The other kids call Sophie an alien. Sometimes she feels like she is.

A Story About Genetic Heritage

Cuckoo

By Lydia Trethewey

For The ‘Others’ Award

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‘Shut up,’ I say, feeling tears push their way into my eyes.

‘What’s the matter? Are you going to blub? Sophie the blubbing alien!’

Courtney dances around me, chanting So-phie the ali-en, So-phie the cu-ckoo bird. The other kids on the playground all stop and stare. Snot starts to dribble down my lip and I wipe it hastily away.

‘I’m not an alien, there’s no such thing!’

‘You are too,’ she says, grinning and pulling back one of the swings ‘Your mother’s a monster from Neptune and she abandoned you here because nobody loves you.’

With all her might Courtney pushes the swing towards me. I see a rush of black rubber and feel the seat clip my chin. The high pitched tinkle of her laugh fills my ears as I stumble backwards. Her thin pink lips stretch into a horrible leer.

‘What’s happening here?’

In a heart-stopping moment Mrs Campbell appears, bat-like in her loose blouse.

Courtney goes quiet, eyes averted. The other kids shrink from the teachers gaze. The back of my neck grows hot.

‘Courtney? Did I just see you push that swing at Sophie?’

In the stern gaze of Mrs Campbell we all become small, timid. Courtney scratches her nose nervously.

‘It was an accident miss.’

‘Be more careful please.’

The teacher eyes me, my runny nose and wet eyes. She purses her lips and billows away across the lawn. As soon as she’s gone Courtney starts up again.

‘You’re a cuckoo Sophie. You don’t belong here. Your mother was an alien and she put you in a poor lady’s stomach and then the lady gave birth to you instead of her real baby.’

‘Shut up, shut up,’ I say, shaking my head.

My words quiver and disappear into the air. Courtney steps closer, eyes bright and cruel. The other kids bear mute witness as she grabs my wrist and twists it towards her. With a yelp I pull backwards, but her thin white fingers hold me tight.

‘Look,’ she says triumphantly, and puts her porcelain skin against my dark brown arm. The difference is as night and day.

‘You’re a cuckoo bird,’ she crows ‘Your mummy and daddy are white but you’re black because an alien cuckoo killed the real baby and put you there instead.’

I wrench my arm away. A whisper like wind in the trees ripples around the onlookers.

‘I’m not I’m not,’ I say, tears gushing now.

I search around for the words the doctor used. She was a kindly woman who spoke very calmly and slowly. Mummy bounced me on her lap and daddy stared into the corner of the room, his big arms folded across his chest. The doctor said this was rare, but did happen when two people both had Aboriginal ancestors. She used strange, soothing words like ‘DNA’ and ‘generics’, which promised to make everything alright, but daddy glared at the ceiling and blew air between his teeth.

‘It’s my generics,’ I say to Courtney.

She snorts with laughter and the other kids follow her lead.

Some days I feel like I can handle Courtney. I shut my eyes and her mean little mouth and pale skinny arms just disappear. But when the other kids join in, when they set up a rousing chorus of ‘alien’ or ‘cuckoo bird’, when at parent teacher night Mrs Campbell asks where I was adopted from, I start to think that when I shut my eyes it’s me and not them that disappears.

The siren sounds for the end of recess and the other kids run across the grass towards the classroom. I wait, wiping my nose along my sleeve and trying to choke down the tears.

Courtney doesn’t move. The twist in her lip slackens and her eyes lose their glow. She looks at me with sudden, unguarded fascination, like an animal at the zoo. A single unspoken word fills the gap between us, the word other.

Maybe I am an alien, a black girl appearing in a family tree as white as birch. Maybe I don’t belong to this world.

I wipe my eyes on the bottom of my shirt and run back towards the classroom.

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