An entry in The Crocodile Prize
DRING. The school bell made its 2013 debut, signalling the start of the year’s first period. Its reverberating knell caused the sea of grey pupils to scurry off into the surrounding brick structures like a swarm of startled ants.
I stood in the midst of the scramble, with no clearly defined path ahead of me, with no preinstalled knowledge as to what I was supposed to be doing. Unable to attach myself to any one familiar person that passed me, I found my boat anchored on this strange Island. Where was I?
It was hard to believe that just a week ago, I was basking in all the tropical sunlight Lae had to offer, scaling the backyard trees and braving the notorious ‘green’ lizards that guarded them.
Up until this point, my existence could only be defined by the sporadic history I had written in Papua New Guinea, though it was not to my surprise that Mum and Dad eventually decided to make me the subject of their latest Apollo program; sending me out into the grave unknown.
Temporarily shrugging off the anxiety that was mooring me down, I turned and trailed this group of students whom I inaccurately judged to be in my cohort. I paced behind them as we entered another bricked court. Approaching some buildings, an ominous echo had come bouncing off the brick walls that lined the area ahead which instantly had the effect of reinvigorating unwanted memories I had learnt to cloak. Memories that reflected my unconventional middle-school experience back home. While most had braved the halls with unparalleled confidence and overshadowing personalities, I was confined to the shadows of the school, my presence acknowledged by close friends.
Coming around the perimeter of a squat, neat building, the faint echoes that were at first only a whisper in the distance had suddenly erupted into a roaring pride. I had paused at the turn. What had held me back? Perhaps I was afraid of the unknown, but what was I afraid of, it was only school. My last high school, in Lae, was a very tightly knit community. It was a place where everyone literally knew everyone. I had spent my whole life there of course, the years allowing the harsh, humid environment to shape my identity. I was straying from what I knew. I was pushed to the brink of my comfort zone. To be immersed in your own kind and to not mesh immediately, I resolved to the fact that I was an alien.
I etched myself around the corner with an undeterred unwillingness, being met by a large group of students, chattering away at each other. I couldn’t make out any of the sentences that were being unceasingly blabbered out into the air, somehow my ears filtering out the noises and alluding me to my increasingly deepening breathing. Like when James Cook first docked on the shores of Australia, I stood about the area, conjuring conclusions about these people and irrationally questioning their ways.
I gazed around the area, scoping out the situation. As I started to slowly dart through the crowd, a teacher’s voice came bawling through the wall of noise, overpowering the collective force of the talking students. It was the Year Headmaster. At his verbal command, all students within the area descended onto the brick floor, all eyes converging on his tall, well-suited figure. Once everyone had settled, it had become overwhelmingly obvious the sheer year 11 population. Would I make it out of this high school alive?
I needed to initiate some sort of a conversation with someone, anyone at least just to let me break the barrier of ice with my new peers, but I found that simple task, uncomfortably daunting. Finding my way to my allocated form room, I was met with looks of unfamiliarity. It felt as though everyone I had passed was visually dissecting me, staring me down like the foreigner I was. I was resistant to these strangers, each and every one I passed, I strayed.
After the very tedious form tutorials and the handing out of our timetables, we were released out of the room, some more ready than others to tackle the intimidating school year. I left the classroom last, trying to decipher the map I was given but I found no luck so I resorted to a nearby teacher whom gladly grabbed my piece of paper and guided me through. By now, the school atmosphere had dissipated of any students, my lone self-presumed insignificant body desperately trying to adapt to the new environment like a pet goldfish who’d been released out into the vast seas.
The teacher brought a kind of warmth that relieved me of my state of anxiety but that was quickly sucked from me as we arrived at my first class. Her clenched fist pounded on the door, and at its answer, there stood a precariously tall figure, I dared not look into his eyes. The unsealed opening of the door provided me with a glimpse of the crowd I was about to encounter. The tall figure led me through the door, at this point I had no choice but to confront the unfamiliarity.
I’d been battling with myself all morning. I hadn’t said a word all morning. Would they have understood me even if I did? I entered a trance at this point, the debilitating glare of the students putting me on edge. I pushed through and settled on a vacant seat. “Hey”. A voice came from beside me. I turned my head, ‘Hey’ I mirrored. I couldn’t keep myself repelled against these people. I doubtfully added more words, then he added more words, then I added more words, until a conversation was concocted.
I was communicating with this stranger, and I was understanding him, and even better he was understanding me. Perhaps my shallow assumptions had kept me from letting loose, but on that day at least I could go to bed knowing that I wasn’t ‘that’ different. A connection had been made!