Purple One Eyed Space Snake
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"Christopher is a purple one-eyed space snake!"

"Yeah, Christopher! You're a one-eyed purple space snake!"

Most days, Chris was used to the jeers of his classmates. After all, he was the new kid, and what was new was different. It was only human nature, his mother had told him. The teasing would eventually stop, and he'd start to make friends. Christopher knew that.

Most days, anyway.

Today was different. Something about their taunts struck a nerve. They were just a little too familiar, hitting just a little too close to home. Chris saw red.

"Ma'am, I understand that you're upset, but you need to realize that those kids could have been seriously hurt. Your son…"

The principal was interrupted by the indignant response of Chris's mother.

"He's just a kid! These little bastards have been harassing him for months! I try to be strong for him, but… I mean, come on! You're lucky they didn't hit first or you'd have a lawsuit on your… hands. Yeah, that's it. Lawsuit on your hands."

"Ma'am, I appreciate your discretion to this point. We all do. The school, I mean. Nobody wants a story on 'classroom xenophobia' in the next Tribune." The principal leaned back in her seat. "I'll tell you what," she started, clasping her hands together and pointing two fingers at the woman sitting across from her. "We're going to put on an assembly about cultural tolerance. Nothing flashy, maybe some older transfers talk about their experiences a bit, then maybe Chris could say a few words."

Chris's mother didn't say anything, but her brow furrowed slightly. She was listening.

"Look, I don't want to get Chris in trouble. I know he didn't mean to react that way, and between you and me, they had it coming."

"Really," came the disbelieving reply.

"Really. I'm just as fed up with the intolerance your people deal with as you are, and we both know it starts with the parents."

Chris's mother shifted up her seat.

"Bottom line is, if I don't file a report on this, which neither of us want me to do, I still need to make this right. And to make this right without a report, I need your continued…discretion."

Chris's mother went a beat without responding. The principal could tell she was a woman who considered her actions and words carefully. A defense mechanism, perhaps?

"All right," she hissed.

"Great. I can let you sign Chris out now, or…"

"He can take the bus home. No different than any other day."

The principal made good on her proposal three days later. Towards the end of the day, once classes had all but wrapped up, the final thirty minutes had been allotted towards an assembly. Four hundred students, most in the first through fifth grades, filed into the auditorium that for most of the day served as a cafeteria. Even as their teachers made efforts to shush them, there was a low murmur rumbling among the students. Most of them couldn't even spell "cross-cultural tolerance", and fewer knew precisely what it meant.


The principal's voice boomed across the auditorium, generating a visible wince across a wide swath of her visible audience.

"Whoops! Too loud!", she remarked apologetically, fiddling with a dial on the microphone to adjust its volume. "Please, stay in your seats. Today, we're going to be talking about cross-cultural tolerance. Can anyone tell me what that means?"

The principal waited. No one dared raise their hand - no surprise there. She was never the adventurous type herself when she was in their shoes.

"That's all right. Cross-cultural tolerance is when we make an effort to understand people who aren't from where we live. In other places," she elaborated, "people might look different than we do, or speak a different language, or eat different food. None of these things are bad, and if anything they make us better when we learn about them."

The principal took the moment of contemplative silence that followed to introduce a fifth grader who had emigrated from China the previous year. She said a few words about learning to fit in, followed by polite applause. Then it was the Canadian boy, the twins from Guatemala, and then the French teacher, himself a first-generation immigrant. Finally, it was Chris's turn.

At the principal's prompting, Chris uncoiled himself from his folding chair placed at the edge of the stage, dropped to the floor, and slithered over to microphone. He raised an appropriate length of his body so that his mouth was level with the input, looked out to the audience, and blinked the solitary eye in the center of his head.

"Yeah, so… My name isn't 'Christopher'. It's ChrisΣopher. With a ssssigma. I'd appreciate it if you used the right name. Thank you."

ChrisΣopher blinked his eye again, lowered his head to the ground, and slithered back to his seat.

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