I was late for the bell that day. But no one noticed since Mrs Wang was busy introducing a new kid. There were sixty five of us in class, so that made Yun number sixty six.
Mrs Wang went through her usual spiel: "Yun - ... from Shanghai...help welcome her..."
I paid little attention, scrutinizing the new girl instead. She was tall for a kid our age, her cheeks sunken like the valley of dooms. Most of her shaggy hair had escaped the pigtails dangling by her shoulders. From what I could see, her slit thin eyes were the color of rain clouds, a translucent yet shadowy gray. I choked when I caught Mrs Wang saying: "her name meant 'Winter Clouds'...".
She came and sat in the empty chair next to me before I could protest. I bunched up my nose and scooched onto the far side of my chair. She smelled like she hadn't met a shower.
Lu, the boy who sat behind me whispered: "what the heck is that smell? And look at her hair, she looks like she just ran out of a mental hospital!"
I tilted forward on my chair and leaned into my desk, cupping my face with my hands.
Lu had a hard time sitting still. He tossed a paper airplane at me when Mrs Wang wasn't looking. Then he patted me on the shoulder. "Hey, leaky spoon, give this to the new kid." he pointed his chin towards Yun, his cheeks giggling a bit. I couldn't see what he was holding, his hands caked in some kind of oil so I shrank from his touch.
He called me leaky whatever because I dropped some rice on the floor on my first day during lunch.
"Leaky spoon, leaky spoon, can't keep rice in your broom!"
He made no sense but the whole room laughed and pointed at me and my "leaky" rice spoon. I was starting to cry then I decided not to. His belly spilled onto his thighs and he whizzed as he stuffed his face with candies, dumplings and twice fried pork. People laughed at me but just for a moment, they ignored him most of the time unless he offered treats as bribes. I made up names for him in my head that day, like jelly bubbles and pork bellies but I decided not to call it out.
Now he tipped his chair onto two legs as he often did until they squeaked, tapping on my shoulder incessantly. Finally I turned and shook my fingers at him.
"No talking Ling!" Mrs Wang's voice jolted me from my chair. I wanted to kick myself.
"I wasn't talking..." I mumbled, studying the black corduroy surface of my ugly winter shoes.
"No talking in class. Good student or not. No exceptions. Follow good examples, not bad." She glared at Lu when she said "bad", as if I would have considered the possibility.
Lu wiggled his feet forward into the space under my chair, making suckling noises just loud enough for me to hear. I leaned back hard, pointing towards his feet hoping for a smash hit. But he shrank back faster and I missed them narrowly.
Once Mrs Wang asked him to stand in the corner of the class for pushing another student into a large puddle. He cursed and cried and flung his arms at her. Mrs Wang shoved him into the corner anyway so he convulsed with his eyes rolling into the back of his head, foaming at the mouth and finally peed into his pants. His mom shrieked at the principal when she stumped into the teacher's office to pick him up that day. She shouted something about her husband who worked at the government bureau would "see to things" and "fix or transfer" any "ill-behaving teachers". She had painted her face milky white and she stood almost a head taller than Mrs Wang, especially with her shiny hair piled high like a bird's nest. The principle hovered around her getting her tea and biscuits, nodding and smiling until she sat down and glared at Mrs. Wang with satisfaction, who stood around them silently, her face rigid and steely like a statue.
After that Mrs Wang ignored Lu when she could. By the end of the semester they decided to put him in the back of the class so he could "have all the freedom his special dispositions would require."
At recess Mrs Wang ran to her office for a cup of hot tea and some quality time with the stove in the teacher's lounge. The minute her back was turned, Lu trudged up to Yun's desk, whistling and lolling his head as if he was checking out the stalls in the afternoon market. Yun looked up, only to find him swiping his arm and pushing all her books and pencils to the ground. He studied at her face, discovering how her eyelids folded her eyes into strange triangles. He shouted: "Oh god! Look at those triangular eyes. Yuck. What a witch and a freak!" He jammed a dimpled finger into her thin lashes, spit flying into her hair and her desk as his talked. As students shuffled by, he waved two other boys over to join the taunt, drawing circles around her face and pointing so that others could see the angry shape of her eyes, the mad tangles in her hair and how she chewed on her lips. They pressed closer as Yun stood up to leave, walling her in.
Yun's chest went up and down fast but she didn't say a word. As she caught sight of Lu laughing hard and his stance slacking, she punched his face until it snapped hard. He lost his balance and stumbled back several steps, giving Yun the chance to leap onto her chair and over her desk. She ran into the school yard, a stick figure in motion, hair floating behind her like a flag. The wind whipped us hard, but it seemed to carry her as she threaded through the various groups jumping ropes or playing tags. The boys chased her to the edge of the grounds and back. Lu huffed in exhaustion after one lap and hunched over his knees.
"Two White Rabbits!" He shouted the name of that coveted (yet often unobtainable) candy to the other boys. He waved them forward like a wounded commander charging his troops ahead. They pursued the gray shadow that was Yun in motion but the bell rang, when one of them slipped on a patch of ice and the other one slowed down to watch his steps.
"She really is a witch!" He said.
We were all happy to hear the bell and see Mrs Wang return to the classroom. Yun slipped in a minute later, smelling worse for the sweat sticking to her hair and dripping down her face.