Our newest student stood shyly at the front of the class and introduced herself. ‘My name is Cherry Blossom,’ she said.
Ben Adams smirked and began to snigger. I knew the whole class would quickly follow so gave him ‘the look’, a stare I’d perfected over three decades of teaching, with the power of silencing even the naughtiest child.
‘Let’s all welcome Cherry,’ I said. Applause and greetings followed. I knew some of Cherry’s story. An orphaned refugee from Myanmar, I guessed she’d been given the name by someone with the misguided assumption that her birth name would cause her to stand out. Someone who also mistakenly believed that all Asian people looked alike. ‘Cherry Blossom’ was hardly likely to allow her to blend in, and Myanmar is a long way from Japan where the Cherry Blossom is the National flower.
Although the children included Cherry in all their playtime activities, I often noticed a sad faraway look in her eyes. Understandable considering all she must have been through. I hoped, with time, the pain of her past would abate.
Whenever a child had a birthday, parents supplied cupcakes and the class sang Happy Birthday. During one such celebration I noticed tears flowing down Cherry’s cheeks.
I immediately went to her and asked what was the matter. In halting English she told me she couldn’t remember ever having a birthday. Her parents died when she was three and no one knew her date of birth.
All the children fell silent.
‘I think tomorrow would be a good day for Cherry’s birthday,’ Ben blurted suddenly.
The other children nodded and I promised to bring cupcakes the following day.
I was unprepared for the sight that met me when I reached the classroom the next morning.
Ben and his friends had decorated the room with balloons and streamers, and every child had brought in birthday treats and presents.
Cherry cried again… happy tears!
And just when I thought the day couldn’t be more perfect, Ben produced a branch laden with flowers.
‘It’s Cherry Blossom,’ he grinned. ‘Beautiful, just like our Cherry.’