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Before the School Bell Rings

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She put on her backpack, took her packaged dumplings and was ready to head out the door. Her mom stopped her in her tracks, wished her good luck on her first day of school, and gave her advice to get through primary school.

“… don’t be late to class, always say hi to your teacher, and when you make friends, make sure you choose properly, not like those Malay people you always see loitering around downstairs.”

“What’s wrong with Malays?”

“They are always just loitering around, sitting at the staircase and smoking two packs a day. That means their kids would also be the same and mummy don’t want you to become like them. So in school just make friends with the Chinese kids, ok?”

“Ok.”

She hugged her mum goodbye and went to the lift lobby. Don’t make friends with Malays, got it.

Three floors down, another mother is giving the same speech to her daughter, except they are Malays, and this time it was a warning against the Indians.

“Be careful of them, ok? There are plenty of stories of Indian people kidnapping children. What if their parents are also kidnappers? And also they smell funny, so don’t get close to them, ok?”

“They would kidnap me?” she asked, with her innocent big brown eyes looking at her mum, her mentor in life.

“Yes, look at their skin. It is so much darker than ours, which means they are more dangerous. And also their people can be quite arrogant, and I don’t want you to learn that. Promise you will stay away from them?”

She nodded her head and wrapped her pinkie around her mum’s. Avoid people with darker skin. Ok.

“Even if she’s a really pretty girl?” the boy asked his father, a voice filled with naivety.

“Even if she’s a really pretty girl.”

“But there are so many of them in kindergarten, surely there will be a lot of them in primary school too. I really can’t make friends with them?”

His father walked toward him while shaking his head. He bent his knees and met his son at eye level.

“They won’t like us, and we don’t like them either. Have you seen the Chinese uncles that are always downstairs at the coffee shops? Always lazing around with their bare feet up on the chairs, spitting at the grass and shouting profanities every five minutes. I don’t want you to learn those crude behaviours.”

“But the girls aren’t like that, right?”

“Who do you think is bringing up those girls in your class? The uncles downstairs have extremely uncouth behaviour. Just stick with Indians, ok? At the very least, you can understand one another.”

Only make friends with people of your ethnicity. That should be easy.

All three children slowly made their way to the void deck where the school bus will pick them up at any moment, and standing right at the corner of the carpark is a Eurasian mum talking to her son.

“Remember what I said, ok? Those people will assume that we are rich because of our race, so just keep your head down and mind your own business. I don’t want them to bully you and take your money away.”

“So I can’t make friends with my classmates? At all?”

“You can make friends at the tuition class on the weekends. At least the children attending the academy will not eye our money.”

His mum heads back up to their flat after kissing him goodbye, and he stood there thinking of how to protect his wallet from the children in school later.

The four kids were soon gathered around the void deck, waiting for the school bus. They all stood far away, taking glances at one another and thinking about what their parents just told them.

Be careful. They are bad people. Do not trust anyone who does not look like us.

All of them are afraid of one another.

Before saying hi.

© 2022 Alison Lian

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