As the bell rang, signaling recess time, third-graders Hannah, Justin, and Kathy jumped off their seats and gleefully ran out of the classroom, hoping to get a table at the always-full cafeteria. But when they got there, all the tables were taken. Except for one.
Maira, the new girl in their class, sat alone at the otherwise empty table. She rummaged through her backpack, her eyes downcast. Students passed by and gave her second looks, their gaze focusing on the scarf that was draped around her head, neck, and shoulders.
Maybe we can share a table with Maira, Hannah thought, as she purposefully walked toward their new classmate, Justin and Kathy trailing behind her.
“Hi, Maira! Is it okay if we sit with you?” Hannah asked, giving the girl a friendly smile.
Looking up in surprise, Maira nodded. The three sat down and put their lunchboxes on the table.
“How are you doing so far?” Hannah asked Maira.
“Pretty good… I think.” Maira answered, forcing a smile. “I’m just finding it hard to make new friends,” she added.
“How come?” Kathy wondered, opening her lunchbox. “Everyone here is friendly, you know.”
Maira answered shyly, “It’s just that I feel so different.” She looked around and glanced wistfully at the group of students at another table who were busy giggling and chatting with each other.
“But Teacher Ava says different is good!” Justin said, cutting into Maira’s thoughts.
“Yes!” Hannah chimed in. “By the way, I like your…,” she motioned around her head, then gestured to Maira’s scarf.
“Oh, my headscarf!” Maira brightened up. “Thanks! But my Mom’s is actually prettier.”
Puzzled by what she heard, Kathy paused, then asked, “Everyone in your family wears a headscarf?” she inquired. “But it’s hot!” she said, fanning her neck with her hand.
Maira giggled and explained, “Mom says all the girls in our religion should wear a headscarf.” She smiled, “It’s okay because I feel good wearing it!”
Hannah was about to take a bite of her snack when she suddenly asked, “Oh! You want some of my chicharon?” She handed the packet of salty treat around. Kathy and Justin immediately took a piece each.
Maira politely said, “Thanks, but I don’t eat pork.”
“At least try one!” Justin said, while taking a bite of chicharon. “It tastes really good!”
“We’re not allowed to eat pork in our religion,” Maira shook her head.
“Oh… okay… Hmm…” Kathy mused, before asking, “What can you eat instead? Are you allowed to eat cookies?”
Maira beamed at Kathy’s words. “I love cookies!” She added, “They’re actually my baon today!” She opened her brown paper bag.
“Wow!” Hannah, Justin, and Kathy breathed in the delicious scent of sesame cookies.
“Please have some,” Maira offered. “My grandmother made them,” she added shyly.
“Have some of mine too!” Kathy held out her plastic container of butter cookies.
The cookies were passed around, and the four students munched on the delicious treats. They were starting to enjoy each other’s company when suddenly, the bell rang.
Hannah, Kathy, and Justin quickly stood up. They were walking away from the table when Hannah suddenly turned around. Maira was still seated, slowly zipping up her backpack.
“Well,” Maira said ruefully. “See you in class.”
The three friends looked at each other, confused.
“Of course, we’ll see you,” Hannah finally said. “Aren’t you walking with us?” She asked with a smile.
“Yes!” Maira said, joyfully jumping up and slinging her backpack over a shoulder.
With smiles on their faces, the four friends chatted and laughed as they made their way to the classroom.
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