When I was seven my name got put in the red book at primary school. The red book was where all the naughty kids got their names written, and it really felt like something enormous to me. I remember the cement quadrangle enclosed by classrooms on three sides, and a green railing along its perimeter to stop students falling down onto the quad. It was just after school and I was climbing over the railing with my best friend because it was fun to do, and it beat kicking sticks along the ground.
I was just about to straddle the top of the railing when someone screamed out from across the yard. It took me by surprise because I almost fell off, and then I started to feel sick all over because you weren’t allowed to climb the railings, and it hadn’t been one of the kids screaming. Mrs Soro ran over and grabbed both of our arms, pulling us down from the railings and yelling you little japs just don’t listen, you’re in big trouble now. Which confused me because I wasn’t Japanese and neither was my friend, but we didn’t say anything because we were both shitting our pants. You weren’t meant to climb the railings, and we knew we were done.
We were sat down on wooden chairs facing a desk in one of the offices; Mrs Soro sat on the other side and pulled out a black book, which was what they called the red book, from a drawer in her desk. She inked in our names and classes with a red biro and then yelled at us for a long time. But I didn’t hear anything she said, because it didn’t make sense to me why she was so angry, and it all seemed unreasoned. I knew that if I had my name in the red book three times I was gone, because that’s what had happened to Tully. Tully liked to punch people in the face, and every time he punched someone in the face, his name got put in the red book. So when he punched the third person and his name was written down for the third time in the red book, that was actually a black book, I never saw him again. I thought it was pretty shit that I was being done for climbing the railings, because I didn’t think it was the same as punching someone in the face, and now I was just two rail climbing’s from expulsion, or two face punches. I didn’t want to be expelled.
After I had my name put in the red book I walked out of the office and into the school library. I borrowed one of the Tashi novels, put it in my backpack and walked to my house. When Mum came home and saw me reading in the living room, she asked how my day was and I tried to tell her but I couldn’t, and then I was looking down at my shoes, and they were tied in double-knots. Then the room turned black and I was crying, because it all felt really bad. She sat down with her arm around me and kept asking me what was wrong with her little boy, but I was too caught up in crying to respond, and then she patted her stomach and I lay down on it. And that’s what I did for a while, cry on Mum’s stomach. I thought a long time about being in the red book, and about the way Jay had sobbed out of the office and ran home, and why Mrs Soro hated us so much, and it ate me up inside.