This is a ficional short story, in 750 words.
Something quick to read during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Chen Zhang started at our secondary school the same day as the rest of us. He was the only Chinese kid we had ever seen, except on telly. Everyone was looking at his sticky-up jet black hair, and the funny colour of his skin, which looked like he might have jaundice.
Everyone called him Chen, even the teachers. It took a long time before anyone found out that Chen was his surname, because of the way it was written the other way round. But by then it was too late, and he was stuck with Chen.
Bit like everyone calling me Butler, and thinking Kevin was my surname.
His dad had brought the family over from Hong Kong, to open a Chinese takeaway in the suburb of the city where we lived. We didn’t know anything about foreign food back then, other than Vesta Curry in a box, and hardly anyone ate that. When the takeaway opened up, it did a good trade, mainly because it was something different. And it was cheap too. It had benches to sit on to wait for your order, and a tropical fish tank mounted on the wall on brackets to look at. Funny red tassels hung off the ends of big banners with Chinese writing on them, and paper menus were stacked on the counter next to the till. They didn’t deliver of course.
Nobody delivered in those days, except milkmen, and the coalman.
Chen’s dad wisely stuck to an anglicised version of Chinese food, with a very limited menu. Prawn Balls, Sweet and Sour Pork, Chow Mein, and Special Fried Rice were the top-sellers. Things like Peking Ribs, Dumplings, and Duck Pancakes were unknown to us at the time. If we had a pancake it would only be on Pancake day, and usually have lemon juice and sugar on it. As for dumplings, they were only ever seen in a stew. Catching on fast, Chen’s dad also offered battered sausages, portions of chips, and even chicken pies. He had to cater for any family members who swore never to eat any ‘foreign muck’.
As you can imagine, that didn’t go down too well with the owner of the local fish and chip shop.
The boy did well at school. He was top in Maths, and really good at Geography and English too. Trouble was, he struggled with his accent. Living in a city called Middleham didn’t help, as he could only ever say ‘Mirri-ram’. Then when it came time for summer sports, Chen stared at his cricket bat as if it had arrived from outer space. The sports teacher tried to show him how to use it, and he shook his head. “I never see no Clicky Baa, sir”.
Well that was it. Brian Collier wasn’t the brightest coin in the purse. My dad would have called him ‘simple’. My mum might have been kinder, and come up with ‘slow’. You get the idea. But he was big and hefty, and handy with his fists. So when he doubled up with laughter at the way Chen said cricket bat, the rest of his mates hooted uproariously too. After that Chen got a new name. He got stuck with ‘Clicky Baa’. Brian didn’t know anything about China, but that didn’t stop him getting on board with a few more names for Chen.
Chinky Chonk. Slit Eyes, Yellow Man, Fu Manchu, Who Flung Dung, even The Jap. Brian hadn’t worked out that Japan and China were two different countries. He probably never did.
By the start of second year, Chen had got to the stage where he could no longer ignore the gang of idiots who followed him around all day insulting him with silly nicknames. One day in the main corridor, he turned and pushed Brian over, surprising the bigger boy with his unexpected anger and agility. Brian was up on his feet, fists bunched, ready to beat the living daylights out of the Chinese upstart. But as he lumbered forward, Chen swirled around like a ballet dancer, landing chops and kicks all over with such rapidity that Brian fell back onto some lockers and passed out unconscious.
One of his mates had to go and get Mrs Hawley, the teacher who did First Aid. Brian was sent home, covered in bruises. Nobody grassed, and they all said he had fallen over. That was all a long time before anyone had ever heard of Chinese Martial Arts, or had ever seen a Bruce Lee film. We didn’t even know what a VHS recorder was until years later.
But nobody ever bothered Chen again.