5th & 6th Grade Prose Winner
I sat down at my desk. I did not know then how much this girl I was about to meet would change me. I did not look up from my book as she entered the room. She walked with such grace you never heard her feet hit the white tile floor. Only when I heard the commotion on the other side of the room did I look up and immediately saw what the commotion was about. A figure stood silently in the corner, and in the blinding morning light I could not see her clearly. She looked so magical standing there in the light. Ms.Willow, our teacher, called our attention saying that a new student had come to our class, but I was not listening. The girl moved away from the light and I was able to see her clearly. She wore a veil around her head, covering almost all of her hair except a few pieces that fell down on her face. She also wore a long dress that came to her ankles, just like the one my mother wore. That reminded me of second grade. During a parent-teacher conference, one of the kids in my class had noticed my mother and her clothing. He also heard my mother talking and how it was hard for her to come up with the right words in English. The next day he told everyone in the grade rumors about my mother and me. Since I was in a new school for middle school, I was determined never to let anyone know about my mother. But then I just kept to myself. Three months into middle school, I still had not made a single friend.
As Ms. Willow tried to find the girl’s name, kids around the room hid laughs behind their hands. Apparently, the girl did not speak English. Finally, in one of her files, Ms.Willow found that her name was Anika.¹ As she was standing there I noticed a little doll Anika held in her hand. From far away I could not see it very well but it looked as though it too had a veil and long dress.
During recess that day, everyone gathered around Anika. Then a popular blonde girl went up to her and started teasing her. She picked up a piece of her veil, examined it and laughed. “So Anika,” she said with a laugh and flick of her hair, “what’s with the veil...can’t you answer me? Or are you too dumb?” I just sat and watched, glad she was the one getting teased, not me.
A week later I was shopping with my mom. I dreaded this because it was chance for my classmates to see my mother’s long dress and veil.
Everything went smoothly until we checked out. I saw a girl staring at me. At first I did not recognize her, but then I realize it was the girl who made fun of Anika at school. I hurried my mother along, but in the car I began to worry: what if she tells everyone about my mother? I could not allow myself to get teased.
The next day I went up to Anika during recess. I jeered in her face, I wrapped my jacket around my head, mimicking her veil. I had to separate myself from her. We are different. I told myself this, even though I knew that it was not true. But even as I did it, I could not look into her eyes. I could not see the pain I was causing her. I had to keep thinking to myself that it was her own fault for wearing that silly veil and dress to school. Then, without thinking, I grabbed the little doll she always carried right out of her hand. I looked at the doll and saw a girl who looked just like Anika. I looked into Anika’s eyes and saw great sadness. I realized the doll was a piece of her—a piece of her old life in her other country. All these days I thought only of my own loneliness and not of how alone Anika must have felt. Anika was torn between her old life and her new life. In a way we were not so different because I, too, was torn between two ways of life in two different countries.
I gently took Anika’s hand and placed the doll back in it. My eyes fell to the ground as I started to walk away. Then someone grabbed my arm. “You are just like Anika,” she said. It was the girl in the grocery store. “Can you even understand me?” she jeered as she shoved me into a wall. “You and Anika don’t belong here!” “NO!” I screamed. “Anika and I belong here just as much as anyone else. You tease us to make sure YOU belong.” I must have screamed loud enough for Ms. Willow to hear. She rushed out and when she saw me pinned to the wall, and Anika looking scared, she made us all come inside. “What happened?” she asked me. Suddenly I let the whole story out. My mother, second grade, the grocery store, Anika. I started to cry at some point, but I don’t remember when. Ms. Willow sighed and said, “why didn’t you tell anyone, Ada?” “I guess I was afraid to,” I said quietly. Anika and I were told to sit outside Ms. Willow’s classroom until our parents came. While wesat there I wondered if Anika would ever forgive me. Then my mother came. After Ms. Willow told her what I said she came out and hugged me, saying that she was sorry she had caused me so much trouble. I started crying again, saying how sorry I was for being embarrassed about her and about who I am. When we were done Anika looked at me strangely. I quickly realized why. I could speak her language. Slowly I went up to Anika and said, in our language, “I am so sorry. I was being selfish and I never thought about how much I hurt you when I teased you.” “It’s okay,” she replied, “I understand how hard it is being different but trying to fit in.” I reached my hand out, “I am Ada.” She took my hand in hers and said, “I am Anika.”
1 Anika is a Muslim name meaning “very unique.”