My first lesson on revenge happened in my second year in kindergarten. I was about six years old and I was attending a reputable but strict Catholic school in the suburbs of Hong Kong. I remember scenes from those days like it was yesterday, cramped classrooms, cheap notebooks made of thin scrap papers, memorizing words in unison, heavy backpacks, and mumbling prayers I didn't care to understand. But I recall other things too. In particular, I have vivid memories of falling on the sandy surface of the school grounds and scrapping my knees over and over. Inevitably my knees bled and I bore two very ugly wounds that could never quite healed right because I kept injuring the same spots again and again. In fact, I carry those scars all my life since. I remember how I dreaded having to explain to my teachers why I was so clumsy and fall so often during our fifteen minutes recess, and then explain to my mother all over again why I continually hurt myself. I felt guilty about them in fact; they were proof of my deficiency somehow.
I was rather tall for my age, I had a very lanky body, which I was convinced as the reason I stood out as a target. But it wasn’t so; other girls had scrapped knees as well. We discussed it often as we sat together during our twenty minutes bus ride home and wondering how we should best explain to our mothers. We knew then it was because of our uniforms, which was a dress cut just above the knees. In the summer it was a cotton dress with a plaid pattern, the school logo sewn prominently just beneath the left shoulder, and in the winter it was a woolen dress paired with high dark green socks, but neither ensembles provided protection to where it needed.
One day we realized our shoes were a problem as well. We had to wear lady-like shoes, they were some fake patent leather type, tight and binding to our little feet. “We just cannot move in these things!” One girl boldly said at the back of the bus. But we knew she was only willing to say so then because we were in a noisy bus. There was no way we would repeat that to the adults. In Hong Kong those days, little kids were taught to obey orders since birth. We marched everywhere. In the morning after we got off the bus, we lined up like soldiers for a quick prayer in the school grounds, before we marched to our classrooms. We lined up and marched to recess, and again when we go home.
We were told we had it easy in kindergarten, and turned out to be true, I didn’t know then things would later get worse in primary school. But I dreaded my days in kindergarten all the same. We had exams that gave us nightmares, and the system mercilessly ranked us by our grades. In fact, we marched according to our rank so that everyone knew instantly how each student fared in the class. It was humiliating to stand in the last place. I remember Iiving in a state of mild fear all the time, and at any moment it escalated to full blown panic attacks brought on by as little as a teacher’s glance.
There was a playground in the school, and we had access to it during recess time. Like anything else in Hong Kong, schools had very little space, so it was generally madness when the kids are out and about. Recess was the most dreadful times for us girls, the boys terrorized the playground like demons since they were not at all hampered by their comfortable uniforms and shoes. When a girl got in the way, the boys simply pushed her aside. Sometimes they pulled up our skirts. The first time I worked up the courage to line up to go down a slide I was pushed straight down onto the pavement. Clearly, something had to be done. But we thought telling our mothers or teachers completely out of the question. We simply did not have faith in them to make things right. Until one day, I was angry enough to do the extraordinary.
I convinced the girls for a whole week that we should fight back. They weren’t so sure about it at first but I was surprisingly persuasive. We had a good plan. We knew we had one weapon against the boys: The girl’s bathroom. Our plan, was to kidnap the worst boy and hold him hostage. The shame for a boy inside a girl’s bathroom should somehow work its’ magic and make our lives better. We were so thorough we even assigned a couple of scouts to make sure the whole thing happened out of teachers’ view and to prevent other girls from entering the bathroom. Then we picked our boy, and that was a no brainer really. This boy, whatever his name, was the worst of them all. He was always chasing and pushing us. I remember he was a heavy child but very agile, and the other boys looked up to him too. He was clearly our guy.
So the day came, and the minute we were let loose in the playground we gathered and located the boy. Seven girls surrounded him and grabbed him from all over. He didn’t initially fight back; he was utterly stunned. But when we got close to the bathroom he fought tooth and nail, we had to really shove him in. But a few boys were alerted by then, and they waited outside the girl’s bathroom to rage revenge on us. We managed to keep the boy inside but my friends were afraid by then. The girls turned on me, they said I brought trouble on them and now they would really get hurt. I felt awful. The boy said he would get me for sure in particular. When the bell rang, we all got out and I cried to myself thinking about the next day.
And the next day came, and I was scared to the bone to walk out into the playground. The boys were waiting for us, I could see them from the window as we marched down the stairs in single file. A couple of girls didn’t desert me though, but I tell you it was terrifying. We held hands and walked right up to meet them, and a bunch of boys circled us immediately, and the big boy rolled up his sleeves like he was going to beat us stupid.
What happened next was like a dream. Our principal was a genial nun, she had a motherly face with dark expressive eyes. She rarely walked the grounds during recess but for some reason she was there that day. Right then we discovered we had another weapon: uncontrolled tears. We cried like mad, all three of us. And when the principal came to investigate, we all pointed at the big boy. The situation looked really bad for them, we told the principal the boys were going to beat us again, like they always did, and we showed her our knees. We spoke well, and the boys just looked defiant and very guilty.
“So you like to hit huh? We can arrange that.” Our principal said. We stood behind her big habits skirt as she ordered the teachers to take the boys away.That day, before going home, the whole school spent extra ten minutes to watch my boys punch the cushions of folded chairs while our Principal warn the students against future bullying. She even told the teachers to look after us better. I remember feeling very tall standing in formation that afternoon, and I had a good view too, since I was a good student, I was right up there in the front of the line.