Lies We Tell Ourselves: Shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal
Жанр: Детская литература
Год издания: 2018 год
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“The white teachers don’t know we’re going to college,” Chuck says. “They just put us in the classes they thought colored kids would take.”
That makes sense. Mrs. Gruber seemed surprised I could even read.
“Do you know where you’re going to college?” I ask Ennis. I already know Chuck is going to Virginia State College.
“Howard, if I get in,” Ennis says.
I sit back, surprised. Ennis’s whole family lives here in Davisburg, so I thought he’d go to a school around here. Howard’s all the way up in Washington, D.C. I’m going there, too, but it doesn’t matter so much for me since my family is spread out. My aunt and uncle and cousins are in Chicago and my grandparents still live in Alabama.
“I’m going to Howard, too,” I say. “My uncle’s friend works there. He said he’s sure I’ll get a scholarship.”
Ennis nods and looks down at the chili on his plate. Quickly I add, “Of course, I’m sure you’ll get one, too. Your marks have always been good.”
Good, but not as good as mine. I was first in my class at Johns, and Ennis was only third or fourth.
I don’t say that. It would be rude. Besides, it isn’t right for girls to talk about being smart around boys.
“That was at Johns,” Ennis says. “Who knows what will happen here.”
Oh. I hadn’t thought about getting lower marks now that we’re at a white school. I shift in my seat.
Ennis gets up to dump his tray. I’m still picking at my food. Chuck tries to tell me a joke about Fidel Castro but I’m too anxious to pay much attention.
Chuck cuts himself off halfway through the joke. His eyes are fixed on something over my shoulder. I turn to follow his gaze.
Ennis is twenty feet from our table, frozen in his tracks. Another blonde girl is running up to him, smiling. She speaks to him, but I can’t hear what she says. Ennis keeps his eyes on the floor and mumbles a response. The girl smiles as if nothing is wrong.
The room is getting quiet. We’re not the only ones watching Ennis and the blonde girl.
This is even worse than the girl who screamed earlier. This time, people are seeing it. A Negro boy who’s seen talking to a white girl could be in for very serious trouble.
Ennis backs away from the girl, keeping his head down.
I’m so focused on them I don’t even notice the boys coming up behind me until one of them knocks into the back of my chair. The table juts under my rib cage, knocking my breath out of me. Then something cold trickles down the back of my neck.
The table behind me bursts into laughter. “She almost looks white now!” a boy calls out.
I reach around and feel wetness on my hair, my neck, the back of my blouse. I pull my fingers back. They’re dripping with milk.
Is it all over me? I jump out of my seat, twisting backward to see my clothes. That only makes them laugh harder. It feels as though I’m soaking wet all over.
“Hey!” Chuck leaps up. His eyes dart around the room, even though the boys who drenched me are long gone. I didn’t get a look at them, and I don’t think Chuck did, either. “What the Hell is the matter with you, picking on a girl? You afraid to go for somebody who’ll fight back?”
“Didn’t nobody do nothing to her,” a boy at the next table says. “She must’a spilled it on herself. You coons ain’t got no table manners.”
Ennis takes my arm. He must’ve gotten away from the blonde girl somehow. He shakes his head at Chuck and pulls gently on my sleeve. “Come on.”
The laughter gets louder as the three of us wind our way toward the exit. The milk drips down into the waistband of my skirt. They must’ve dumped an entire carton on me.
Accidentally, of course. That’s what they’d say if I told a teacher. Which I can’t. I didn’t even see who did it. And it’s not as if any of the white people who saw would say so.
I go straight to the girls’ bathroom. Inside, three girls are standing by the mirrors, talking. Their eyes go wide when they see me. I wait for them to call me a nigger or laugh at the milk dripping from my hair. Instead they look at me, look back at each other and rush out the door without a word.
I close my eyes and savor the quiet. It’s the first time all day I’ve been alone.
As badly as I want to clean myself up, I go into a stall first. I’ve been avoiding the bathroom, afraid of getting trapped inside where I’d have no chance of calling a teacher for help, but I can’t wait any longer.
When I reach for the toilet paper, I pull my hand back, surprised. Then I touch it again to make sure.
The toilet paper here is soft. At my old school, our toilet paper was rough and coarse. I’d thought that’s how all school toilet paper was.
Just colored-school toilet paper, apparently.
When I go back out to the mirrors, the bathroom is still empty. I wonder if those girls told the others I was in here. There could be a crowd forming outside the door, waiting to get me when I leave, but there’s nothing I can do about that now.
I mop up as much of the milk as I can with toilet paper and paper towels. There isn’t much use. I can wipe off my neck but I can’t reach my back without unbuttoning my blouse, and I am not going to do that here, where anyone could walk in. The milk that’s soaked into my hair is a lost cause. I can pick some of it out once it dries, but Mama will still have to help me wash it tonight. For now, I’ll just have to walk around with milk all over me.
This shouldn’t be important. It was just a prank. Boys being boys. I should be able to handle this.
When I look back up into the mirror I’m crying.
I wipe the tears away and stare at my reflection until my face smooths out and my eyes go empty.
This is how they have to see me. If they know I feel things, they’ll only try to make me feel worse.
Maybe if I keep trying, I really won’t feel anything.
Another tear springs up in the corner of my eye. I scrub it away with the heel of my hand.
I stare into the mirror and wait until there’s no more threat of tears.
Everyone is counting on me. I can’t be a failure.
Lie #5 (#ulink_63a34b2c-321b-5b33-9adc-f0c0635c7a4d)
MY AFTERNOON CLASSES are no better than the morning’s. In Home Ec the teacher gives me my own set of pans and bowls and silverware to use for the whole semester so the white girls won’t have to touch the same things I do. In Study Hall I sing hymns in my head while the boys make honking noises at me and the teacher takes a nap at his desk. In Remedial English our textbook reader doesn’t have any stories longer than fifteen pages, except for one by James Joyce that my mother gave me to read when I was twelve.
I’m the only Negro in every class.
Halfway through sixth period I start counting the number of times I hear people call me a nigger. By the time the bell rings at the end of the day I’m up to twenty-five.
Chuck and Paulie, the only junior in our group, are a short way down the hall when I come out of my last class. They’re walking so fast they’re almost running. Behind them a group of white boys is walking even faster.
I can tell from the looks on their faces that the white boys aren’t playing. As soon as we’re off school grounds they’re going to do whatever they want to us.
“Downstairs, side exit,” Chuck mutters when they reach me. “The NAACP’s got cars waiting for us.”
I struggle to walk as quickly as Chuck and Paulie as we head for the stairs, but my breath is coming fast, and my sweaty feet are sliding in my loafers.
“What about the others?” I ask.
“Everyone knows where to go. Ennis is spreading the word.”
I pick up my pace and try not to worry about Ruth. Ennis will make sure she’s all right.
All around us, more white people spill out of classrooms. Some of the boys join the group following us. I want to look over my shoulder and see how many are back there, but if they see me looking it will only make things worse.
Besides, I can tell the crowd is growing by the number of niggers I hear. My count is already up past forty.
I scan the hallway for a teacher, but there are none in sight. And if I did spot a teacher there’s no way to know if she’d help. The stairs are still a long way off.
“They’re only trying to scare us,” Chuck whispers.
“It’s working,” Paulie whispers back. He looks paler than I’ve ever seen him.
“Don’t talk that way,” I say.
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