Each second had been drawn out a moment too long. Each minute felt like an hour. An hour like a day. It wasn't surprising, considering the setting. Sitting in a high school class on a Friday afternoon, I could see a bright spring day peeking in through the windows at the back as if curious to see why a suffocating number of people had been crammed into a room.
The speech of the people around me echoed in my head like faint memories. They were loud, so much that the thoughts that run through my mind are like tiny fish struggling against the current of a flowing river. But enough of similies.
An acquaintance of mine (she sat right next to me) in the class after English inquired after my health with a simpering smile. I told her I was "great" though I felt less than great. You can't say that to anyone, or they'll give you an awkward smile, which will then be followed by the dreaded awkward silence. So, for my companion's sake, I said nothing out of the ordinary.
My best friend, beaming from ear to ear, entered the room. Strictly, she wasn't supposed to be in the room because she had lunch not this class I'm doomed to stare blankly through. She nodded gravely at the person sitting next to me. They spoke in dainty, stage whispers about grades.
"We are all going to look so awful when we take the AP Biology exam. At least, when compared to you," my best friend joked to me. Her words made me stir with interest and faint amusement. She exaggerated. "Can we tie you up until the test is done? Kill you, maybe?"
"Forget killing her," said the acquaintance sitting in the desk next to mine. "We would have to kill all the kids in Asia that are taking the exam."
My best friend looked to me, her eyes wide. She knew the implications of the other one's words. I knew. The other girl, who flashed a challenging smile, knew too. Yes, I am Asian. The casual remark cut more deeply than I had ever imagined it could. If you were strong, mistaken prejudices and stereotypes could do nothing to harm you. Maybe I wasn't strong enough. Indifferent enough. Maybe I was over-reacting?
I must have stuttered something to both of them: a little light comment that made both laugh. My best friend chuckled more nervously than the girl sitting next to me. It rankled to know that the words spoken from my mouth could never match the certain, eloquent words floating in my head.
"I should go. See ya." My best friend left with a hasty wave as the glum figure of the teacher slunk to the front of the classroom. The girl who sat beside me continued to smirk. She was completely aware of the damage she had caused, and that fact disturbed me more than the comment itself.
Her gaze had seemed to say that I had no place here. Well, forget her. I would continue pushing to make a place for myself. That's that. However, I can never forget the soft language that tickles pleasantly, that runs through my head more sweetly than English ever could: the language of my parents and countless others that belong to what seems like a whole different world.
A strong beat, a clear, strong voice sings in the same language. It is a song that plays in our car constantly. The glitter of gold at my ears and neck remind me of the country my parents came from. It is true gold, but its value is more than monetary. The sheer love with which the earrings and the necklace were molded in a place even foreign to me reminded me of my roots and all I owed my parents. A faint breeze stirs the classroom and strokes my cheek to remind me of the silk saris favored by my mother and the vibrantly-colored silk dresses and pants that sometimes seemed to suit me more than American clothes. The girl sitting next to me knew none of that.
She never had entered my kitchen, which smelled like the motley of spices that go into rich, warm curries. Cooked rice has the purest smell, and the scent cavorts with the spice smell for a heavenly mixture. Intelligence, a concept so cold and metallic, didn't fit in with my Asian heritage in the least.
Perhaps I dominated the game of quizzes and tests because I put in a little effort. It was a sad thing to know she thought of me as naturally intelligent. She had a chance after all of being as clever as she seemed to think I am. It has nothing to do with race, which had been established long ago.
She looked at me now, perhaps wondering if I was still angry. I admit I had been angry, but now disappointment swallowed me. I do wonder if the rest of the world thinks like her.