The first day of Grade Five was notable for many reasons. For the first time in my life, I was the shortest person in the class. For the first time in my life, I attended class with a black boy. For the first time ever, I experienced violence at the hands of another student. For the first time ever, I met a nun.
The school year began with a bang. A boy named Jay “accidentally” knocked me over, spilling my books across the floor and drawing the amused attention of every student in my new classroom. At least a foot taller than I was, Jay seem offended by my presence in the classroom, offended because I was so young. Offended by my existence.
When I attempted to pick up my books, he kicked me in the stomach and glared at me, silently daring me to challenge him. No words passed between us, but his eyes made it clear that I was not welcome in his world. As he moved off to savor the approval of his cronies, our new teacher entered the suddenly silent room.
Sister Maria Corvi. Thin as a rail and just as rigid, she had the face of a vulture, happy to feast on the remains of any who crossed her. Her eyes were keen and hungry behind practical, prudent spectacles. One look at her was enough to understand she was married to the Good Lord and Doing His Work, and heaven help anyone who got in the way.
“Boy, what are you doing on the floor?” she demanded. Inside, I withered.
I couldn’t help but feel I would get in her way a lot.
“I fell down, ma’am.” I lied, obeying the secret code of childhood and not naming my oppressor.
“Get up.” She directed me to a seat next to a round, oily girl who promptly stuck her tongue out at me and called me a baby.
My heart sank. Grade Five was only ten minutes old, and it already hated me.