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This story is the fiction winner of the 2019 KYD School Writing Prize – read Maxine Beneba Clarke and Rebecca Starford’s judge’s report, and the non-fiction winner, ‘Normal’ by Bryce Groves

Image: J Mark Dodds, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

When you’re young, what matters to you?

Scratch that – What matters is that you have good friends, and a good family, and a good home.

And you do. You live so close to school that you walk every morning. Hand in hand with your mum, something you could never do back home. Here, what matters isn’t on the streets but the pavements beside them. You don’t have any of those back at home either. Only a really big circle shape that you would stroll aimlessly, littered with karabaw poop. Nay! Tay! Come on, lift me up. Let’s swing!

Before you left, Nay held your cheeks in her palm and gently dug her thumb into the creases of your frown. You watched her imitate your jutted lip. It would have made you angry if you hadn’t noticed that her eyes were cloudy. Oh. I know you’re sad that you left your Pooh toy at home, but no more, okay? New country, new life.

The only thing you jump over now are the cracks that litter your path. You only just realised the other day why you never see your dad before you go to school. Say what you want, tomato sauce on bread isn’t even bad. Your dad didn’t agree though. As you rubbed your eyes, bleary because you don’t usually wake up before the sun, he made sure to remind you to eat some cereal before he nipped at your ear and slipped out the door in slacks and a long-sleeve. He used to work with money. So did your mum.

You think it’s kind of weird that the air here is too clean to feel like home.

You think it’s kind of weird that the air here is too clean to feel like home.

At school you have June, who’s really cool, even though he might be cooler if he didn’t shrivel at the sight of his twin brother Jackson.

‘My dad understands English,’ You’ve seen his dad pick him up for two years now so you know, and June knows you know, but you nod along anyway. Saying it out loud seems to breathe some confidence in him, and you get the time to remember that you have the advantage here. Unlike June’s dad, you’ve been briefed. On his right, Jackson falls into his shoulder a bit harshly and he reconsiders. ‘But you speak quick, so be slower, yeah?’

You get that a lot. English used to be so hard. Now there’s no time to waste. ‘I swear.’


‘Yeah, I pinky promise.’ There are so many people to impress. There are people lighter than you here, darker, but somehow everyone knows where you’re from, and it’s not here. Silence says too much, so you move your mouth to distract them from whatever might be giving away your secrets.

‘I am Mi Zhou.’ Oh. ‘You are…a friend of Jackson and June, yes?’ He kind of speaks like you think. The words are fine, but the order of things need to be considered.

Parents aren’t scary. But this guy raised twins who already knew their times tables to the fourteens, who are in the swim team, chess club and swimming club.

‘Yes, sir. June is my friend.’ You think best friend, and when you look at June it looks like he does too. You both giggle and you remember that ad that was playing yesterday. Two for one. They were right. Two is better than one. Because Two is smiling and his eyes are scrunching up. You almost want to press your thumbs into them and yell. It’s good.

It doesn’t work for you, any of that, so don’t smile too big or you’re in trouble.


It rains. You sort of remember your mum say ‘heavy’ and ‘relieving the drought’ this morning, but you’ve also been here for three years and you learnt pretty quickly that Melbourne doesn’t have a monsoon season. Either way, when Misha yells It’s flooding! You feel like you’re probably the most surprised person there – but maybe not, if you’re also the only one not climbing onto the computer tables to press their face up to the window.

The air doesn’t change here when it rains. It doesn’t really have anything to wash away. Would Misha yell as loudly for Batangas or Cavite? Or even Manila? Your mum and dad said that Manila smells bad because there’s so much trash, so it must be true.

Mr Tomlis has left the classroom, so you don’t see why everyone doesn’t just go outside to check it out. June only focuses on his math worksheet. It must rain in Shenzhen too.

Jackson leaves the room, but he doesn’t seem to care about the rain, either. You don’t remember how you ended up following him, but you just hope you don’t get sick. It’s barely March.

‘Why are we here.’ As if you don’t know.

Beneath your feet used to be annoying grass that would scratch at any bare skin. Now it’s all plastic. Hard, but soft to the skin, vibrant now.

It’s all fake. Repulsive.

You stare Jackson in the eye. This – this is what this field is made for.

While Jackson plays for a soccer team, you’ve always been one for running. Common ground.

Beneath your feet used to be annoying grass that would scratch at any bare skin. Now it’s all plastic.

The rain keeps falling, but you’re children and you’re both so petty. Jackson keeps talking, head tilted with something almost careless, as he fires insult after insult in the pouring rain. It’s not that they hurt really. Had anyone else said it, you would have just gotten a bit angry for show. It’s nothing you don’t already know.

The problem is, there isn’t anything you can criticise Jackson for.

Terrible in everything he does, but golden enough to stroll on.

On your way back the water drags the movement of your feet. Most of the water will drain by tomorrow, but you’re small enough that it reaches halfway up your calf. It’s a lot for your size.


June doesn’t stick – or you don’t – but Jackson does, like gum smeared onto the sidewalk. The next day someone else catches your eye. You move on.

You’ve known Misha for just as long as the twins, but you only just notice that she’s pale.

‘What about June?’

You’ve always known what it meant when you and Jackson got into petty fights, but this time his bark struck a chord of fear that you know June understands. Sometimes second is just another way of saying not enough.

You’ve always known what it meant when you and Jackson got into petty fights, but this time his bark struck a chord of fear.

June will forgive you for this.

‘Jackson? You’re gonna leave him alone with Jackson?’

Her eyes aren’t critical and her words aren’t sharp, but it feels like it – like her brows are furrowed and her frown is older. Suddenly your vision twists and twists and twists–

Or it doesn’t.

You were seven once, and it didn’t matter that you had good friends, and a good family, and a good home. You threw away a lot to feel like you fit in.

Now you carry a weight that Nanay can’t poke from your face. You aren’t seven anymore and it isn’t Misha with one last question to ask you. It’s something different, and you don’t know if that makes it better or worse.

Spineless or driven? It asks. You can’t answer, you don’t know. You don’t remember.

You keep saying ‘Something.’ So it tries again.

Someone different. Better? Or worse?