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Mina

Baba drops me off early to school this morning. I'm drinking a coffee at my usual spot under one of the large fig trees on the school grounds. I see Mrs Robinson in the near distance, carrying an expensive-looking briefcase, ambling up the path as if she might be trying to delay the beginning of another day.

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My stomach plunges. Will Mrs Robinson mention the program? Will this be the moment I'm going to be tapped on the shoulder and told I'm in the wrong production line?

She's close now and notices me as she approaches.

She stops and makes small talk with me and it's soon clear that she hasn't seen the program. I try not to do a fist pump.

‘How's school, Mina?' ‘How are you fitting in?' ‘What's your favourite part of Victoria College?' ‘Yes, I think the student café is a great idea too. Fabulous for building Maths skills.' She goes on in this vein for a few minutes, and then asks, ‘So you like this tree too, hey?'

I nod. ‘It's pretty spectacular.'

‘When I got the job as principal here, I gave up the water views from the North Sydney school I was teaching at for the leafy North Shore. I love the tree change.' She smiles warmly at me. ‘This tree's been a sentry over generations of graduates.'

‘Full of secrets,' I say. ‘And history. That's why I like it.'

*

Paula rushes up to me fifteen minutes before the first bell is due to ring. She throws her bag on the floor, sits down to face me, legs crossed, and stares intently into my eyes.

‘Oscar Wilde wants you to know that
there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
'

‘Oscar Wilde could say that. He had excellent taste in clothes.'

‘Nobody with even half a brain takes that show seriously. They'll be back to real estate crooks and crazy fad diets tomorrow. I say we have fun with this. I'm thinking a halal kebab van outside the café. A huge banner:
One Bite And You're Converted
. What do you think?'

She grins at me.

I grin back at her. ‘I love you. The End.'

She seems genuinely touched.

‘Okay. Cheesy, sentimental moments quota for the week reached,' I joke.

She laughs. ‘Totally.'

‘You know what the trick is?' she says when we hear the bell ring and reluctantly rise and make our way to home room. ‘Learning that it can't always be about them. Sometimes, maybe even most times, you fight back. But sometimes you can end up dignifying their arguments when you defend yourself. And even if you're in the right, it's exhausting to live your life in constant resistance. You have to keep a space to yourself, Mina, a space where they don't exist. And doing that will piss them off more, anyway.'

‘How?'

She shrugs. ‘I think some people just can't handle people who go about their life genuinely not caring about what other people think.'

‘This is from personal experience?'

‘I've had years of practice.' She grins at me. ‘After all, you've only known me in my Wilde days.'

*

Home room is quiet.

Recess, not so much.

A lot of people are really sweet and sympathetic and it gives me the confidence to decide I'm not going to bother defending myself.

Hey, was that you on TV last night?

No, I've got a twin.

What's going on with your dad?

Tinea.

But why'd they single your dad out? They must have had a reason.

The producer has a thing for Afghan men.

Why do you serve halal in Lane Cove anyway? There aren't many Muslims here, are there?

Not yet. The breeding program's in progress and we'll be able to take over soon.

*

My name is called on the loudspeaker. Trying to mask my trepidation, I get up from my desk and go to the office.

Mrs Robinson has been informed about the program.

‘Did you watch it?'

‘No, I watch the ABC.' She smiles. ‘Some of the teachers were chatting about it at morning tea and were quite concerned for you and your family.'

Minnie

She gives me a pep talk, advising me to ignore the tabloid media.

‘Instead of bullying and harassing people like you, we should be welcoming you to our country,' she says, shaking her head in dismay. Minecraft free launcher for mac. ‘Your parents are hard-working, decent, moderate people who have clearly made extraordinary sacrifices for you to have this opportunity.'

There's a reason why I'm drawn to the tree in the school yard most mornings. The roots spread wide, twisted and coiled. The trunk is enormous, rough and crusty. Can you be jealous of a tree? Of its roots that dig deep into soil, staking their claim? I smile to myself as Mrs Robinson reassures me that I should always feel welcome here.

I'm like an Afghan sapling that grew a little, only to be snatched out of the ground and planted somewhere else.

Everybody's pruned and shaped somehow, I guess. But not everybody has to fight to stop from being torn out of the ground.

*

A backpack on his shoulder, Mr Morello takes us outside for Society and Culture. He instructs us to assemble side by side to form a straight line. Then he divides the class into two.

‘Everybody on the right of Zoe is able-bodied,' he says. ‘Team Kyle. Everybody on the left of Zoe, including you Zoe, has a physical disability. Team Zoe.'

Paula and I are on Team Kyle. We all exchange quizzical looks and call out to Mr Morello to explain what's going on. He tells us to be patient. He takes a bunch of short lengths of rope from his bag and hands one to each of the students on Team Zoe. He then instructs them to quickly work together so that each of them has their hands tied to the front of their bodies.

Terrence is already mouthing off as Fred ties his hands together. ‘Hey, sir, not all of us are into kinky, you know.'

Mr Morello growls at him to keep a lid on it.

Michael and I are on the same team. I catch him looking at me and roll my eyes in Terrence's direction. He feigns a suffering smile and raises his hands in resignation, the gesture reminding me of the way a parent would respond to somebody commenting on their unruly child.

Mr Morello is helping to tie Cameron's hands as he's the last person on Team Zoe. He then turns to address us all.

‘Your mission is simple. I've planted washing pegs in the gardens, café and quadrangle areas. The team who collects the most pegs wins. Team Kyle, you have ten minutes. Team Zoe, you have five.'

There are groans and cheers, and then Mr Morello shouts out ‘start' and people instantly disperse and start running in all directions. I spot a peg behind a bin and swoop down on it before Fred who, hands tied, is hot
on my heels. There's laughter all around, but shouts of
‘That's not fair!' too. I run to the quadrangle area, grab some more pegs along the way. Michael, Paula and Jane follow me, calling out excitedly when they pick one up.

‘Quick! Over there!' Michael calls out. ‘Under the chair. There's a whole stack of them! I'll go to the café!'

Jane and I sprint to the bench, reaching it at the same time as Terrence. All three of us are frantically grabbing at the pegs. With his hands bound, Terrence doesn't stand much of a chance though. I grab a handful. Just as soon as Terrence picks up his first peg, he drops it again. Jane and I, giggling, quickly grab at the peg that gets away from him before he can try again. Jane's so caught in the moment that she doesn't seem to have noticed that she's competing against the guy who routinely leaves her tongue-tied. That is, until he hisses, ‘Bitches.'

‘It's just a game.' Jane's voice trembles slightly.

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‘No shit, Sherlock,' he says scornfully. ‘Sheez, Morello's an idiot. Like we need to do this shit to know that life sucks when you're a retard.'

‘That's an appalling thing to say!' I cry.

‘Yeah, well, deal with it,' he replies.

Michael jogs over to us, grinning madly as he holds up a bunch of pegs. Terrence sees him and groans loudly.

‘This is so rigged!'

‘That's the point,' Michael says.

I grin when Michael counts out thirteen pegs. Jane is standing beside me, deflated now. ‘I'll go look in the garden,' she says to nobody in particular, and walks off.

We hear a whistle and people start to call out that time's up for Team Zoe.

Terrence rolls his eyes. ‘This is such bullshit.'

‘You're such a sore loser,' I snap, fed up with his tantrums.

‘If I wanted an opinion from somebody who bankrolls terrorists, I'd ask.'

I've never been punched in the guts before, but I reckon it might feel like the impact his words have on me. I stare at him, open-mouthed, winded.

Michael flinches too.

‘That's not cool, man,' he tells Terrence. His tone is grave, and while I don't need anybody to come to my rescue, the tameness of his words makes me feel I've been punched twice.

Terrence lifts his brows at Michael, as if confused. ‘It's your dad's organisation that broke the story! Didn't you see the bloke from Aussie Values on
News Tonight
last night?'

I stare at Michael but he's refusing to look at me. When our eyes finally meet for a second, he just can't hold my gaze and looks away.

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‘Aussie Values? Your
dad's
organisation?'

‘Yeah,' Terrence says in a
well duh
voice.

‘I can explain,' Michael says.

But I don't want to hear another word from him.

‘Nope.' I shake my head emphatically. ‘Don't bother. I thought you were confused. Turns out you're just a hypocrite.'

I throw my pegs at their feet and storm off.