Today we are having history class. The fourth time this week. This semester is “The great pharaohs.” The teacher says that, contrary to tradition, it turns out all the great pharaohs were black. But the thing is, I once read that pharaohs were of greek descent and that recent genetic tests had revealed their western origin. So, propelled by the self-righteous impulse of someone who wants to right a wrong, I raise my hand.
“Yes?” asks the teacher, whom I have interrupted. “Yes, I-I think that actually the ancient egyptians descended from the greek…” I hear gasps and laughter all around me. My schoolmates were all sleeping or using their phones until my words magically caught their attention. “I’m sorry but you’re wrong,” says the teacher. “Just read our textbook. It says it right there. The—” “N-word,” says mockingly a girl behind me. “What did you say!?” screams the teacher, looking at me.
But I didn’t say that. I open my mouth to explain but it shuts down. A wave of heat strikes my face. “Go out to the hall, now!” Even though I should say something, for some reason I won’t. I just meekly walk out of classroom. “The n-word is a horrible word,” she explains. “It puts the real word in your mind. Just saying it, n-word, is so triggering! So if you say it again you will be expelled from this school!” The way a little spittle hits my face when she barks just makes me want to… “Are you even listening to me? I’m going to have a serious talk with your mother. You’ll be lucky if you’re not expelled for this.”
We walk to the principal’s office, who tries to calm down the outraged teacher. She demands that I’m expelled four days. But the principal talks her down and reduces my sentence to writing a paper on a underappreciated non-white historical figure that made a contribution to science. No matter what I do now, the teacher will always see me like a racist moron.
After class is dismissed and we are given permission to waste our time, I go talk to the only girl whom I can stand. We’ve been friends since kindergarten. “Hey, wait for me,” I call, but she keeps walking away. She walks with other girls in silence.
She turns around, but she isn’t looking at me. “Please, leave us alone,” says the disgusting c-word (c u n t, so you understand,) who got me in trouble, but I ignore her. “What’s wrong?” I ask my friend. “Let’s talk another time, okay?” my friend says without looking at me. I feel like crying, but I won’t. I must spare myself the embarrassment.
On the way back home with my little fake-brothers I remain quiet. They discuss important matters such as what was for lunch, which girl is the ugliest, and the like. In silence I mourn the loss of my only friend, my last friend. I promise not to make the same mistake again, investing hope and trust into fake people. I force myself to remember I only have myself by pressing my nails against my palms until it hurts.
Once home I begin to read my books, or at least pretend to do so while I tell you this. Suddenly mother bursts in. I can tell by the way she kicks open the door she’s very happy to see me. “You said what!?” she screams. Nobody can save me now. “You mock o-our ancestry!?” She’s whiter than chalk. “Little c-word… We taught you better than this!”
“It wasn’t me…” is all I manage to reply. I can feel my eyes beginning to water. The knot in my stomach tightens, guilting me into taking the blame. “She might be anti-semite, for all we know,” says one of the boys from the door, trying to conceal his smile. They watch expectantly, guessing and dreaming of what mother has in store for me.
“We gave you this, this … life! and this is what you do with it!? You really are scum,” then she pauses, trying to compose herself. “No books. One month!” “That is so unfair!” I let go, and immediately regret it, holding my mouth with my hands. She slaps me across the face. “Two months! Reading is for losers, and is probably what made you racist in the first place!”
In silence I think of mother’s death. She realizes just how much I hate her, but she doesn’t care. There’s nothing I can do to hurt her. I watch as she takes the books away from my room. Her children are smiling, except for the little girl.
After the others have left, she comes into the room and hugs me in silence while I cry. “I love you,” I start, “and I won’t let you become like these motherf…” but I hold my tongue. Then she runs away, laughing. I just wipe my tears and chase her, playing hide and seek.
After I get too tired to keep running, I go back to my room and lie in bed. As I wait for dinner I hope for a better tomorrow, knowing it’s up to me to make it happen.