It was on the way home from school. Syifa, in grade six but small for her age, always walked home with the Sampson triplets, big lanky sandy-haired kids who lived in her court and who always had her back: but today, all three of the Sampsons were sick with gastro, and Syifa was on her own. She kept her head down, and walked quickly – it really wasn’t far – but she knew that without the ruddy-faced Sampson triplets to circle her like bodyguards, her dark skin, Indonesian eyes, and jilbab were almost like beacons, almost like targets.
And there it was:
“Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”
The call was dry and loud and sudden, like the raspy call of the cockatoo or the angry grunt of the koala.
Syifa sped up her walk, and kept her eyeline diagonally down, pretending that, like the monsters under her bed, if she didn’t look at them they would just go away.
There were three of them – like the evil inverse of the Sampson triplets, with the same gangly combination of limbs and hair, but darker hearts. The biggest one loped towards her, the other two flanking him, and Syifa was surrounded.
“Why don’t you fuck off home, ching chong!”
Her silence hadn’t worked. Syifa attempted reason.
“I am going home,” she said.
“Oh yeah?” said the leader of the anti-Sampsons, using both hands to stretch his eyes into crude parodies of Syifa’s own. “Back to fucking Chingchongland?” He laughed, but the sound was not the sound of someone having a good time. The others made the same sound, the barking of a pack.
Syifa clenched her fists.
“I was born here!” she said, tight-lipped.
“I was born here!” mimicked the anti-Sampsons, all stretching their eyes again. And then the biggest one grabbed at her batik jilbab headscarf.
“You’d better stop,” she said, ducking out of range just in time. “Please. I don’t want to hurt you.”
This time, the laugh that shot out of the biggest anti-Sampson was genuine.
“What you gunna do, huh?”
From Syifa’s back unfurled gleaming silver dragon-wings, rising above her, towering and strong. But for some insane reason – maybe unconscious instinct, or simply because the wheels of bullying were already in motion – the kid took another swipe at her jilbab.
“That’s enough!” roared Syifa, rising into the air. Lasers shot from her eyes, hot columns of light, slicing open school uniforms to expose the scrawny paleness beneath. Bums were revealed, and embarrassment filled the air. From across the road, the crowd that watched on jeered and guffawed, pointing at the desperate anti-Sampsons scrabbling at their clothes and holding them clumped over their private parts.
Syifa roared again, and flames burst from her mouth.
And the anti-Sampsons scurried, like insects, like frightened rodents, and away they sped.
“Anything interesting happen today dear?” asked her father when she got home.
“Interesting?” asked Syifa, “Not really.”