Tell A Tale in 500 Words

A Travelling Child By Sarah-Anne Dexter

She sits in the classroom, and she hears them clearly, though the teacher is trying to use one of their essays as an example for how it ought to be done. As much as she'd love to listen to her teacher, these ridiculous children make it too difficult. She almost wishes they would be more imaginative with their racism – pikey, gypo, minker, tink, gets monotonous after a while. They think she's worthless for the mere fact that she comes from a people who don't live in houses. Just once, she'd like to be called summer walker, or ceardannan, or even just traveller.

They think she's stupid because she doesn't speak, but she doesn't speak because she knows better than to think it would be well-received. It's a tragic moment when a young woman realises her opinion counts for nothing. Less than nothing, in fact.

Why do they think they're better than her, just because their parents grew up in houses and hers didn't? She's very rarely lived in a camp herself – the laws in Scotland make it difficult to be a travelling child, since there was such a fixed idea of what a well cared for child looked like. Well, her mother grew up in a birch bender tent, on the road most of the year, and it never did her any harm. And she'll be damned if she's to be cooped up on one of those pathetic caravan sites; at least she lives in the country, where she is free and liberated.

And then it happens. The boy behind her puts his boot in the back of the plastic chair in which she sits, and hisses, “Oi, ye pikey!”

She can't sit silent any longer so she turns around in her chair. “For the love of all the Earth, child, think up some better insults. I've had fifteen years of that word and it's getting a bit repetitive for my liking.” She can't help but call him a child, despite knowing he's three months older than her, because, well, he's acting like one.

“And that,” says their teacher of English, “has earned you lunchtime detention for the rest of the week.”

She turns back around and stares at her teacher; she knows she spoke out of turn, so she doesn't expect it to go unpunished. “Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

“Not you,” he laughs, and with a genuine warmth. “You,” he points at the boy who decided to torment her. “I do not tolerate racism in my classroom. And I want a thousand words on the contributions of Highland travellers to Scottish culture and economy, by tomorrow morning.”

She can't believe it. This has to be the first time anyone has stood up for her.

Her teacher leans over the table and hands her the essay she threw together last night, and he smiles, “Well done. That's the best breakdown of Macbeth I've read in twenty years of teaching.”

Maybe her opinions count for something, after all.

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