It wasn’t just the different language, or the different accent in the different language. Or even the different colour of skin. I still don’t know what started first: my uneasiness, or the way they approached me. They must have seen I was different too – a look of uncertainty, loneliness maybe. It happened a lot – always the same: one of the men would smile, too broadly, and then ask me how I was, where I was going. The first time, I smiled back. I realised that was a mistake when he kept step beside me, and got closer. I grew to expect that the dark-skinned men would bother me, and so began to build walls against them. But what if I was wrong?
I had done my last day at the school, and many of the children had brought in presents for me. When the group had pulled back and sat down, I noticed him. He was a little boy. Wide smile. Dark skin. I watched as he unhooked the little gold bracelet from around his wrist, and held it out to me. He didn’t have any presents like the others, so he gave me his most precious possession instead.
That gold bracelet broke the chains of my prejudice, and after it, I saw, or at least I tried to see, the dark-skinned men as a grown-up version of my dark-skinned little boy.
Nothing to fear, everything to understand.