December 2, 2021
By Anonymous

The air was filled with a heavy scent of petrichor that roamed throughout the hallways, like the intimidating crowd of kids who would mosey around the school to let it be known that they existed. Outside, there were mean clouds that wrapped the sky, blanketing the ground with different shades of gray. In the far back of classroom 401 sat a girl stressing over how she can form eight and three to make eleven with her counting cubes. The little girl was in her own world, away from the rest of the kids who would be discussing which superhero is the strongest or asking worldly questions like “Why do birds fly?” after class. Gabby was new to the school and spoke English like how pigs can fly. Her family were immigrants from Vietnam, so naturally, they only spoke in Vietnamese to her and maybe knew a couple phrases in English. Although she did watch many of the popular American shows and cartoons, the only words that would occasionally slip out of her mouth were faint “mornings” and “goodbyes”. She often displayed a confused expression on her face whenever a kid would ask her a simple question or even offer her snacks as an attempt to befriend her. 

The school cafeteria was big, but not too big. Tables were arranged in long rows and spaced out about two feet from each other. There was the school stage that faced the tables and two doors that led to the music and choir rooms on the side of it. The lines to get food were divided in two and were always crowded with students that had just come from playing cops n’ robbers or freeze tag, smelling like coins. Many of the students would bring their own lunch pre-packed by their mom or dad. Most of them had the same lunch everyday— peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, lunchables, mac and cheese, and pepperoni pizza. They would often trade with each other the smaller delights that they brought along such as cookies, candy, and their mom’s homemade banana bread. At the tables, they all shared smiles, laughter, and joy.

Gabby was pressed between groups of people at the table, those whom she never spoke a word to. She brought along with her her favorite meal she had made herself that morning: spring rolls. The meal consisted of marinated beef, shrimp, cooked salmon, lettuce, and cucumber. The dipping sauce was a sweet and tangy fish sauce. She loved these spring rolls so much that it quickly became the highlight of her day since the start of school. There was nothing at school that made her feel the way her food did. It brought relief and almost peace with every bite because it was just that good. The one thing that left her puzzled, however, were the looks exchanged between her classmates as soon as she opened her container of fish sauce. Sure it had a slight odor of fish to it, but it wasn’t bad enough of a smell that one would make one gag, as she thought. The kids would eye her down with every bite she took and whisper things to one another that she could not make out. What was it that they wouldn’t tell her? Almost every day, whether it be spring rolls or some other meal she brought, some kid would go out of their way to make a questionable comment.

    What is that smell?

    I think it’s coming from her lunch.

    Ew! What is that you’re eating?

    Why would you bring that?

    Can I try? 

    Ew, it tastes like dead fish.

All Gabby could feel was embarrassment, but she couldn’t understand why. The best reason she could come up with was that they were curious about her food and wanted to try something new, but that never explained the discomfort she felt. Even then, she could not build up the courage to ask the kids what it was that bothered them. Could it be the overly pink shirt she was wearing? Or the piece of noodle that stuck on the side of her face? Whatever it was, it belittled her. On the verge of tears, she would get up and leave.

On better days, kids would walk past her in the hallways, glance her up and down as if there was some sort of large stain on her shirt, and then proceed to mention something about her eyes, nose, or other facial features. This made her cheerful in a way because she took it as a compliment, unaware that what they said actually meant something completely different. Other times, she would hear someone from across the room shout something derogatory that only she believed to be the imitation of a doorbell ring. It became a normal routine for Gabby— the whispers, the stares, the confusion.Gabby never gave deep thought to any of these comments. She only thought about the lunch she was going to devour, but even that excitement eventually faded away. As years went on, the more she started to understand what the American kids were saying, the more she pondered. Endless thoughts filled her mind about who she was and if something was odd about her that others seemed to care so much about. It was hard to grasp the idea of being different. Maybe she was different, but how could she change that? These thoughts only led to more thoughts, leading to more. 

Never did Gabby get a clear answer to her questions, and never did her answers lead to a solution.

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