Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a nice, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning when Benson’s mother took him to the playground, there was a new wombat sitting in the sand-pit. Benson went up to say hello.
“Hi, my name’s Benson,” he said. The other wombat didn’t say anything. He was big, with very dark fur, and he looked a lot older than Benson.
Benson tried again.”Have you just moved here? What’s your name?”
The other wombat stared at Benson for a minute, then he said, “Callum.”
Benson said politely, “Hi, Callum,” then he climbed into the sandpit and started to dig. Benson loved digging. Nothing else in the world made him as happy as digging.
He felt a thump in the middle of his back. He looked around. Callum had kicked him! Callum said, “Get out!This is my sandpit.”
“No it’s not,” Benson said. “The sandpit’s for everyone.”
Callum stared at him for a minute, then he put his head down and rushed at Benson. He hit him right in the middle of his tummy and pushed him over the side of the sandpit.
Benson sat on the ground, stunned. His tummy hurt where Callum had hit him, and his bottom hurt from where he landed on the ground. He got up and shook himself. Callum was looking at him, smiling a nasty little smile.
Benson walked off to the swings. He swung backwards and forwards, worrying about what he should have done. Should he had have pushed Callum back? Should he have told him he had to let him play in the sandpit? But Callum was bigger and heavier than he was, and scary.
His friend Mick arrived and came over to the swings. Benson told him what had happened. Mick said, “That’s not fair. I’m going to tell him.”
He went over to the sandpit, and said loudly, “You can’t kick people out of the sandpit. It’s for sharing.” Callum looked at him with mean eyes, and kicked sand in his face. Then he pushed Mick right over. Mick was so shocked he couldn’t think of anything to say. He went back to see Benson at the swings.
Benson said, “Maybe if we wait for a while, he’ll go somewhere else.” So they waited, taking turns on the swings, but it wasn’t so much fun any more.
In a little while, Zali and her mother arrived, with her baby sister, Zip. Zali’s favourite thing was the sandpit. She went straight over and started to climb in. Callum shouted, “Get out of my sandpit!” but Zali didn’t understand. She lifted her little sister Zip into the sandpit with her.
Callum yelled and then he charged at Zali with his head down. He knocked her over, flat on her back. Zali started to cry. Callum turned towards little Zip.
Benson couldn’t stand it any more. “Hey!” he shouted. “Leave her alone!”
Callum looked at Benson with his flat black eyes. “You wanna fight?” he said.
Zali was crying and little Zip was sitting in the corner of the sandpit looking frightened. Benson didn’t think, he just said, “Okay.” If that was what he had to do, that was what he had to do. His stomach turned over and over and he felt sick. He was so scared he wanted to cry.
Callum got out of the sandpit and walked towards Benson, going ‘chika-chika’ and hissing. Benson’s feet walked backwards without him telling them to. Then he felt his backside going up in the air and his feet coming off the ground. Callum’s feet were coming off the ground too, and he was yelling, “Hey! What’s happening?”
Mr Fenn was holding them both up in the air by the seat of their pants. “What’s going on here?” he growled.
Benson was so happy to hear Mr Fenn’s voice, he nearly cried. “He pushed us!” he said. “He hurt Zali, and Mick and he was going to hurt Zip.”
Mr Fenn put them both down on the ground. He gave Benson a little shake. “No, Benson,” he said, “not ‘he’. Start with ‘I’.”
Benson swallowed and started again, slowly. “I… was going to fight him. I didn’t want him to hurt Zip.”
“That’s better,” Mr Fenn said. He turned to Callum. “Do you have anything to say?”
Callum didn’t say anything. He just looked angry.
Mr Fenn said, “This is a playground for everyone. Everyone should be able to feel safe here. Everyone shares the swings, they share the sandpit, they share everything. Understand?”
Callum nodded. He still looked very angry and fierce.
“If you don’t want to share, you’ll have to go somewhere else,” Mr Fenn said.
Callum looked at Benson as if he were thinking of jumping on him and biting his ears off, but he still didn’t say anything. He looked at Mr Fenn, his big strong shoulders, and his calm, determined face. After a while he nodded, and turned around and walked out of the playground.
Benson was so relieved, his legs folded up underneath him and he flopped down on the ground.
Mr Fenn said to him, “That was a very bad idea, Benson.”
“He started it,” Benson said. “I couldn’t just stand there when he was hurting Zali, could I? And there was little Zip, too.”
“Did you try talking to him?” Mr Fenn said. “Did you ask an adult for help?”
Benson shook his head.
“Fighting is always a bad idea,” Mr Fenn said. “If you lose, then the bully just keeps on bullying. If you win, then you’ve beaten someone and you’re the new bully. That’s not the way to get someone to change their mind. And someone always gets hurt.”
Benson didn’t like that idea. He particularly didn’t like the idea of losing, and Callum going back to hurting little Zip. He thought about it, then he nodded. He said, “I’m sorry.”
Mr Fenn gave him a pat. “Okay. Now why don’t you go and play in the sandpit with Zali?”
And Benson did.
Subscribe to Benson’s own podcast and hear stories from the beginning of the series read aloud by the author at https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/stories-of-benson-the-wombat-his-family-and-friends/id1573140393