This is the winning article in the 2021 Columban Schools Media Competition in Ireland. It is by Ella Fleming, a student of St Dominic’s Grammar School, Belfast.
I wake. I get up and do everything that any other person does. Get dressed, brush my teeth, and eat breakfast. But then the time comes, the time that I fear the most… walking outside alone.
I take one last breath as my sweaty hands reach for the cold, silver door handle and before I know it the crisp air is filling my lungs. I walk. Make sure your hood is down, hands out of pockets and don’t look anyone in the eye, I remind myself as I walk along the grey pavement. My eyes observe the street.
My brain knows the drill. Is there anyone on the other side of that street that could feel threatened? Don’t make eye contact with the lady who is clenching her handbag so tightly that I don’t think the strongest man in the world could take it from her.
I’ll take the ‘scenic route’ today because there are lots of people around. A family are walking towards me, but as I walk closer to them, they are practically walking in the middle of the road. The parents whisper to their daughter and immediately she looks at me and points at me. The mother clenches her daughter’s wrist and quickly walks across the street, as if I am an animal about to attack its prey.
I try to get used to it but every time it happens, I relapse, I feel bad for myself and make myself wonder what I did wrong. As I walk along a path around the back of a cul-de-sac of houses, I notice a group of older boys ahead, and my eyes instantly drop to the ground and my heart starts beating rapidly. As I get closer to them, they start to notice me. My heart still beating, rapidly. Boom boom. Boom boom. Boom boom. Boom boom.
Suddenly I reach them. My eyes still looking down to the ground, I try and get past them. But I cannot. They start to shout. They start to shout all sorts of things that I can’t even process. Then, it started. One boy pushes me to the ground and spits in my face. Another kicks me in the stomach and it feels like a thousand knives stabbed me all at once. I try to scream for my mummy, but no-one would hear.
It turns out they were only starting. Punches came from everywhere; kicks came from left right and centre. I couldn’t see anything. I felt like I was slowly starting to drown in my own blood. Suddenly, it stopped.
I lay there for hours. I cried so much I had no more tears left. I was experiencing so much pain that I went numb. I closed my eyes and dreamt of my family, I kept trying to remind myself that they would be alright if I wasn’t here. But I kept imagining what would happen to them. My baby sister would grow up without me being there to protect her from the world. My mummy wouldn’t have anyone to help her wash the dishes when she is feeling down, or to put my sister to bed when she is working late. It felt like I had just lost everything – including my faith in humanity.
Then everything went black. That was the last thing I remembered from that day. I wake. I couldn’t get up; I couldn’t brush my teeth and I couldn’t get dressed. I wanted to eat but it felt impossible. The time that I feared the most every morning was different, but I wasn’t scared of it this time… I was petrified. I couldn’t leave my room for three weeks, I was petrified of what lay outside of my house, more than ever.
That was four years ago, and I still know that story like the back of my hand. My physical injuries were not fatal, but mentally it scarred me. The lady who found me lying on the once grey pavement was a lady who didn’t see skin colour, all she saw was a hurt child who would never see the world the same again. And I didn’t.
I used to see the world as a bad place, where you didn’t know what or who is around each corner. But now I see the world as an awful place, a place where more and more deaths keep happening just because of someone’s skin colour. A place where if someone doesn’t look like ‘your kind’, then they are dangerous. A place where we have to explain to our own children why their dad was attacked yesterday or why their mummy isn’t here anymore. And it should not have to be like that.
Our population is growing and growing, it is time that we started to educate others. And make them understand that we should all be equals, no matter what colour of skin you have.
Our faith in humanity could change if you let it. This is the real world; make it better while we still have the chance.
What the judges said about Ella’s entry: “An at times frightening but always mature take on a very real subject of our times…”
Picture: A woman wearing a protective mask takes part in a protest against racial inequality and police brutality in Montreal on 7th June 2020. (CNS photo/Christinne Muschi, Reuters).