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“New Neighbours”

One of the first short stories that I wrote when I started my Bachelor of Writing was called ‘New Neighbours’. The goal of the assignment was to base our writing on a true story.
I chose to base my short story off stories that my Mum would tell about her childhood experiences with Vietnamese refugee families in Sydney.
Though I wrote the original short story in 2018, I have updated it to reflect my growing writing skills.

***

New Neighbours

Lori Shepherd, a seven-year-old girl living in Cabramatta, Sydney, did not like meeting new people. However, Lori’s mother insisted that she must come along to meet the new people that her father had helped move into the neighbourhood. Her mother explained that they were a Vietnamese family that had just moved to Australia and that Lori should be very polite and welcoming towards them. Though she hadn’t met them yet, Lori didn’t like her new neighbours. After all, she was pulled from playing with her newest doll just to go and see them. Sulkily, Lori followed along behind her mother, as they walked toward the house of the newcomers.

When she first saw their house in the distance, Lori could see that there was something hanging from the veranda. Maybe they’re decorating for Christmas really early, she thought. As the pair moved closer to the house, Lori gasped as she noticed that it was not a few large Christmas decorations but several lifeless ducks dangling from the gutter. Lori’s mother guided her forward, assuring her that they weren’t going to hurt her. Still, Lori stared into the glazed eyes of the nearest duck as she passed, afraid that it would fall on her head.

When they reached the door, a woman greeted them warmly. “Welcome back to our home, Mother Judith! And hello there Lori, my name is Khin.” Addressing her feet, Lori muttered a greeting, playing with the hem of her blouse. Khin ran her fingers over Lori’s hair. “You have such white blonde hair! And look at those cute chubby cheeks!” Khin squeezed Lori’s cheeks, in awe of things that seemed commonplace to Lori. I’m not the only one with chubby cheeks, she thought sulkily to herself. Before she could frown, her mother caught her eye. Lori could recall a lecture from another day, where her mother had informed her that frowning is not polite. So, tucking her discontent deep into her mind, Lori managed to bring a small smile to her face.

As a timer buzzed its completion, Khin led her visitors down a hallway into the kitchen, explaining that her cooking was ready. On the way, Lori observed her surroundings. This place looks weird, she thought, eying a milk crate being used as a TV stand in the living room. She noticed that there was not a lot of furniture and decorations around the house, especially when finding only a mattress in each open bedroom that they passed. When they reached the kitchen and dining room, Lori saw two people seated on the floor, at a low table: a man and a young girl. Khin introduced the man as ‘Khan’ and the girl as ‘Truc’. I’ve never met a Truc before, Lori thought.

As Khin opened the oven, an unusual smell drifted from within. Lori scrunched up her nose but, catching her mother’s disapproving look, unscrunched it immediately. Lori’s mother asked Khin what she had cooked. Smiling, Khin explained that she had made spring rolls for their family gathering tomorrow. Unsure of what to say, Lori muttered a small “Oh,” before studying her shoes again. Khan came over to the kitchen bench and invited Lori and her parents to the gathering, explaining that there would be plenty of food to go around. Almost scrunching her nose again, Lori thought, That’s not real food.

Nevertheless, she could hardly say no when her parents accepted the invitation and they found themselves at Khin and Khan’s house the next day. Though there were no hanging ducks to watch her on this occasion, a couple of chooks were grazing in the front yard. Lori wasn’t used to seeing chickens so close to the city. However, she still preferred them to the hanging ducks.

Khan welcomed the family at the front door. “Father Paul! Mother Judith! And little Lori! Welcome back to our home.” Lori could hear that there was a large number of people at the other end of the house, so she stayed close to her parents. Once they reached the kitchen, Lori was greeted by an onslaught of unfamiliar scents, which seemed to be coming from a number of strange-looking foods on the bench. Lori glanced through the dining room, into the backyard, and could see no one with hair quite as light as hers. She felt, just for a moment, that she was the foreigner and not them. Khin moved to greet the family alongside her husband, guiding them to the food on the bench. Lori picked up a vaguely familiar smell and identified the spring rolls that she had encountered yesterday. Because she was hungry, Lori decided that the spring rolls would be the safest thing to try. Khin offered her one and she took a tentative nibble at one of its corners. Deciding that it was indeed safe to eat, Lori finished the roll and thought to herself, That wasn’t so bad!

After devouring a few more spring rolls, Khin led Lori toward the backyard, where Truc was playing with a couple of other girls. Truc smiled at Lori and asked if she would like to play dolls with her and her cousins, Lan and Minh. While she was playing, Lori began to realise that these girls were just like her. They like playing with dolls too! They must be like me after all, she exclaimed inside her head.

At the end of the day, although she had to tolerate the adults touching her hair and pinching her cheeks, Lori realised that these people were safe. Her parents were very kind to them, and she wanted to be kind too. When her parents called her to go home, Lori gave Truc a hug and promised to return to play with her again soon.

And, in the end, Lori stayed true to her promise and developed a friendship with Truc that was sure to last for a lifetime.

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