People Like Me, People Like You

Submitted into Contest #2 in response to: Write a story in which someone experiences discrimination.... view prompt



“Al!” Mark runs down his front steps to me, struggling to put his right arm through the strap of his backpack. “I didn’t know we have a math test today!”

   I laugh. “Dude, the teacher told us about it last week.”

   “You think what I remember from math class last week? Bro, I can’t even remember last night’s homework assignment. Not that I do it, anyway.”

   We start walking to school. This is our routine basically every morning: I meet him at his house, he runs out frantically because he knows we’d be late if we linger for a minute longer, and then tells me about every assignment or test he forgot about. Sometimes I find it really funny, but other times I get annoyed with him. No matter how many times I remind him about something, he always finds a way to forget. 

   “It shouldn’t be that hard of a test,” I say. “Most of the stuff is on the calculator.”

   He throws his hands up. “Fuck, I don’t even have a fucking calculator! Do you think she’ll let me borrow one?”

   I shrug. “I don’t see why not.”

   He sighs in relief. “Well, at least I won’t completely fail this test.”

   We get to the entrance of the school just as a bus arrives and kids start getting off. We make our way into the mob of students about to enter the building. 

   “Hey, Al, isn’t that the girl you’re thinging with?” Mark says, nodding towards a girl wearing what looks to be heels too high to be comfortable. Mara Arbuckle, the girl who next to me in math. 

   “What? No! Where’d you get that idea from?” I say.

   “Well, isn’t she always making heart eyes at you in math?”

   I do catch her looking in my direction every time I look up from my paper. “I mean, sometimes I think she’s looking at me, but she could just be staring out the window. Ms. Hann is fucking boring.”

   “Well, yeah, tell me something I don’t know. But I see her looking at you all the time. And sometimes you guys talk and smile together.”

   I roll my eyes, but my cheeks start to heat up. “Sometimes we ask each other questions, but mostly we’re making fun of Ms. Hann’s cone bra.” It’s really very ridiculous. She has to be the only woman alive who still wears cone bras. Not even grandma’s wear them anymore. 

   “Okay, fine, Hann’s boobs are pretty funny. But still, I think she likes you.” As he says that he punches my arm playfully.

   I punch him back and smile, telling myself that it’s from the embarrassment of his teases and not because I want Mara to like me. “Shut up, dude, she’s a year older than us.”

   He punches me back, and we go back and forth for a while as we enter the school. But as we walk by the security guard that’s always posted at the main entrance, I make eye contact with him and he casts me a sharp glance. I stop joking with Mark. 

   “What’s up, Al?” he asks, sensing my change in mood. 

   “I don’t know,” I say, “one of the security guard gave me a dirty look for some reason.”

   “Oohhh, maybe you’re in trouuuubleeee,” he jokes. I laugh off the awkward moment. 

   “Yeah, I’m in trouble because I didn’t remind your sorry ass that we have a math test today.”

   “Oh good, so you’re admitting it’s your fault.” 


   We go back to laughing and I forget about the security guard’s stare. At least until soccer practice after school. 

   Mark and I are on the soccer team together, which is how we got so close a few years ago.

   “I’m just saying, if you get into a relationship with Mara Arbuckle, we could get into so many senior parties!” Mark says to me as we head outside for practice.

   “Mara is totally not interested in me,” I reply back. Of course I want Mara to like me, she’s extremely pretty, and I see the grades she gets in math; she should be in honors.

   “What if I hook you two up?”

   “And just how are you gonna do that, dumbass?”

   He ignores my insult. “I’ll find a way. Just you wait.”

   I scoff, telling myself nothing is going to happen between me and Mara and ignoring the part of my brain that’s telling me, What if something does happen?

   Practice starts as usual: warm ups and physical training. Mark and I become too busy to talk to each other anymore as we focus on our breathing and completing the exercises. 

   Suddenly the whistle blows in the middle of suicides. We’re supposed to do them for three minutes and it couldn’t have been more than thirty seconds. The entire team looks up in confusion to see the assistant principal standing beside our coach. 

   “Rodrigo and Al, the principal wants to see you guys,” our coach says. “Take your bags from the locker room.”

   I look towards Mark. He shrugs. I shrug. Clearly we’re both at a loss for what this could be. I look towards Rodrigo, a teammate I sometimes talk to but we’re still friendly. We both shrug. It seems no one knows why we were called out of practice.

   We quickly head towards the locker room to get our things and then head towards the principal’s office. Could I be in trouble? The security guard’s glare pops back into my head and stays there the whole way down to the office. I go through a list of events that have happened recently that would cause me to be in trouble, but I find none that warrant a trip to the principal’s office. But even so, why were both me and Rodrigo called?

   You’re overthinking this, Al, a voice in my head says. Yeah, it’s probably right; there’s nothing I should worry about. I’m a good student who doesn’t do anything bad literally ever. 

   We get to the office, my heart still pounding nonetheless, and the woman at the front desk motions for us to have a seat, so we do. I wait for about a minute before Rodrigo says, “Why do you think we’re here?”

   I blow out a breath. “I don’t know why,” I admit.

   “Me either,” he says. He settles back into his seat, ever the laidback guy I know him to be. “Guess we’ll find out soon.”

   A few moments later the assistant principal comes out and asks for me to enter the principal’s office. I stand up and Rodrigo casts me a quick smile before I leave him.

   It’s okay, you’re not in trouble, I tell myself. But as I enter the office, two police officers are waiting on the other side, wearing hard expressions. The principal is no help calming my nerves, either, as he wears the same expression as the police. 

   “What’s going on?” I ask before I can stop myself. 

   One of the police officers speaks up. “We need to check your backpack.” His voice is deep. 

   Mr. McCollin the principal puts his hand up and the police officer doesn’t continue talking.

   “Check my bag? Why?” I ask. I don’t know if asking questions is the right thing to be doing, but I know my rights. I think.

   “Have a seat, Alejandro,” Mr. McCollin says. I sit down, grateful for the chance to rest my legs before they turn to jello. Why do they have to look in my bag?

   “Alejandro,” the principal says, “as you know, people — students in this school — do drugs.”

   Oh god. “Yes,” I say slowly. “They do.”

   “I don’t know if you know this,” he continues, “but recently there’s been a spike in drug deals around the school. Bad drugs.”

   “All drugs are bad,” I say matter-of-factly.

   The principal smiles. “You’re right. But I mean hardcore drugs. Cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine.”

   My eyebrows shoot up. “So I’m here because you think I do these drugs?” I ask. I start to tell myself that I’m safe because I don’t do drugs and they can happily drug test me if they wanted to. 

   “Given that you’re a soccer player and are prone to drug tests at any time, no I don’t believe you’d do these drugs. I am correct to say that your team recently had a drug test done?”

   I nod. It’s true, we did, about a week ago. 

   “You’re not here because I think you do drugs. You’re here because I believe you sell them.”

   My eyebrows shoot up again and this time I laugh. Actually laugh. “You think I sell drugs?”

   “Yes,” Mr. McCollin says a little hesitantly. 

   “Why me?” Obviously everyone’s going to ask this question when they get an accusation like this, but it’s completely valid. Why me?

   Mr. McCollin hesitates. “The recent outbreak in drug deals have been seen by potential gang members.”

   My heart nearly stops. “You think I’m in a gang?”

   Mr. McCollin hesitates for the barest second. “I believe you could be in a gang.”

   “Why me?” I ask again. Then I think back to Rodrigo outside. 

   “It’s because I’m Mexican, isn’t it?” 

   Mr. McCollin’s lips form a thin line. Before he can answer I say, “Unbelievable.”

   “Alejandro, please listen, you must understand that I am doing this for the safety —”

   I scoff again. Wrong words, buddy. “Sure, safety, because clearly you don’t think the white kids could be dealing drugs.”

   “This isn’t just about drug dealing, kid,” one of the officers say. “This could be a gang related issue.”

   “’Could be’ doesn’t mean it is one. ‘Could be’ means that you should question the entire soccer team, not just the two Mexican kids.” I know I shouldn’t be using this tone, but I can’t help myself. 

   “Alejandro, please calm down,” the principal says, “this can be over in a minute if you’d just cooperate.”

   “You want me to cooperate?” I say. “Fine.” I stand up, unzip all of the pockets of my bag, and dump it out onto the floor right in front of the police officers. Two binders, my school clothes, and some potato chip bags fall onto the floor. 

   “There, the entire contents of my bag,” I say with a smile. “And while I’m here, care to pat me down just to make sure there are no knives strapped to my body?”

   “Alejandro, this is completely inappropriate,” the principal says, standing up.

   “No,” I say, “What’s completely inappropriate is you discriminating against me and Rodrigo just because we’re Mexican. I can speak for myself when I say that I have never skipped school, cut class, or even have gotten a detention, meanwhile I know plenty of white guys who have done all that and more yet I’m the one called into the principal’s office. We live in a predominantly white neighborhood, Mr. McCollin. The closest any gang related activity has come was within four miles of our neighborhood borders. That’s right, I listen the news. So if you’re going to accuse me of being a part of a gang and check my bags, you’re going to have to check everyone’s bags.”

   Everyone is silent for a few seconds and I fear that I’ve crossed the line. Then Mr. McCollin straightens his tie and I think he’s going to apologize, but all he says is, “I understand your anger—”

   I cut him off. “Do you really?” I turn to the police. “Officers, would you still like to go through my bag, or are the contents on the floor enough for you?”

   They look at each other a little wearily. “We still need to search your bag.”

   I hand it to them. “Fine. Do whatever you have to do.”

   They search through every pocket and even the pockets of my everyday shorts. When they’re satisfied that I have nothing illegal on me, I put all of the contents back into my bag.

   As I’m putting my backpack back onto my shoulders, Mr. McCollin says, “I’m sorry that you felt like we discriminated against you and Rodrigo.”

   I scoff lightly. “You know, it’s funny. The same thing happened to my dad in high school. Guess it’s just a Mexican thing.”

   He ignores my attitude. “I hope you understand you cannot blame us for being a little suspicious.”

   “Of course. I’m sure there are some gang members who are straight-A students with almost no absences. I hope you understand that I am not angry, I’m just…tired.”

   “Of what?”

   I start to walk towards the door. “Of people like you thinking poorly of people like me. Of people like me having to be extra careful about what we do. Of people like you not needing to worry as much because there’s always a person like me who’s just a little bit worse.”

   I exit the room. Rodrigo immediately stands up. “What happened?”

   Even though the two of us are not the closest of friends, I put both of my hands on his shoulders and look him in the eye. “You’re not a bad person. No matter what they may think.”

   We share a look of understanding. He presses his lips together. 

   I walk out of the office. I would have stayed to walk with Rodrigo back to practice, but I don’t go back. I walk home, thinking that this is just another story for dinnertime discussions.

August 17, 2019 03:25

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