I'm Sorry, What Was That? (Samuel Dennis)

“WOAH!”, the class exclaimed

“Settle down, settle down! Now, ‘Menduyarka’ said that he is from Seattle, and he obviously pronounces some words differently from the way we do here in Philadelphia. Let’s keep our requests low, for he is a new student.”

I noded my head up and down frequently to agree with all of her statements. I began to believe that “my way of speaking” is going to be one way that I’ll be able to make friends.

“Can you say bag!?”, a boy exclaimed, impatient to wait his turn.

“Beg? Why do you want me to say that?”, I responded.

Everyone’s mouth gaped open as they began to realize the whimsical difference between my voice and theirs. I covered my mouth, as if I had just provoked a pack of lions. I was frightened, I didn’t know what to do. I stood still, hoping I would crash through the floor.

Everyone began a chorus of laughter as tears swept down my face. From that point on, I became an outsider in my school.

With every time I would try and show them my true self, I would become degraded to something lesser than being human.

“I wanna play!”, I would scream, approaching a group of boys about to play a game of football.

“Go away! We don’t want you to join us, ‘beg’ kid. You won’t understand our calls anyway.”, they responded.

“Stop calling me that! I just want to play with you guys!”

With fast movements, I ducked just in time before a football pelted my head. As I got up slowly, I had seen that everyone was looking at me with demon eyes, piercing right through my anatomy. They didn’t like me. They wanted nothing to do with me, so I didn’t bother them. I left with my head held downwards, watching my feet for every step I took. It was official. I was an outsider.

“The accent of one's birthplace persists in the mind and heart as much as in speech.”, said by La Rochefoucauld. Being a Seattleite, with a home filled with West Africans and a number of Eastern Asians, it was inevitable for my words to become altered in some way. Since I didn’t grow to have an African accent, my accent from Seattle became so unknowing that I didn’t feel like I had an accent at all. Even after moving to Philadelphia, my words had become a mixture of every part of my heritage. It seemed that my nightmare wasn’t going to end. I began to conceal my pronunciation of some words, and ceased my participation altogether. Just so I could learn by ear, and hear others before I said anything that will get me degraded again.

“What would you like?”, the lunch lady stated, too bored to stand behind the counter for the next 2 hours.

“Cereal, aaaaaand. Oh! Can I have the baggle?”, I asked.

“Cereal and the what?”

“The baggle… “. I try to point to the pile of circular bread behind her, but I am cut off by her telling me to step out of line and wait.

As time goes on, I realize that everyone has progressed in the line, and the bagels have disappeared onto everyone’s own trays. Everyone’s, but my own..

Eventually, the lunch lady exited her shift and walks over to talk to me about what I had said.

“What were you saying back there?”, she said.

“I just wanted a baggle.”, I responded, tears beginning to form in my eyes.

She looked very confused, and didn’t seem to try and put the pieces together. While trying to fight back the tears, I pointed towards the empty basket behind her. She followed my finger to the basket, her facial expression changed instantly. She stared at me for a relatively long time. Long enough for me to think about what I could’ve possibly done to deserve something like this, She returned inside the cafeteria kitchen and grabbed a frozen bag of bagels. While returning to me, she muttered words that resembled those of “Can’t even pronounce damn ‘bagels’”. The tears I tried to hide continuously fell and those words rang in my ear. I ran out of the cafeteria. It was only the first day.

You’d begin to think of yourself as a monster. An outcast. No one can understand what you say or want ,and you can only accept it. You then have to live with what you get. A plethora of “huh’s” and “what’s” that trigger somethign your mind to restate something so completely obvious to you, but so oblivious to them. You’re left alone to think to yourself, “What’s wrong with you? What did you do that made everyone despise you?”, when the only thing you really did was grow up in a different environment. A different world. You have no clue on where to go next.

Until you meet someone who does understand. Someone who gets what you have to go through. Someone who can be your Clark Kent, and save you in desperate times when you have no hope left. Someone who can help you out. When you need it the most.

Later that week, there was another new student whose family derived from Cambodia. Her name was Sarina Kun, and English wasn’t her main language at all. She was introduced to the class with her hair over her face. After scanning the classroom, everyone was more scared than intrigued.

“Everyone, this is ‘Sah-REE-Nah’. She’ll be your new classmate from here on out.”

She patted Sarina on the back, and she was pushed forwards a little. With that movement, everyone slided back in their seats.

“Go on, ‘Sa-REE-Nah’. Take a seat near Cory and we can begin class today.”

“Hello there. I am Sarina. It is nice to meet you all of you”.

“Im sorry. What was that, Sarina?”

“N-Nevermind. I said nothing of all… ”

Sarina was born in Cambodia and was almost murdered by her mother. Afterwards, while living with her father, she moved to America to remove all contact with her. Sarina began to learn English in old, worn out textbooks that her father had collected while back at Cambodia. It wasn’t perfect, but her English  was good enough to have simple conversations.

After being paired with Sarina for multiple projects and classwork assignments, I began to understand her more and more of how she dealt with things. After years of being with her, I watched her pronounce English words that I can’t, gain a beautiful singing voice, and making connections of her own life to mine. Both being profiled from where we grew up, we became alone, and eventually wound up talking to one another. With our differences, we persevered to merge within our own society, and we became who we are now. With the influences of those from school, but also from the influences of each other. My home, my family, my school, and Sarina taught me how to be me.

Comments (2)

Cindy Chen (Student 2018)
Cindy Chen

I learned that the author speaks differently than the others and how this affect his life. From reading this, I can tell that the author became who he is today with the experience of being different. The author realized that no matter how different he is, he can't change who he is. I like the nice written dialogue and how you start off with an interesting quote. Good Job!

Paul-Ann Whyte (Student 2018)
Paul-Ann Whyte

1.) I learned that Sam's real name is Menduyarka and that he is from Seattle. 2.) The big understanding that I got from this piece is that no matter how hard it is to be different, you just got to stay true t yourself 3.) I liked his various dialogues that kept the story interesting.