Twelve-year-old Rachana was anxious as she entered her new class. The teacher gave her a reassuring smile, but it did not settle the butterflies in her stomach. She walked to the front of the classroom when her teacher gestured her to speak. She cleared her parched throat that had gone dry from nervousness. “Hello everyone, I’m Rachana. Pleased to meet you all.”
Rachana saw a few friendly faces in the room; however, her heart sank when she saw some of them talking loudly to each other. “I heard the new girl is deaf. What is she doing in a regular school?”
Dejected, Rachana sat in her assigned seat. She was losing hope of making new friends. Rachana sighed inwardly as she recalled how she had pleaded with her parents to let her go to school. She was tired of being home-schooled and wanted to experience the joys of being a regular student. Besides, her doctor had certified her capable of managing on her own after her recent cochlear implant.
Rachana was not paying attention to what the teacher was saying. Maybe I am not fit to be in a regular school. She was lost in thought when her neighbor with short, light brown hair and glasses tapped her on the shoulder. “Hi, I’m Liv. I love your plaits. You have such luscious long hair, and I’m so jealous.”
Rachana turned to Liv and whispered. “Thanks. I love your wavy hair as well. I’ve always wanted curls, and I don’t like my straight hair. I’m Rachana.”
The teacher glared at Liv and Rachana because they were conversing during class. Liv sent Rachana a note, ‘Let’s be friends. We can talk more during the break today.’
Rachana smiled at the note. At least, I made one friend, she thought. Rachana handed Liv a reply, ‘Glad to be your friend. Can’t wait to talk more.’
During recess, Rachana and Liv roamed around the school campus. Liv turned to Rachana. “Is it true that you have trouble hearing? Do you have an interpreter to help you?”
“I can’t hear low noises such as the rustling of leaves. I can listen to the teacher in class and to people when they are talking to me. That’s why I don’t need an interpreter. Also, I’m practicing speechreading and try to read lip movement,” Rachana answered Liv.
“Wow,” Liv exclaimed. “You’re so cool. I was scared I made you uncomfortable by asking that question. Speculations are going around that you’re totally deaf and don’t belong here.” She slapped her hand on her mouth when she realized she could hurt Rachana with her words. “Sorry. That didn’t come out right.”
Rachana shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. I’m alright. When our classmates get to know me, the rumors will die down.”
Liv smiled at Rachana, relieved. “I agree. The upcoming class trip next week will help you make more friends.”
The rest of the week flew by because Rachana was busy with classes, homework, and tests. She didn’t have time to think about the class picnic on the following Monday until the weekend. On Saturday, Rachana and Liv shopped together for the pot luck ingredients. Each student in their class had to bring a dish from their culture, and the classmates would share them.
“I’m getting aloo paratha. It’s an Indian flatbread filled with spicy potatoes. We eat it with yogurt and butter,” Rachana explained to Liv. “But I like it with ketchup.”
“Sounds yum,” Liv replied. “I’m bringing my mother’s special potato salad. Hey, we both are getting potato dishes. Should one of us change?”
Rachana shook her head. “I don’t think so. There’s no such thing as too much potato.”
Both of them laughed at Rachana’s statement and bought the required items for their food. They spent the weekend in each other’s houses helping their parents with the cooking. On Monday, Rachana and her classmates rode the school bus to their picnic spot, a bird park. When they reached, the students were paired up and had to share the binoculars while birdwatching.
Rachana and her partner Liv had fun observing the birds, drawing them, and identifying them. The two used their phones to record various bird calls and photograph them. During the break, Rachana accompanied Liv to the bathroom. While waiting for Liv, Rachana used the binoculars to see if she could spot any more small creatures. She let out a gasp when something caught her eye. “Oh my Goodness.”
“What happened?” Liv asked, concerned about the fear in her friend’s coffee-brown eyes.
“I saw two men plotting to rob someone. I could lipread the words’ mug,’ ‘wallet,’ and ‘wheelchair,'” Rachana explained. “They are heading toward the lake.”
Liv’s blue eyes widened in surprise. She grabbed Rachana’s hands. “Come on, let’s go and try to save this person.”
Both of them ran toward the lake inside the bird park. Rachana tried to identify the muggers among the people in the area. One of them was wearing a bright green shirt, which would be easy to spot. Besides, there weren’t many tourists near the lake that afternoon as it was a weekday. Rachana’s schoolmates were in the indoor lunch hall not far away. After a few minutes, she pointed toward two men approaching an old lady in a wheelchair who was alone. “We need to hurry, Liv. That’s them.”
Taking advantage of the secluded area, the two thugs threatened the elderly woman with a knife. Liv leaped into the air and kicked the knife out of the mugger’s hand. Rachana screamed loudly for help before the thieves could attack them. Startled, the two men tried to escape, but the lady in the wheelchair hit them in the legs with stones.
The thieves yelled in pain but continued to run. Liv chased after them while Rachana called the emergency number, 911. Hearing the commotion, Rachana’s classmates rushed to the place and blocked all exits so that the thugs couldn’t get away. Together with the teachers, they caught the muggers and held them tightly until the police arrived.
The police arrived shortly and arrested the two criminals. The elderly woman thanked Rachana and Liv for saving her. The teachers and the students huddled around Rachana and Liv. “You did a great job today. Liv, it was brave of you to use your Judo skills to rescue Ms. Jones.”
Liv shook her head at her teacher’s compliment and pointed to Rachana. “Her presence of mind saved the day. She read the muggers’ lips and sensed something was wrong.”
“That was quick thinking, Rachana,” the teacher appreciated her. “You have a special gift.”
Rachana beamed as her classmates looked at her in admiral and praised her. ‘You’re a genius, will you be my friend?’ ‘lipreading sounds interesting. Can you teach me too?’ ‘You deserve a reward for your feat today.’
Rachana’s teacher interrupted her excited students’ chatter. “Why don’t we all go back and enjoy our lunch?”
Rachana, Liv, and their classmates headed back to the lunch hall. Everyone wanted to share their dish with Rachana and talk to her. She was no longer alienated for being the abnormal, new student.
I do fit in a regular school; after all, Rachana smiled to herself.
Note: This story was originally published in a children’s magazine many years ago. I am the author of this story and have revised it for my blog.