Lies We Tell Ourselves: Shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal
Жанр: Детская литература
Год издания: 2018 год
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Police officers line the curb. I don’t expect any more help from them than I did this morning.
I glance over my shoulder to see the other girls and almost trip, catching myself at the very last second.
This won’t work. I can’t walk in front of them and make sure they’re safe at the same time.
Ruth catches my eye and nods. It feels like a terrible mistake, but I move behind the others and let Ruth take the lead.
This is the most frightened I’ve been for her all day, but there’s nothing I can do. Ruth marches through the crowd, her head high, her gaze straight ahead. The white people scream at her but they move aside, like she’s Moses parting the waters.
This time, when someone spits on her hand, she ignores it and keeps on walking.
It makes me want to cry. Instead I keep my eyes dry and fixed, letting Ruth lead us.
They’re still shouting. I sing to myself in my head to drown out their words. An old hymn. The old ones are always the best.
Rock of Ages,
cleft for me,
let me hide
myself in thee.
Something sails over Yvonne’s head. A ball of paper with something heavy wrapped inside.
I don’t say anything. I don’t think she noticed. I can’t tell whether the white boy who threw it was only trying to scare us or if he just has bad aim.
The chant has changed now, back to the familiar “Two, four, six, eight, we don’t wanna integrate.” We’re almost at the curb. Mr. Stern is waiting in the car with his engine on.
It’s over. Soon we’ll be out of this place. We’ve survived. This day is finally at an end.
Ruth opens the back door and climbs inside, moving over so Yvonne and the other girl can slide in. I get in the front seat with Mr. Stern.
With the windows rolled up we can barely hear the chants. It really is over. Mr. Stern steps on the gas.
But just as he’s turning the wheel, the back door on the far side—Ruth’s side—jerks open. A grown white man with a wide chest and huge hands is standing by the side of the car, holding on tight to the door frame and looking right at Ruth.
“Get out of the car, niggers, before we drag you out,” the man’s voice booms. “You, too, you nigger-loving Jew.”
Lie #6 (#)
THE MAN’S WORDS slap me in the face, hot and wet and vicious. I slam open my car door. My heart pounds in my ears. I’ll go over to where the man is and—I don’t know what I’ll do. Something. Whatever it takes to get him away from my sister.
Before I can get out of the car Mr. Stern jerks on the wheel and pounds on the gas. The car jolts into the street. The white man loses his grip on Ruth’s door and stumbles backward onto the pavement.
Two of our car doors are open, but we’re already speeding along the street in front of the school. I lean out to pull my door shut, even though I’m sure I’m going to fall out of the car. In the backseat Ruth does the same thing. She slams the lock down on her door. I should lock mine, too, but I’m shaking too hard.
Two more big white men chase our car down the street, shouting. We outpace them at the next block. The police are nowhere to be seen.
I turn around to make sure Ruth’s all right. She’s resting her head on the window, gazing outside. Her hands are clasped in her lap. They’re trembling.
“Is anyone hurt?” Mr. Stern says when it’s quiet enough to hear each other.
“Yvonne is,” I say. “She’ll need a doctor.”
“It’s only a bruise on my knee,” Yvonne says. “No worse than I used to get roughhousing with my brothers.”
I try to meet Yvonne’s eyes in the rearview mirror. She won’t look at me. I know what happened today was nothing like playing with her brothers. She knows it, too.
“Even so,” Mr. Stern says. “We’re going to Mrs. Mullins’s house. She’ll call a doctor if you need one. Ruth, Sarah, your father will be at the Mullins’, too.”
I can’t imagine seeing Daddy now. Not after everything that’s happened today. It’s hard to believe that I still have parents. That there’s a world outside Jefferson High School.
We all know the way to Mrs. Mullins’s house by heart—she’s in charge of our integration case for the NAACP, and we go to her house a lot—so I notice Mr. Stern is taking the long way. We’ve been driving almost an hour when we get there. Trying to keep any white people from following us, probably.
We’re the last ones to reach the house. Daddy is on the front steps when we pull up. Ruth bolts out of the car and runs up to the porch, her saddle shoes leaving dents behind her in the freshly mown grass. She flings her arms around our father the way she used to when she was little.
“Daddy,” Ruth cries, loud enough for the rest of us to hear even though we’re still at the curb. “Daddy, Daddy.”
Daddy looks at me over her shoulder. I nod to tell him we’re both all right. He hugs Ruth back, then unwraps her arms from his waist. He rubs his eye, and I can tell from his bleary look he’s skipping his afternoon nap to be here. Daddy works two jobs—days at the Negro newspaper, the Davisburg Free Press, where he’s a reporter and editor, and nights and weekends at the Davisburg Gazette, where he’s a copy boy. Whenever he has to miss his nap we all know to stay quiet and let him have his peace.
“All right, Ruthie,” he says. “Let’s go in the house and you can tell me all about it.”
I help Yvonne inside. All the people from the NAACP who’ve been working on the court case and teaching in the special school they set up for us last semester are gathered in Mrs. Mullins’s living room. Their eyes bob from one to the other of us as we walk in and sit down on the rug. They’ve been waiting to make sure all ten of us are safe.
Ruth comes in last, with Daddy, and only then do Mrs. Mullins and the others cheer.
“Praise the Lord,” Mrs. Mullins says. “I knew He’d watch over you and keep you safe.”
Oh. Is that what He was doing? Is that what the Lord calls keeping us safe?
That was a sinful thought. I close my eyes to pray for forgiveness.
Praying usually brings warmth and relief. I wait, but I don’t feel any different than I did before. I don’t feel anything at all.
Mrs. Mullins asks how our day went. The younger kids rush to answer her.
I stretch my legs out in front of me and try to hide the stains on my skirt. I wish we could go home. My house is only a few blocks away. Mr. and Mrs. Mullins live in Morningside, like us. Ennis’s family lives here, too. It’s the nicest Negro neighborhood in Davisburg. Too nice for us Dunbars, really. Some nights I hear Mama and Daddy arguing about money in the kitchen. Daddy’s newspaper work doesn’t pay as well as it did when we lived in Chicago, and Mama’s always worried his boss at the white paper will fire him once he checks the state registry and finds out we’re involved with the NAACP. We could move to Davis Heights—that’s where Chuck lives—but Daddy says he wants Ruth and Bobby and me to “associate with the best kind of children,” whatever that means. He’s probably worried we’ll have to move to New Town, where everyone’s so poor the whites and Negroes live side by side, but I don’t think New Town would be so bad. At least it’s not Clayton Mill, the Negro neighborhood way outside of town, where the houses are made of tar paper.
Ennis, Paulie and I reach for the sandwiches Mrs. Mullins has set out for the adults. I barely ate any lunch and now I’m starving.
“You and your sister were leading the pack out there,” Ennis says. He’s talking quietly, so Mrs. Mullins won’t hear us on her side of the room. He pours a cup of coffee and passes it to me. I’ve never had coffee before, but I take a sip. It burns my tongue. “Looks like you got in the car all right.”
“It was awful.” I put the coffee down on the floor. I hate to be wasteful, but if I have to keep drinking that after everything else that’s happened today I think I really will cry.
“I know it was,” he says. “But we all got out safe. That’s what matters.”
Ennis smiles at me. I don’t smile back.
“It’ll settle down after a couple of days,” Paulie says. “The white people will get used to us. Once they see we aren’t going away.”
“No they won’t!” Chuck shouts.
Everyone in the room stops talking and turns to look behind us. Chuck’s standing there with fire in his eyes.
“Did you see what they did today?” Chuck says. He’s the only one of us who didn’t sit on the rug like children at story hour as soon as we came in. He’s standing with his back straight, his fists clenched.
“Did you see what they did to Yvonne?” he shouts. “They aren’t going to get used to us! Or if they do, they’ll just get used to calling us niggers and trying to lynch us in the parking lot!”
“Charles Irving Tapscott!” Daddy is on his feet, pointing his finger. Chuck is just as tall as my father, but he steps back. “You know better than to say something like that in front of these children. I’ll be placing a call to your father tonight.”
Chuck bites his lip and drops his head. “I’m sorry, sir.” He sits down next to Ennis and me on the rug.
Chuck is usually a jokester. The sort of boy everyone likes because he’s funny and nice to everyone. The boy trembling next to me now is somebody else altogether.
Yvonne’s lip quivers. For a minute, we’re all quiet. Then the younger kids start whispering.
“I saw somebody in the hall who said he had a knife.”
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