It was half-way through S2 and a new boy had just joined my class. His name was Thato. He had just moved from South Africa. I still remember the first time I met him. It was before school started and I had been called into the Headteachers office to be introduced to him. I was supposed to be friendly to him, show him around the school and make sure he didn’t get lost. I didn’t do any of those things.

After school had ended I was walking home with some friends when we passed Thato walking by himself a little ahead of us, listening to music.

One of my friends, James, smirked and said “Watch this”

He walked up to Thato, flew his arm around him, pulling him close and tugging out his earphones.

“What the hell, man” Thato said.

James then put Thato into a tight headlock.

“I’ll let go when you say it”

Thato grabbed James arm and tried to make stop.

“Stop man!” he shouted and it sounded like James was really choking him.

I know I should’ve stopped James, should’ve ran to help Thato, should’ve told someone about what happened but I didn’t. I just stood there watching as James beat up the kid and my friends cheered him on.

“Say it” James said through gritted teeth.

“No!” he screamed, “It’s not funny!”

I saw James use his free hand to fish Thato’s phone out his pocket.

“Say it” James repeated, getting annoyed.

Thato stayed quiet. Whatever James wanted him to do clearly bothered Thato. James threw Thato’s phone straight down on the ground, smashing the screen. Thato, who was still struggling, immediately stopped in defeat.

“Book” replied Thato angrily.

James released Thato, pushed him onto the ground and started to laugh. He turned to face us.

“Did you hear how he said ‘book’? He said it in class earlier. His accent sounds so weird!”

For the rest of the year, James would always pick on Thato any chance he got. Singling him out because of the colour of the skin and the way he said certain words. I never stopped James and would occasionally join in. Thato never made any friends at that school because of James.

Looking back now, if I had a second chance, I would have stopped James that first day. If he didn’t stop bullying Thato, I would’ve spent all my time trying to get him to. But I was scared. I didn’t take my chance to make things right. I was too afraid that James would start to bully me, to make my life a living hell as well as Thato’s that I didn’t intervene. I was a bystander and sometimes that’s even worse than the perpetrator.

At the end of the school year, my parents told me that we were moving to Japan. I didn’t really know the language, I had practiced all summer but I still only knew a couple of phrases and basic sentences. When it was the first day of school, I stayed quiet, avoided answering any questions and mainly just focused on trying to understand what the teachers were saying.

At break, I was approached by a group of boys. I didn’t really understand what they were talking about but it was obvious enough that they were making fun of me. I understood what they were saying when they said I was dumb because I couldn’t even speak their language and how my accent was weird. For the next couple of weeks, I was getting bullied by these boys. They didn’t try to hide the fact that they were bullying me yet no one stopped to help me. No one told them that what they were doing was wrong. No one told them to stop. Like how no one told James to stop.

The first time I got completely beaten up by the gang was when I was in a park alone. I was just swinging on one of the swings when the group’s leader Aiko approached me. He asked me in painfully slow Japanese, to imply that I couldn’t understand him if he went any faster, if I lived with sheep and ate haggis all the time because I was Scottish.

I remember replying that I ate haggis as much as he ate Sushi. So yes, constantly. Aiko got extremely angry and he punched me in my face. In surprise, I fell off the swing backwards but before I could stand back up, the rest of his gang had arrived and was kicking me on the ground.

At that exact moment, I remembered Thato. How this was what we did to him. We’d done the exact same. James were mean and racist and I didn’t do anything about it. I joined in in fear of being left out. So I lay there, being beat up because of where I came from and I realised how dumb this world is. That people die because of their race or religion.

After ten minutes of being kicked in the stomach, I heard a powerful voice.


The gang turned to see who it belonged to. A boy was standing there holding a phone.

“If you don’t leave him alone I’ll call the police” he said.

Just like that, the boys were gone. They never bullied me again. I thanked the boy and he told me that he didn’t do it for me but because it was right. His name was Bunko and he became my new best friend. Now, whenever I think of Thato, I think of one quote.

What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again. – Anne Frank

That’s why I ended up calling Thato to apologize. That’s why I called James, to tell him that what he did was wrong. That’s why now, whenever I think about that night in the park I am thankful that Bunko was there to teach me that what I did was wrong.

By NIAMH, 13.

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