One of the saddest things I can remember

It was the first day of a new school year. In my case, it was to be my final year at Secondary school so I walked around the playground with the air of someone who knew his way around the minefield of school hierarchies and gang territories. There was no tradition of initiation rites for the new intake at this school although for one particular boy that day it might have been better that there were; it might have been less cruel.

The school was multi cultural and had a large Asian contingent. A lot of the new students conformed to this demographic and I could see some nervous brown faces furtively scanning the playground with the same apprehension as a lone Wildebeest lost in the savannah looking for a fellow member of its herd. Some lucky starters had friends that they could share their excitement and apprehension with and they explored the playground complex like little gangs of hyenas.

Then, like a vulture in the sky, a signal went out. It was one of those inaudible, unseen signals that every child has an antenna for and instantly recognises. Its communication is simple, it says ’something is happening’ and heads began to turn in the direction of the commotion. I could see the older kids moving inexorably as one towards the source of the attraction like iron filings being pulled by a giant magnet.  Even the new kids were instinctively sucked into the magnetic field, their curiosity easily overcoming their fear.

The stream of bodies flowed around a corner and I too fell into its current. When I rounded the corner I could see a circle of jeering people surrounding a new Asian boy. He was immaculately dressed in his brand new school uniform. A shiny leather satchel, pristine in its chestnut glow, hung lightly from his little shoulder. These few clues revealed much about him and his family; the proud, aspirational parents prepared to work hard and sacrifice their lives for their child because they knew education was the best investment for a brighter future. All they asked for was a chance…a chance to earn a fair share of the good life in this strange country…

The boy was isolated, frightened, bewildered. I moved closer into the circle, using my seniority to ford the pool of humanity. I got to the edge of the circle and my eyes followed the direction of the accusatory fingers of the braying mob. Then I saw it. I saw the cause of such cruel hilarity; on the breast pocket of his black blazer was the school crest, carefully and lovingly sown on by the hand of his dutiful mother in perfect stitching. The cloth badge was brand new and vibrant in its brilliant colours. … but upside down.

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