“Look at the Red Cross Boy! Look at the Red Cross Boy!” jeered the young boys, pointing at nine-year-old Idris as they followed him running down the street. “Look at him!”

Idris covered his new haircut with both hands and ran toward his house. I was standing at my front door across the street and saw him, his head down, a grimace on his face.

“What’s up?” I asked him.

Seeming determined to reach his yard, he didn’t answer. He arrived at his front door, opened it, entered his house, and closed the door hard.

I saw the group of boys approach. “What’s going on, boys?” I asked.

Khala,” said one, calling me auntie, “It has been two days since our teacher told us to be respectful and cut our hair, but some of our classmates didn’t obey him.”

“That made our teacher upset,” said another boy. “And he took the scissors and cut Idris’s hair to look like a plus sign.”

I thought of my own seventh grade class when my teacher humiliated me, too. During our breaks between classes, we would usually go out to the yard or to buy something to eat. One day, we girls didn’t leave the classroom. We stayed to tell each other stories and play around.

Our next class, history, was in the same room. Our teacher had given us homework: we were to memorize a new lesson and be prepared to come to the front of the class and present it to the rest of the group. But we were so busy talking and playing that we did not prepare ourselves or pay attention to the time. Our history teacher was late, and we were so involved in playing and fooling around that we continued on as if it were still break-time.

Eventually, our noise disturbed the math teacher in the room next to ours, who entered and angrily asked, “Which period is this?”

“History,” we answered, suddenly ashamed of our noise.

She left to tell the administration we had no teacher. Afraid now, we sat politely in our seats, our eyes focused on the classroom door.

As our history teacher entered the class, I said, “Wlar Sai,” which was the signal to rise. All my classmates stood. Our teacher did not tell us to be seated as she usually would. She looked angry.

No one dared speak a word.

“What was your homework?” she asked me.

Though I knew the assignment, I said nothing. I was pretty sure most of my classmates were not prepared.

“Come here,” she ordered.

I stood in front of the class. Teacher knows that I am ready, I said to myself, that’s why she told me to stand in front of the class.

Then the teacher told my classmate Nailab, who sat next to me: “Describe the lesson that I gave you as homework.”

Nailab started to repeat the lesson until the teacher, satisfied that she knew it, told her, “Enough, sit down.”  The teacher went on to Friba, another classmate, who assuredly did not have the homework memorized. “Come in front of the class and describe the new lesson I gave you as homework,” she said.

Hesitantly, Friba approached the front of the class. “I have decided to punish you to remind you not to forget my lesson,” the teacher said. “You have disrespected me by not remembering the assignment and not doing your work. Shame on all of you. Friba! You are not even prepared to give me yesterday’s lesson, but you can make noise in the classroom.”

Then she turned to me and said, “Freshta, give Friba a slap on the face.”

How could I slap my friend, Friba, in front of everyone? Usually when one of our classmates couldn’t explain the previous lesson, the teacher would beat the student with a stick or ruler on their hand palm. Why, this time, was she telling me to beat her?

I didn’t move.

“Freshta, what did I tell you?”

Still, I didn’t reply. I could not accept my teacher’s command.

She turned to another student. “Come, Khatera, slap Friba.”

“I’m sorry, teacher,” replied Khatera. “I don’t know how to slap her. I can’t slap Friba.”

“No problem. I will show you how to slap her,” answered the teacher with anger in her voice. The teacher then slapped Khatera and told her again to slap Friba.

Most of our classmates were about to smile, which made Khatera very nervous. She knew the lesson but had received the slap anyway—so, nervously, she slapped Friba. All of our classmates smiled but this time nervously. Our class period finished and the teacher left the classroom. Many of our classmates went and sat next to Friba and Khatera and told them not to be upset.

This is the system in the public schools.

The next day, I saw Idris standing in front of his house door with his sister, Shaista. His head was bald.

“Why did you shave your head?” I asked.

Looking down, Idris played with a tree branch. “We told him not to shave his head,” his sister said. “When all the boys see his hair, they will think it is a kind of new style and they will shave their heads too!” The three of us smiled.

By Freshta