Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!
“Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” said Joni, laughing loudly enough to be heard by the woman and man sitting on a sofa at the far end of the room. “Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” The child smiled broadly so that, when she stopped laughing, they would still notice how happy she was.
Twenty or more children stood in rows on a raised platform at the east end of a long room. When the front row had undergone adequate scrutiny, as indicated by nods from the woman and man on the sofa, three teachers stepped up onto the stage and directed the children in the front row to return to the back while the second row stepped forward. Wave upon wave, the rows of children rhythmically replaced themselves.
The room was quiet except for the shuffling of feet, and Joni. “Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” she laughed.
“Who is the child who smiles and laughs?” the man asked from the sofa.
“What is her name?”
“Joni,” said one of the teachers. Joni smiled broadly
“Come here, Joni,” said the man. The children on the stage made a path so that Joni could step from the back row to the front and down onto the hardwood floor.
“Don’t be afraid,” said the woman on the sofa.
Crossing the length of the room, Joni smiled as hard as she could. When she had almost reached the sofa, she tripped and fell face down a few feet from the woman and man. They struggled forward on the sofa cushions and reached toward her, but she had already scrambled to her feet.
“Are you hurt?” said the man.
Joni shook her curls briskly and smiled.
“What a darling!” cried the woman. .
“We’ll take her!” declared the man.
The teachers herded the other children single-file off the stage and out a side door.
“Now, Joni,” said the man when they had been left alone at the sofa, “we’re going to take you home with us. Will you like that?”
Joni fell silent, though she was still smiling. .
“You’ll be happy with us,” said the woman. “We know lots of jokes.”
“We have a collection of cartoons and funny movies,” said the man. “No one who comes with us is ever sad.”
As they stepped outside, Joni looked over her shoulder at the school building. It was late afternoon and the teachers had turned on the classroom lights. One of the children was waving to her.
Joni waved back gaily. “Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” she cried.
A van was waiting in the parking lot. As the man slid open the side door
and helped her up, he said to the driver, “Take her to the happy wing and tell the cook to serve dessert first. We’ll be back tonight after we’ve made our rounds.”
On the way to the happy wing, the sky darkened and thunder broke overhead.
“Once we’re home,” said the driver in a hat and leather coat, watching her in the rear-view mirror, “you will never be bothered by bad weather again.”
“Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” Joni said softly, watching the drops form smooth, syrupy trails down the glass.