better judgment; I read over Iggy’s shoulder as he paged through the notebook.
Lenny wrote poetry. Not just any poetry; Lenny wrote beautiful poetry. The lines flowed effortlessly, one into the other, the words leaping off the page, begging to be read aloud. I could see that most of his poems were based on nature or described Neopian lands, but after awhile I stopped noticing what the poems were about. I was caught up in the ebb and flow of the words, written across the page in neat handwriting. Not a word was misspelled, not a single punctuation mark was out of place. The poems were perfect.
After several minutes of jaw-dropped gaping, Iggy and I realized that Lenny had entered the room and was watching our expressions nervously as we read his life’s work.
“Have you published these in the poetry contest?” I asked. I expected him to say yes. I expected to learn that quiet, simple Lenny, whom we had so underestimated, was actually a world-renowned poet; he and Larue had probably been having a good laugh at our expense, since we didn’t know who he was.
“No,” he said simply.
I stared at him in surprise. “Have you ever published them in anything?” I asked, shocked.
“No,” he said.
“But—” I didn’t know what to say. “Lenny, these are so good. Why don’t you publish them?”
“I don’t want to,” he said quietly.
“Why not?” I asked. I simply could not fathom such talent going unnoticed.
“Harken,” Iggy said softly, looking at me.
I turned to him. “What?” I asked, rather irritated that he wasn’t agreeing with me, like always.
“If he doesn’t want to, that’s fine,” he said pointedly. I glanced back at Lenny, and saw that his expression was almost pleading. It was clear that he didn’t want to talk about this. I was taken aback, both by Lenny’s expression and by Iggy’s reaction. Something about reading those poems had changed Iggy from my loud and somewhat obnoxious friend to someone completely sensitive, who realized in an instant that Lenny was uncomfortable.
Iggy set the notebook back where we had found it, placing it gingerly on the table. “Let’s go,” he said, heading out of the room. Still confused, I followed him. Lenny, looking greatly relieved, followed us.
As it turned out, we didn’t go to the Battledome that night. We asked if he would prefer to spend time in the Art Centre instead, and he agreed. Together, we admired artwork in the Art Gallery, ate in the Coffee Shop, and sat around the Storytelling campfire. Most of all, we sat and listened as Neopia’s poets recited their verses, to the great applause of the crowd. The poets were good, I decided, but they were nothing compared to Lenny.
The summer came to an end, as all summers must, and Iggy and I returned to school, never again working at Neopian Furniture. We did stop in and see Larue occasionally; when we were much older, and ready for full-time employment, he gave us glowing letters of recommendation.
After our last day of work in the furniture shop, we never saw Lenny again. Larue told us that Lenny had moved to Altador, to spend time with a family member who was ill. I was glad that Lenny had someone, even an ailing family member, to spend time with.
I don’t know what happened to Lenny. I will always regret that I never got to know him better that summer, and missed the opportunity to make a wonderful friend. I do know that his poems were never widely published; I spent years reading poetry galleries, looking for poems written by him, but never found any. After many years, I came to understand what Iggy had understood immediately: Lenny lived a simple life. He didn’t wish for fame, or money, or recognition for his work. He wrote poetry because he loved it, not because he expected to gain from it. Still, I wish that Lenny had gained the recognition he deserved.
Even as the years passed, I never forgot Lenny. He taught me never to judge someone by first impressions; he taught me that the simplest of people could possess the deepest of souls. He gave me a newfound appreciation for the arts, and poetry in particular. The truth is that knowing Lenny, even for a short while, changed my life. I decided that talent should never be put to waste, and I began to spend my time discovering and cultivating my own talents. If I had never met Lenny, I don’t think I would ever have reached my true potential; his hidden talent convinced me to discover my own. Lenny was just one of many people in the world with a passion and hidden talent that never made them famous or extraordinary, except in the eyes of those who really knew them.