Miriam Bonetti – Mukarib

My name is Mukarib, but everyone calls me Mucca. Not Muka, but Mucca[1], just as the animal who lives in the barn and makes milk. In Italy everybody is used to shorten names. But Mucca…
I tried to point out the fact that I don’t like it, but nobody listens to me. Even Miss Salvini tried to convince me that Mucca is just a nickname, but when they call me that I get angry, even if I try holding back.
I was born in Italy, but this isn’t my country. Neither is Pakistan, actually: when I go there on holiday, people tell me I’m Italian. And I will always be a stranger here, even if only for my olive complexion and jet-black hair.  I am aware of people’s concerned looks on me when I enter a crowded place or in an airport: in  check-in queue everybody keeps their distance. Do they think I am carrying a bomb? Do they think they can save themselves from an explosion by staying away from me?
At school I don’t have many friends. Boys don’t take me into consideration because I can’t play football. And girls keep to themselves. They watch and gossip. They have something to say about everything, yet they find a fault in anything. They show off, they exchange comments and giggling and, when someone comes close, they stop talking.
Today I came home with a black eye.
At break, in the playground, my classmates play football. This morning, Luca, who usually stays in goal, was at home sick and therefore Andrea asked me if I wanted to replace him. In goal you don’t have to run and you don’t have to kick the ball. I thought that maybe I could have done it. Playing with Andrea and his friends is always a risk. Andrea plays as striker in a little league of the Inter football club and he never wants to lose. I don’t like him very much. Whenever we bump into each other in the street he doesn’t say hello and he neither takes notice of me in class, unless he needs something. He never has drawing paper and he always asks me to borrow it. He tells me he will give it back to me, but he never does. When he grows up he will be a footballer and, as you don’t need to study in order to become one, he is no good at school.  He forces me to give him my homework and to let him copy my test papers at school. If I say no, he waits for me at the bike storage room. Once he deflated my bike’s tyres, another time he slashed them. Someone had it even worse. Luca brings him a snack every morning, even if it is useless since Andrea never misses a chance to make fun of him and to humiliate him for being too fat. He says that he lets him be goalie because people would mistake him for the ball on the pitch. Girls, who are always a little stupid, dote on Andrea. They say he’s cool and that when he grows up he will have a lot of money.
Throughout the entire match I handled it fine, I even did a couple of saves and Andrea complimented me.  There was only a minute left to the end of break when the PE teacher already called us. Andrea said: «Let’s finish the action and then we go».
I don’t like to be late at all and I wanted to stop playing immediately also because the teacher would punish us if we were late in the gym.
«You’re such a chicken, Mucca! Don’t move or else I will wait for you at the bike storage room!», Andrea challenged me.
Marco dribbled and shot. Marco plays football too. He is not as good as Andrea, but in the village team he always scores.
I saw the ball, I stopped it, but the shot was mighty. The ball slipped through my fingers, got into the goal and we lost.
«Muuucca!», shouted Andrea. «You’re such a cow at playing football!»
«You are a cow», I answered.
I wish I’d never done that. The teacher was calling us, but Andrea turned around and told me: «Meet me at the storage room!»
I don’t know what came over me, but I answered: «Why wait?», and, without knowing how, I jumped on him. Andrea is taller and more well-built than me and he punched me in the eye, but I fought back too and I gave him a scratch on his face.
When we got in the gym the teacher asked us what we had done, but both of us answered: «Nothing. It’s just a scratch.»
She didn’t believe us, but she began the class as if nothing had actually happened.

*     *     *

Today, on the way home from school, I cried.  My mom must have noticed it, even if she said nothing. She gave me lunch and she asked me how it went.
It wasn’t a good day at all. While walking into the classroom Ms. Salvini said: «Yesterday Mukarib hit Andrea.»
I wondered how she knew about it, since he wasn’t even there. Maybe this morning Andrea’s mom has come to school to complain about it, before classes start. I know what moms do: when something happens, they spend the whole afternoon on the phone with the other parents, they agree with each other and then they scream at the teacher claiming that their children are protected.  Coincidentally, the moms of the nastiest ones are always the most assertive.
Ms. Salvini said that I deserved to be punished and that she would have send me to the principal. I couldn’t believe my ears and I was blown away while Andrea was gloating. She didn’t even ask us what had actually happened, which is rich from someone who claims to be proud of educating citizens of the future who will be better than those of the present. If she would just be a teacher what would she say? Would she say that I stink and that my dad takes Italian people’s jobs? And that I am a parasite like every immigrant?
Then Marco raised his hand and said: «But Miss, it wasn’t just Mucca’s fault!»
I started breathing again and for once I didn’t find my nickname that bad. Andrea stopped smiling. Miss Salvini asked Marco to tell the principal everything. Andrea glowered at Marco and slipped his right thumb on the base of his neck. Then Marco said that maybe he was wrong.
Miss Salvini seemed satisfied. She opened the book and said: «The citizenship class is over. Let’s begin with the history class.»

[1] Mucca’ is the Italian word for ‘cow’

Translation by Barbara Pellegrini (edited by Sabrina Macchi)