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|The New Kid Part 1|
11 January 2011
We had just finished the oath when the doors opened. Two truant officers thrust a boy into the room. Ms. Kwan's eyebrows raised.
"Oh! Is this a new mind ready for molding?" she asked.
"That's right!" The boy knocked his head. "Let the molding begin."
The truant officers turned to leave. Then, Ms. Kwan spoke.
"Wait a minute!"
The officers stopped and turned around. What is it? I wondered.
"You're not from the Fire Nation!" Ms. Kwan exclaimed. She walked towards the boy. "Clearly you're from the colonies."
"Yeah, the colonies. Of course. The Fire Nation colonies in the Earth Kingdom." The boy sounded relieved as he said that. What is he hiding?
"Your etiquette is terrible. In the homeland, we bow to our elders. Like so," Ms. Kwan said. She bowed her head and joined her hands together forming a small, stylized flame.
"Sorry, ma'am," he said. He tried to bow, but his hands were messed up. Ms. Kwan tapped his fist with her ferrule disapprovingly.
The boy looked around for help. On Ji caught his eye and showed him the proper technique. I saw and smiled with satisfaction, glad that On Ji was helping him.
Ms. Kwan tapped his head with her furrule. "And we don't wear head coverings indoors."
"Um, I have a scar. It's really embarrassing," the boy said.
He's lying, I thought. I didn't know how I knew; I just did.
Ms. Kwan sighed. "Very well. What is your name. Or should we just call you 'Mannerless Colony Slob'?"
The boy chuckled nervously. "Just 'Slob' is fine." He thought for a moment. "Or, uh...Kuzon." He looked at the class with a smile, catching my eye. I smiled back at him, glad for another friendly soul at school.
Hide and Explode
The school bell rang and I ran out the doors. "Thank goodness for that," I said to Razin, my best friend.
Razin nodded. "What did you think of the new boy?" he asked.
I shrugged. "He seemed nice enough. Up for a game of hide and explode?"
"Totally!" Razin agreed.
"On Ji, you don't have to baby-sit the new kid," Hide said contemptuously.
I turned at the sound of Hide's voice. Who was he picking on today? He was the biggest bully at the school with a handful of mean (but brainless) sidekicks.
"Wow." The boy bowed. "You must be one of those popular kids I've been hearing about."
I arched my eyebrows. It was the new boy from class! He was smart, saying that to Hide when they first met.
"That's right," Hide said. "Now listen, friend...I know you're from the colonies, so I'll say this slowly. On Ji...is...my...girlfriend. Don't forget it." He poked the boy in the chest. Something moved beneath his jacket and Hide glared at him, suspicious.
Finally, Hide walked away, his right arm wrapped around On Ji.
"It was nice meeting you," the boy called after them.
I ran up to him. "I don't believe it. He didn't beat you up! Not even a little," I said, impressed.
The boy shrugged. "I guess I'm just lucky," he said modestly.
"We were on our way to play hide-and-explode. You wanna come?" I asked hopefully.
"I'd love to!" the boy said.
"C'mon," I said excitedly, grabbing his hand. "My name's Shoji. What's your name again?"
"Kuzon," the boy said.
"Great," I said. "Do you know how to play?"
"We didn't play hide-and-explode in the colonies," Kuzon said with a shake of his head.
"Well, I'll teach you," I said. "You've got to find a good hiding spot. Then whoever's exploder comes and tries to find you. If he does–" I stopped in the middle of the sentence as we reached my buddies.
"Hey, guys! This is Kuzon," Shoji said, elbowing him. "He's new. He's gonna play hide-and-explode with us!"
"Hi, Kuzon!" a chorus of voices said.
Kuzon frowned a little. I saw and grinned at him.
"Everything okay, Kuzon?" I asked.
Kuzon shrugged and smiled, but it looked forced. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"You don't look 'fine.' Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Yes! I'm positive!" Kuzon said.
"Okay," I said. "I'm counting!"
Everyone hurried to find hiding spots as I began. "Ten...nine...eight..."
I bounded into my house, sitting at the table and grabbing some sizzle crisps from the plate in the middle. I gobbled them down and looked up to see Mother looking at me, arms crossed a you-seem-different-what's-going-on expression on her face.
"You seem especially happy today, Shoji. What happened?" she asked.
"There's a new boy at school, mother. His name is Kuzon. He played hide-and-explode with us in the park. He...didn't do so good. It was really easy to find him. But he's a really nice guy."
I set his pack on the ground beside me and pulled out a history textbook. History was the most boring subject ever, but I dealed with it anyway. My grade depended on it.
"Mm hmm," she said. "Why'd you explode the colonial before he even knew how to play?"
"I told him how to play!" I said, exasperated.
Mother smiled warmly. "I know, honey. I just love messing with you," she said, ruffling his hair. She walked into the living room. "Your father will be home in a few hours. He has to work late today; preparations are to be made regarding the day of black sun."
"Oh, all right," I said with a sigh. It seemed like Father was staying late every night these days.
"What time would you like dinner?" Mother asked brightly.
"Any time," I replied as I stuffed some more sizzle crisps into my mouth.
Mother smiled a tired, weary smile and headed towards the kitchen.
Why is Mother acting like this? I wondered. She doesn't seem herself this afternoon. What's wrong?
"The boy needs you, dear. He needs a father that's there for him," Mother said.
I blinked, listening to my parents' hushed voices. I had woken at the sound of my father's rough, overused voice. It was distinguishable – and rather loud, no matter how 'quiet' he tried to make it.
"I know, Sari," Father said. "But my job is demanding and face it, we need the money."
"No, Injo. Look around you. We have a luxurious, giant villa. We have servants and guards aplenty, all supplied for us," Mother said.
"Because of my job!" Father exclaimed. "Sari, I need this job! This job has become a part of me. The Fire Nation is feared and powerful! I want to be a part of it! I'm this close to the general!" Shoji could imagine his father showing a tiny space between his thumb and index finger.
"No, Sari. I shall discuss this no longer. I'll be in my quarters."
I whimpered as I heard my father's heavy footsteps get quieter and quieter. I had never heard my parents argue before. Now I was scared.
Recite the Oath
As soon as Ms. Kwan came into the classroom, I rose in unison with the rest of the class, a kind of salute of respect to the teacher.
"Good morning, class. Recite the Fire Nation oath," she instructed.
We turned to the huge portrait of Ozai on the room's rear wall. We bowed and began reciting.
"My life, I give to my country. With my hands, I fight for Fire Lord Ozai and our forefathers before him..." I began.
"Fire Lord...forefathers..." Kuzon said.
He's not the only one uncomfortable with the oath, I thought. After hearing what my father said last night, I wasn't sure of anything. The Fire Nation was feared? I always thought that we started the war 'to spread our greatness,' not conquer the other nations.
"With my mind, I seek ways to better my country, and with my feet..." I continued absentmindedly
"Firebenders...Fire Lord...blah, blah, blah, blah," Kuzon said.
I finished reciting and listened to the helpless giggles that emanated from my classmates. Ms. Kwan scowled and I sat down quickly.
Ms. Kwan stood up and struck the open book in front of her with her ferrule.
"Since it's obviously hilarious to mock our national oath, we'll begin with a pop quiz on our Great March of Civilization."
I groaned and pulled out a paper and pen.
"Question one: what year did Fire Lord Sozin battle the Air Nation Army?" A moment later, she said, "Kuzon?" I turned around in my seat to get a better look at him. He was standing up.
"Is that a trick question? The Air Nomads didn't have a formal military. Sozin defeated them by ambush," he stated.
My mouth dropped open. So much for 'spreading our greatness.' How can you spread greatness to people you killed? It was genocide!
"Well, I don't know how you could possibly know more than our national history book," Ms. Kwan said, flustered. "Unless you were there a hundred years ago," she added angrily.
Kuzon sat down. "I'll just write down my best guess," he said, and scribbled furiously on his paper.
The Tsungi Hornist
Later that day, we had music. The music teacher, Master Zhang, tapped his stand and we began to play.
Next to me was Kuzon, who had a Tsungi horn. For a moment, Kuzon was silent, but suddenly he played a boisterous blast of something like music, dancing in place crazily as he did so. After a few moments of it, I completely stopped playing.
"Kuzon?" Master Zhang said.
Kuzon stopped playing and sighed. I felt sorry for him. He was in trouble now. "I know. I'm a terrible Tsungi hornist," he said dismally.
"No, child," Master Zhang said with a shake of his head. He pointed at Kuzon's feet with his baton. "That hullabaloo going on with your feet. Is that a nervous disorder?"
"I was just dancing. You do dances here in the homeland, right?"
"Not really, no," I said.
Master Zhang began walking over to the window. "Dancing is not conducive to a proper learning environment. Young people must have rigit discipline and order."
"But what about expressing yourself?" Kuzon asked.
Master Zhang sighed. He walked back towards his stand. "I know sometimes we're so moved by our love for our nation, that we can't control our own bodies." He clapped his hand to his face and thought. "If you must, you may march in place quietly next time the urge hits you."
Master Zhang waved his baton again and we played again. Beside me, Kuzon marched quietly in place, not as happy as he was before.
The Horrible Hide
After music was recess. I hurried to catch up with Kuzon, but stopped a couple feet away when On Ji approached him.
"Oh, hi, Kuzon. I really liked that crazy dance you were doing," she said somewhat bashfully.
"Thanks, On Ji. I could show it you again, if you'd like," he offered.
Suddenly, a blast of fire hit Kuzon. I already knew who sent it. I looked over to see Hide frowning on the other side of the yard.
"What'd you say, colony trash? You're gonna show her something?" he asked menacingly as he came over.
"Just some dance movements," Kuzon said dismissively.
This was just the beginning. I was waiting nervously for the volcano to erupt.
"Nobody shows my On Ji anything, especially movements," Hide said aggressively.Suddenly, Hide lunged at Kuzon. Kuzon stepped out of the way quickly. Hide tried again and again to land a blow, but Kuzon was too quick and agile to be caught. Finally, propelled by his own momentum, Hide falls on the ground. By this time, a thick ring of students had formed around the fight.
The School Headmaster approached the scene. Seeing Hide, his star pupil, lying on the ground sniffling, he assumed Kuzon attacked him.
"Picking fights on your second day? We need to have a conference to discuss your punishment. Bring your parents to my office after school," the headmaster said.
"Don't be late," the headmaster said. A bell rang. Recess was over. I walked inside, worried about Kuzon and his horrible predicament.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Shoji's Journey Chapters|
|Book 1: Fire|
|The New Kid Part 1 - The New Kid Part 2 - On Ji - The Firebending Master - Deception - The Runaways - The Yu Yan Archers - Second Act - Stowaways - The Trap|
|Book 2: Air|
|Song - The First Battle|