By Suha Malik, Age 15

My arm was thrust away violently as she hissed it to my face. With a look of disgust etched in her facial expression, she stomped away, leaving me frozen to the spot with confusion and surprise, close to tears. I clutched the water fountain, so tightly that my hand cramped, met with frigid, smooth metal. Thoughts raced through my head as I continued to walk with the rowdy pack of children, thoughts that questioned if what she uttered was true, thoughts there that should not have been in the mind of a nine-year-old.

~~~

Like any other kid, I was very glad that the school day was over, and was anxious to get home. I rushed to put on my gear, from my heavy coat to my thick gloves. I ran to the cluster of students, hoping to get a good spot. Impatiently, I leaned out of the line to catch a glimpse of how close the white halls were, determining how fast I could get to the bus lines, and was absolutely delighted to hear that we were finally dismissed.

As we rounded the corner, almost to the gym, I noticed someone trying to skip me and all kids hated when someone did that in elementary school, as did I. “No skipping!” I asserted, sticking my arm out to slow the girl, whom I had now recognized, down and stop her from crossing me. “You wouldn’t like it if I skipped you, and I don’t like it when you skip me,” I informed her, completely oblivious to her increasing annoyance. Until this point, my jacket-covered arm simply hovered in front of her, blocking her. But when she tried to power through, she made contact with it.

“Ew! You touched me! Now I’m dirty!”

I froze. “Wh-what?” I faltered. I took a shower this morning, so I’m not dirty! I quickened my pace, but she was already ahead of me. “I’m clean! You must be dirty too, then!” I called after her as a last resort, trying to defend myself.

She pivoted to face me and strung out more insults while walking backwards. “No, I’m not! Your face is dirty, too! All of you is dirty because you’re brown!” With that, she spun around and stalked away. My lip trembled, but I did not understand the extent of what she said. Then, I connected the dots.

Everything seemed to be slowing down, seemed to become distorted as the weight of her words hit me. Snapping back into reality moments later, I tried to brush away the tears that were still flowing, desperate to make sure that none of my classmates saw me. It was too embarrassing at this age to cry at school. Crying meant that you were a baby, and that was the last thing that I wanted to be labeled as.

I assimilated back into the crowd, which was now thinning, as almost all of the students had already made it to the gym. I trudged the rest of the way, almost tripping on the divides between the smaller, white tiles several times. After much effort in making it to the doors, I leaned on them, feeling a strip of coolness across my forehead from the metal as I did. I started to ponder about what had happened, but the tears started to flow again. Deciding I was drawing too much attention, I sat down in my line for my bus.

I hoisted my winter coat up and pulled my hat down so most of my face, stained with tears, could not be seen. I looked for my sister, who at the time was in sixth grade. She was at the front of the line, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to tell her what had happened just yet.

As we were finally ordered to go to our bus, I shot up, itching to get on it as rapidly as possible. Finally! I can’t wait to leave. It was too soon before we made it onto the familiar yellow vehicle. Ignoring the chatter of others behind me, I mounted the steps and grasped onto the metal rail, and was met with coolness. I sat next to my sister as usual, setting myself down on the hard, vinyl seat, weeping again at this point. In horror and disbelief, she asked, “What happened?”

I was now bawling openly, with no regards for those who were watching. Distressed, I tried to explain what happened, confused as to why it did. “Sh-she said that I was dir-dirty because I’m br-brown!” I sobbed, wiping my nose on my jacket’s sleeve.

~~~

I had to recount this awful experience several times, including to my parents, who were so appalled that they called the school’s principal. He promised to do something about it, and he did. I was brought into his office to explain what had happened yet again. I tried not to cry as I recounted what had happened. Whether or not the girl was punished is still unknown. When I see this girl in the halls of my school today, I am reminded of this incident and am horrified to realize that in fourth grade, she was able to say this to me.

Author’s Note: This was originally a school paper, but has been edited a great deal in order to make it easier to understand and read!