I’m at Target with my dad. I’m wearing blue Vans, slim fit jeans, and a black hoodie. My dad, he’s wearing a traditional kanzu and rainbow-colored sandals. God help me. I try to hide my face in the depths of my hoodie, and I look down to the ground. It’s our first day in town and our family has already made their mark as “the weird African people living down the street”. My dad starts singing a song in Swahili out loud, and I try to create as much distance between him and me as possible. Right when my dad starts singing the chorus of the song, a family of five enters the aisle we’re in. They just stare at us with the strangest look on their faces.
As my we’re driving back home from the grocery store, my dad starts talking, I can tell one of his long lectures is going to start.
“Do you know what Wako means, Julian?” My dad questioned (I’m Julian by the way, and my dad’s name is Wako). I groaned, this is about the thousandth time I’ve heard this speech! “Wako means I’m yours, and I will always be there by your side in Swahili. It means that you always have a shoulder to lie on. It means that you will always have me to support you. It means that I will always be by your side,” My dad told me in his thick accent. I look away. To me, Wako means “I’m too African for my own good”,“I’m not normal”, or “I try to be as alien-looking as I can be in front of people”.
I’m Julian Igwe. I have curly black hair, chocolate eyes, and I’m a thirteen-year-old American born South African. My dad is tall and old, and it seems as if he’s just there to embarrass me in front of everyone. My dad always embraced his African culture. For Kwanzaa, he would always pack everybody in my class presents, and for Nane Nane, he would pick the plants in our backyard, and give them out to our neighbors. I told him that this time when we moved here, we wouldn’t do that. He told me that we’ll see.
Today is the first day of school, I’m going into seventh grade. I’m a little nervous, but then again I have it all rehearsed in my mind. I’ll make as many friends as I can because I don’t want to be a loner for the rest of the year. At lunch, I’ll try to sit in the middle of my table and be as sociable as I can be so everybody thinks I’m cool and perfect. Then the rest of the day will go by, I’ll make more friends, my dad will come and pick me up, everything will be great, and I’ll begin the process again the next day. I just need to make sure nobody knows about my father. If anybody learns about him, they’ll think I’m a weirdo, just like him.
My father said he would drop me off. I argue with him that it’s okay for me to walk to school, but my dad wants to see me off on my first day at a new school. He drives as slow as he can. I tell him to drive faster, and he goes even slower. When we finally reach the middle school, I hop out of the car and close the door quickly so he doesn’t have the chance to say “goodbye”. I’m walking into the school when I hear my dad.
“Julian, you forgot your canteen!” he exclaims, “Oh thank goodness I remembered!”. First of all, it’s the twenty-first century, and nobody uses the word “canteen” anymore. Second of all, why is your shirt so long that it looks like you’re wearing no pants? I can feel everyone’s eyes looking at me, I quickly snatch the bottle from his hands and briskly walk away.
First period English was horrible! The kid sitting across from me kept on kicking my legs underneath the table. So I decided to do the same and I accidentally knocked his chair over.
“JULIAN KNOCKED MY CHAIR OVER!” the kid cried out loud so everybody could hear. The teacher came and gave me a lunch detention. I now don’t feel like talking to anybody, and I know that nobody wants to talk to me. I feel a lump in my throat, tears welling in my eyes, but I keep everything together.
At my lunch detention, I sat a desk in front of a group of three muscular teens. One of them looked half-asleep, the other looked mentally ill, and the third looked like he was going to kill me. The teacher stepped out of the room.
“Who’re you?” one of them asked.
“I’m Julian,” I replied, trying to force as much swagger as I could possibly have in my voice.
“Julian, eh? You new here?” the other kid said examining me.
“Yup,” I answered, and then I looked away. Somehow I know this won’t end well.
“Man, you’re darker than I’ll ever be!” The third one remarked while examining me. I don’t know what came over me after that. I just didn’t want to be soft-spoken, or an easy target for bullies. I shouted, spat out, swore, and attacked them.
Then the first one exclaimed angrily, “You better say sorry, or else,”.
“Over my dead body!” I concluded, with my chin high up and my heart beating rapidly.
“Alright,” sighed the other one, “You, us, right after school then,”. One of them started cracking his knuckles. The third one chuckled. The teacher walked back into the room, and it was as if nothing happened.
I don’t want to tell anyone about this because I feel that if I do, everybody will think I’m a coward, and I don’t want to be called a coward. So the rest of the day I try to be as tiny as I can be in my seat. I wish the end of the day bell won’t ring anytime soon. It rings abnormally loud. Time for my life to end.
I wait for my dad at the next to the school parking lot in the shade. I have my hood up because I don’t want anybody noticing me. Then I see the three boys walking towards me, all of them with a smug expression on their faces. Oh god, I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong these past few days! Forgive me of my sins! I promise I’ll be better from next time onwards! They all roll up their sleeves to show muscle, bulging out of their arms. Nobody is around. I gulp. If only my father picked me up earlier, I wouldn’t be in this mess. It’s all my father’s fault. The boys walk towards me.
“You ready?” The other one asked. No, I’m nothing close to ready. I don’t say anything. The first one holds his fist up about to punch me, probably in my stomach. That’s when my dad’s car pulls up. He gets out of the car hastily.
“What in god’s name are you doing?” he asks. The third one is about to punch my dad when he takes off his rainbow sandals and starts chasing the boys around with them. I don’t know what to say. I’m cannot describe the feeling I had looking at my dad chase the three like it a cat chases a mouse. It was mixed between confusion and relief. The kids run off into the distance, naming off all of the swear words they know behind their back. My dad put his sandals on and walked back toward the car. He motioned me to get inside the car, I got in, and he started driving. The rest of the car ride was driven in silence.