A/n: This is my first short story. I love constructive criticism. This is based on a true story. And please note that in Vietnam, French is spoken.
Thank you Yours Truly for the inspiration to write this.
I present to you:Couraguex (Courageous)
All heads turned to scrutinize the new arrival. She was short, skinny, and painfully foreign. She probably wouldn't be of much use in the games they played. She did not look useful for much of anything. The teacher said in a frighteningly cheery voice, "Well come in! You must be the new the student!" The little girl from Vietnam didn't understand a word the woman with the chalk in her hand said, but when the woman beckoned to her, she stepped into the classroom. She went right up to the woman and handed her an apple, just like the American girls in books did. The teacher smiled and thanked the little girl. The girl did not wait for the teacher to tell her to tell the class her name; she began right away with the speech she had been rehearsing for weeks, "Je m'appelle Joe. Je suis—" There she stopped. The class was frowning. Some were outright laughing. Others snickered behind their hands. The little girl bit her lip. Did they not understand her? Did they like her American name? She thought "Joe" was brilliant. Her mother said it sounded very, very American. She was proud of it, she had decided on her new name all by herself. But why was the class laughing at her? The teacher told the class to quiet down and indicated the empty seat for Joe to take.
She slid into the seat at the back of the class and smiled at the girl next to her. She whispered to her, "Je m'appelle Joe. J'ai dix ans." She wanted to say more, but the girl seemed to be ignoring her. Maybe she is trying to pay more attention to the teacher, Joe thought. She turned to face front and found that she could not see past the tall boy in front of her. She knelt on the chair instead. Again, she heard some discreet laughter. She didn't understand what was funny. The boy in front of her turned around and grinned. Joe smiled back. Then the boy turned to the boy next to him and they started laughing. The teacher again called for something to be done. Joe guessed the word meant for them to be quiet. She wouldn't make a peep. She wanted this teacher to like her.
When it came time for lunch, she followed the other children to the large cafeteria. Then she followed them into the line for food, money held tightly in hand. She picked up a tray, as the other children were doing. Then she let the women with nets on their heads put hot food on her plastic plate. When it came time to pay, she handed all her money to the woman at the cash register. The woman tried to give a little back to her, but Joe couldn't understand why so she simply walked away. She looked all around the big room for a place to sit and finally settled on the table where the girl who sat next to her in class was seated. She went over and took the empty place next to the girl. The girl said something she didn't understand and pushed her tray a little away from her. Joe smiled at her, despite the girl's unhappy look. Then she turned to her food and began to eat. The food wasn't very good and she wondered if all the food in America was like this.
During the outdoor break after lunch, a girl Joe did not know came up to her and said something. Joe understood it to be a question, so she nodded and followed the girl. The girl said her name, but Joe didn't quite catch it, so she smiled. The girl and friends were playing a game she had never seen before. It involved two ropes swinging very fast in opposite directions. The girls took turns jumping over and between these ropes. The game looked frightening and dangerous, but Joe decided to try it anyway. She would make new friends. When her turn came she hopped and jumped and tripped. The girls stopped the ropes and laughed and shook their heads. Joe stood up and dusted herself off. She tried to ask the girls if she could try again, but they continued to shake their heads and moved away from her. Then they talked among themselves and pointed at Joe, then they laughed more. Joe didn't understand what was funny, but she did guess that they didn't want to play with her anymore.
She went from game to game and stood on the sidelines until one of the other children came over and asked her to play. But they always laughed and moved away or ignored her when she made a mistake. She still smiled at them, but she began to think that maybe they were laughing at her because she was different. Her face and clothes were different. Her laugh was always too late and too long. Maybe that was why they were laughing. But, no matter, she would learn English and talk to them and laugh with them and dress like them.
At long last, she found that no one wanted to play with her, so she went and sat on the steps of the large school building to wait until the bell telling them it was time to come in rang. She looked around at the other children so busy with their games. She wanted to play. She wanted to learn the game with the two ropes and the jumping. But they didn't want to play with her. Suddenly, another girl came up. She was older than Joe and smiled happily at her. Then in slow French she said, "Je suis Mary. Je suis eleve de francais." Joe smiled a little. Some of it had been wrong, but no matter, this girl could be her friend. The girl beckoned to her to follow and Joe got down from the steps and followed the girl to a group that was playing a game on the ground. Jacks! Joe knew that game, her brother had taught her. He said all the American children played it. And now she found some who really did. Joe sat down in the circle and began to play. Sometimes the girl who spoke the little French would say something, but Joe was too caught up in the game to notice. She was happy that the children were not laughing or shaking their heads. She had found friends.
When Joe went home after school that day, she found her mother in their small kitchen. "Maman! Maman!" she called. Her mother turned and smiled, happy to see her daughter after the long school day. "Maman," Joe said again, "Je parle anglais!" Then she said slowly, "Mama, I speak English."