“All the Rising Star competitors gather up here!”
It was early the next morning, and Rozena and Emma had joined the rest of the Rising Star competitors down in the hotel dining room.
Melinda Gosling, one of the organisers, greeted them as they came out of the lifts and showed them to the tables that had been reserved for the Rising Star competition.
“You will all sit here,” said Melinda. “Yes, you’ll get a chance to get your breakfast in a moment. But first, I have a few announcements.”
Rozena and Emma quickly found chairs near the end of the table, and Rozena looked at the other kids who were sitting there. This was the first chance she had to see who else was taking part in the competition.
She recognised Natasha van Reenen at once. She was sitting at the far end of the table, surrounded by a group of white kids, all dressed in their school uniforms. Rozena immediately wondered whether she and Emma were supposed to be dressed in uniform as well. Nobody had said anything about it.
Rozena tried to pay attention to Melinda Gosling’s announcements. The woman was going through a list of competition rules, reminding them about the rehearsals, one of which would take place that very evening. But all the time Rozena’s attention wandered back to Natasha. This was the girl that SCRAM wanted her to make friends with, just to get a chance to plant a virus on her tablet.
Last night, after she’d watched the SCRAM kids fly away in their helicopter, she’d managed to get back into her hotel room and crawl into bed without waking Emma. But she’d struggled to fall asleep, worrying about her task.
“Let’s go get some food!” said Emma, and Rozena realised that Melinda had finished speaking, and everyone was pushing their chairs back and making their way to the table where the breakfast buffet stood waiting for them. For a few minutes, Rozena was distracted by the food. There were so many different things to choose from. She could have fried eggs and bacon, or pancakes, freshly made by a smiling chef standing right there behind the counter. There were also five different cereals, fresh bread, many different cheeses, and fruit salad.
Emma heaped her plate, taking a little bit of everything. “What are you going to have?” she asked Rozena, who felt a bit overwhelmed by the choice.
“I think I’ll have a pancake,” Rozena said.
“You better join the queue then,” said Emma. “I’m going to go sit down so long, okay?” She took her plate and bowl over to the table.
Rozena went to join the queue at the pancake counter, looking around to see where Natasha was. If she was supposed to make friends with her, maybe this would be her chance.
Rozena had stepped back and accidentally bumped into a girl behind her in the queue.
“I’m sorry,” said Rozena, but the girl glared at her as if she’d not apologised at all.
“You nearly made me spill my drink!” she said. Some of the other kids in the queue were looking around as well, and Natasha realised that they were the ones who’d sat near Natasha. One of them, a tall girl with glasses and long, glossy hair, sniffed and looked Rozena up and down.
“Look,” she said in a loud whisper to a boy who stood nearby. “They let just anybody into the competition these days.”
Another girl shrugged and turned her back on Rozena. “They have to let them in, you know,” she said to her friend. “Affirmative action.”
Rozena felt her face grow hot and her stomach clench up with embarrassment and anger. She’d already noticed that she and Emma were the only members of the Rising Star finalists who were not white, but she’d tried not to worry about it. Now it seemed that this was going to be a problem after all.
“You’re just scared that she’ll beat you, Justine.”
Rozena turned to find that Natasha was standing just behind her, staring a challenge at the other kids. When they looked away, muttering, Natasha turned to Rozena. “I’m sorry they were rude to you,” she said. “Are you okay?”
Rozena was so surprised that she couldn’t speak for a moment. “Hi,” she said at last. “Oh. No. I mean, yes, I’m okay.”
“Good,” said Natasha. “I’m Natasha. Can I sit with you? I’d rather not hang out with that bunch. Are you also getting pancakes?”
Tell us: Do you think Justine is ‘rude’ or is she a ‘racist’. Or both? What’s the difference?