The place of being different
“Arey, why didn’t you wake up on time, and now you have missed the bus. I’ll have to drop you.” I was annoyed, as I was going to be late for my own meeting at my office.
I was actually late already, as I had been dilly-dallying whether to go for the morning meeting or take the morning off.
“But mum, I don’t want to go to school today, or ever!” and instead of reaching for the main door, he turned to the cupboard to get some cereal.
“What?”, it seemed, Arey had spoken something that I was thinking too. I don’t want to go to my workplace either, today, especially, as I didn’t want to attend yet another useless staff meeting. But putting away my thoughts about my issue with work, I turned to my son and his issue with his school.
He had come down from his room, dressed for school, but just in time to miss his bus.
“But why Arey? What’s the matter? Did you not finish your homework, the story you had to write?”
Arey sat down on the breakfast stool and started to pour milk into his cereal.
I decided to sit down too, and have breakfast with him, a piece of toast, or at least my cup of coffee, that I was planning to pour into my travel mug.
And by now, I had decided to miss the meeting, I reached for some cereal to nibble just dry with my coffee.
After he had eaten a couple of spoons of his cereal, I asked him again.
“You usually enjoy your school, darling, what is the problem, are you in trouble about something, with someone?”
My heart was racing, as I didn’t want my 10-year-old son to get into any trouble with any one, at school or anywhere else.
He was quiet till he finished his cereal, and slurped the last bit of milk from his bowl, and then he spoke, “Do you know, how hard it is to be so different from others?” He asked me.
Different, what was he saying?
“Yes, the story I chose, no one liked it, they don’t get it, I’m just so different, can’t you see!”
He had been going to his new school for the last few months, actually, and doing really well.
When he had finished year four at the local primary school, we had decided to send him to the opportunity classes, or if he didn’t make it, to a private school, and when he finally got into this school, we were very happy. It was a good decision, we had thought, for his academic career, a better school, meant better education, at least better than the local public school.
Yes, in such schools, migrants’ try their best to get their children in. And we also hoped that in the new school there would be a few more children like Arey, ethnic, coloured and non English speaking.
I had myself never felt as if we belonged to the community in our own suburb any way, for example, I just couldn’t befriend the school mums gang, who would everyday congregate near the school gate before and after school, to drop off or pick up the kids. In the beginning, when I used to be home mostly, I’d go, and stand there earlier too. While waiting for their kids, they would all be chatting about whatever, and sometimes would be laughing, and I would try to smile from my corner, where I’d be standing, but I wouldn’t be noticed much. I didn’t have much in common with them. It was the same during the canteen volunteering or the library duty, I just could never fit in. And the worst part was they all ignored me. I was not a part of that group.
Yes, Arey, I know, what is to be different! I wanted to say.
But, he started telling me about the story he had written for his English class, a story about his favourite animal, a unicorn, which used to be an ugly pony, brought up in a family of beautiful and strong horses, who would beat him in every race, and make fun of him, till the day he realised, that he could fly. And then he flew away to the pink clouds, to bring the gossamer sugar candy for everyone, his brothers were all so much in awe of him, that they couldn’t even utter one neigh!
While Arey was telling me this story, that he had written, he was actually smiling, he just loved this story.
And I was thinking about myself, a migrant in a Western country, a different variety of a person, of a different colour, dark, with different features, and a different way of speaking in English, I was very different from those around me, and no matter how much I tried, I was not going to be one of ‘them’.
And at work, though, being an associate editor at the newspaper did reward my command of the language but then in the staff meetings, I remained unheard and unseen!
Mine was, mostly, just … an unacknowledged presence.
But I did make contributions to the paper, and I always tried to improve and enhance the work I had been given.
In the editorial meetings, I was usually the only person who had read the brief thoroughly, and had notes and questions, ready, and suggestions to make.
And no matter what colour my fingers were, my pen had the same power as everyone else.
And I yes, I knew my place!
I suddenly stood up and said to my son, “Arey, come on, you can still make it to your second period, you enjoy your History class, don’t you? And darling, no matter how different you are, you make your own place, we all have to, let’s go”.