By Colin Peters
Content Warning: Violence against a child.
The heels of my black school shoes dragged behind me through the tan bark of the adventure playground.
These shoes. They were my favourite thing about school. They had tiger paws printed on the sole so that when you walked through sand they left a paw print behind.
Pugmarks—my father had taught me. Pug means foot in Hindi. In India, villagers would use pugmarks to track rogue tigers. The ones that ventured too close. That didn’t belong.
My feet struggled to find purchase in the dirt.
“Drag him up the back of the ovals,” one of three older boys spat. Two of them had me by the wrists.
My brown arms contrasted the white of theirs. Failed to break their grip.
The two boys did as they were told – dragging me away into a space between a line of trees and the cyclone fencing that bordered one side of the oval. They pushed me to the ground. Hands across my mouth silenced any resistance. They punched me. They must have been in grade five or six. I was powerless.
These were my first weeks of primary school. Amidst the last throes of summer and the last year of the 1970s. The shadow of the White Australia Policy stretched long.
I frantically scanned for help. A teacher. A friend.
There was none.
I heard grass being ripped from the ground.
“Eat the grass, you fucking animal!” the one in charge ordered. The taste of dirt and grass and grit entered my mouth.
Somehow, I wrestled free of the hands that held me down.
Springing to my feet, my shoes taking hold in the earth beneath me.
Pugmarks in the sand.