It began with a friend of a friend. He was Mexican, I think; I never cared enough to ask or find out. Stereotypes didn't exist at that age.
His name was Carlos. His full last name escapes me now. He was nine years old, where I was eight. He'd moved here somewhat recently, and somehow knew one of my other friends (Joshua?). He was rambunctious, to say the least. His voice was loud and powerful when he wanted. His accent wasn't necessarily thick, but you could feel the sharpness of his words. If he snapped his fingers at one end of the gymnasium, you'd somehow hear it at the other end. But he was friendly enough. He was the sort of person that I imagine would grow up to be heavily opinionated, but would know very well when to keep them to himself, and just be a normal guy. Not jolly, but amicable. He had chronic migraines, to the point where he'd miss days of school or be unable to fulfill his part in group projects. I was tentative to believe him, but it sounded plausible. I can most vividly remember him in an orange zip-up sweater, one that looks suspiciously like one I later owned, myself.
Carlos often brought in interesting things to school, to flaunt during recess. They weren't really big or amazing, but in the third (fourth?) grade, if it's something you didn't own, or a newer, flashier version of something you did, then you'd want to get a look at it. I can't remember anything specific besides one or two items, but he was that kind of guy.
One day, he brought in a magnifying glass. Well-worn, yes, but pretty snazzy. Yellow rim, blue handle, metal bar for a neck, and one of those mini-lenses near the bottom of the big lens which were small but a lot more powerful. And, with the usual Carlos proud-yet-humble presentation of the item, we'd admire it momentarily, before going to find something interesting to inspect. A leaf, a rock, a blade of grass. There's only so much to magnify.
Before long, we got the idea to focus sunlight onto things, like you see sadistic children do in the movies. It was harmless fun, because we were smart enough not to attempt to burn stuff down or pin down and torture people. We just punched holes through various organic matter, leaving little brown rims around fresh perforations in leaves and other organics. We quickly learned to precisely control the light, down to being able to intuitively sense exactly how high to place the lens to pinpoint the beam—I would much later learn this was called focusing. I got into the business of burning people's names into leaves. I was damn good at it too.
I soon procured my own magnifying glass. It was plain, black; basic, but functional. Most of all, though, it was mine, and should Carlos decide to leave his implement at home that day, I would not be left to vie for position in the rat race of getting to the jump-ropes or basketballs first.
What follows is a fourth (third?) grade blur. This was about the time that I started to not do my homework, and suffer the repercussions thereof—to this day, I am afflicted with extreme procrastination, to waxing and waning degrees. But because of that haze, I can no longer remember if what I think happened actually happened, or was instead a particularly haunting dream. I am inclined to believe the latter, since I don't have any evidence, but at the same time, I don't really have evidence that my desk used to be one of the least organized schooldesks known to man, either, though the hours spent cleaning out the damn thing at the end of the year were very real.
When Prometheus brought the power of fire to humankind, Zeus inflicted upon him a terrible punishment. And in much the same way, someone got word of our new way of having fun, and crafted a rumour that we were planning to burn the school down. Suspend your disbelief for just a moment, and pretend that not only could you burn a school down with a magnifying glass, but also that my timid, socially awkward ass could conceive of such a thing. Because someone at this school apparently certainly did. I was confronted by a teacher, I can't remember which, and presented with a form of some sort: one I'd never seen before; the kind of form that only exists to the handful of people it affects; the kind that most kids don't ever have to learn about.
Carlos had this encounter, too. Likely more severely than I did, as I was but an accomplice. We convened outside during recess to discuss. I knew it was total BS, though I don't think I knew the word bullshit then. We were on edge, because the school was clearly wrong, but we were still being blamed for something. Carlos said he would have to talk with the principal. The form never comes up again. Maybe I lost it. I don't lose things.
My memories trail off here, lending all the more credence to it becoming a dream. Carlos moves away next year, or is put in a different class, or something, I don't know. I didn't know that the last time I saw him would be the last time I saw him. My disregard for the education system swells, remaining just short of outright truancy for the next fifteen years, at which point I am too old for that word to apply. The black magnifying glass sees little use, eventually breaking out of its cheap plastic and rolling about as a handle-less lens before falling into that nook between forgotten and lost. The sun continues to rise and burn and set.