Lies We Tell Ourselves: Shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal
Жанр: Детская литература
Год издания: 2018 год
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I crush the paper in my fist, march to the front of the room and throw it in the trash can. On my way back I fold my arms across my chest so no one will see my hands shaking.
During each class break I walk as fast as I can, following the routes I mapped out at breakfast. I see Ruth every time, and every time, she’s all right. There’s a new ink stain on her blouse that wasn’t there this morning, but she isn’t hurt. She’s just walking down the hall surrounded by a circle of white people, clutching her books and pretending not to hear the chants of “nigger, nigger, nigger” that follow her everywhere.
The white people follow me, too, slowing me down. It doesn’t matter what route I take. They walk behind me and in front of me. Trying to trip me, calling out to me, stepping on my heels, blocking my path. It’s like walking through quicksand.
When I leave third-period History, trying to forget what that awful Mrs. Johnson said in her lecture about the slave trade, there are still two hundred and thirty-five minutes left in the school day. I speed toward the stairs to get to Ruth, uncertain of how I’ll get back to the second floor in time for French.
It isn’t the distance that’s the problem. I could walk there and back easily if the white people would only leave me alone.
But they won’t. In fact, there’s a group of white boys following me as I exit the staircase and start down the first-floor hall.
They’ve been behind me since History. I don’t have to look back to know they’re still there. The feeling of eyes on my back is familiar by now.
But there’s something different about this time. These boys are being quiet. They aren’t chanting, or calling me names or joking with each other. Occasionally one of them will snicker, but the others quickly hush him.
When I’m halfway down the hall, they’re still following, silent except for their thudding footsteps. From the sound of it there are at least ten of them. People coming the other way wave at the boys as they pass, smiling and calling to them.
The boys are getting closer.
I speed up, but their footsteps get faster, too. There’s no way I could outrun them.
They must be planning something. I hope they get it over with soon. I brace myself for the feeling of an object striking my back. A wad of spit, a pencil, a rock they snuck in from outside.
The voice in my head is certain. I don’t know what’s happening, but I know it’s something new. Something bad.
I speed up, but the shuffling footsteps are louder now. One of the boys is right behind me.
The pain comes with a jolt. I freeze. My breath stops, and my voice catches in my throat. The shock of it is too strong.
The boy is squeezing my breasts, hard.
He lets go as fast as he grabbed on, and then all the boys are running past me at once. Laughing. Trading high fives.
There’s no way to know which of them did it.
The crowd coming the other way has stopped moving, too. They’re pointing at me, laughing. The girls are covering their mouths to hide their giggles.
I cross my arms over my chest, but that only makes them laugh harder.
That really just happened.
That boy touched me. I didn’t want him to, but he did it anyway. That was why he did it. Because he knew I didn’t want it.
Nothing is mine anymore.
Even my own body isn’t mine. Not if that pack of white boys doesn’t want it to be.
Everyone saw what they did.
It’s exactly like my dream. The pack of monsters, laughing.
I drop my head so they can’t see my face. I would never let someone do that to me. I’m not the sort of girl who would ever do anything like that.
The white people at this school don’t care what sort of girl I am.
I look down at myself. I don’t look any different than I did this morning. What the boy did hadn’t left a mark. But nothing will ever undo it.
My dignity was all I had.
Tears well in my eyes. The pack of boys is all the way at the end of the hall now. One of them, a tall brown-haired boy, is still looking back at me, grinning, but the rest are looking at something up ahead.
“That’s her,” one of them calls. “That’s the nigger who talked back to my girl.”
“Big Sis still back where we left her?” another boy answers. His voice carries all the way down the hall. They don’t care who hears them.
“Yeah,” the other boy says. “We scared her off but good.”
“Let’s go, then.”
I recognize the brown dress. The one she was mending this morning.
It’s Ruth they’re running toward.
She’s the one the story was about. The one who talked trash to a white girl.
My shoes feel like lead. I run, my legs pumping as hard as they can, but I’m not fast enough.
“Stop it!” I shout. It comes out as a screech. The white people gathered on the sides of the hall are still and quiet, watching.
The boys have caught up with Ruth. They’ve got her in a corner where she can’t back away. I’m still too far to see her face, but I can picture the fear in her eyes.
“Leave her alone!” I scream, but the crowd has gotten noisy again. No one hears me.
I don’t care about the rules anymore. I’m not going to ignore what’s happening.
I tear down the hall after them.
But I can already tell I’m going to be too late.
Lie #8 (#)
THEY CANCELED THE prom today.
Because of the colored people. Everything that happens now is because of the colored people.
If Daddy has to work late at the paper it’s because the integrationist teachers are making up stories. If I’m behind in English it’s because the NAACP forced the school to close last semester. If I get caught daydreaming in Math it’s because the colored girl in the front row distracted me.
But the prom? Why did they have to get that, too?
I was going to the prom with Jack. It was going to be my last date of high school, and the first time Jack and I went to a dance together. Jack is far too old for these sorts of things—he’s twenty-two—but he said he’d come anyway. He said I shouldn’t have to miss out on my own prom just because my fiancé is an older man who’s long past childish stuff like school dances.
“I don’t see why they had to cancel in the first place,” Judy says. She has to raise her voice for me to hear her. There’s noise up ahead. People shouting. There’s always shouting in the halls now that the colored people are here.
We’re walking down the hall toward the first-floor bathroom near the stairwell. It’s the only bathroom Judy ever wants to go in because it’s always empty and she can fix her makeup without anyone seeing. The toilets in that bathroom have been stopped up since our freshman year.
“It’s obvious,” I say patiently. You have to be patient with Judy. She’s not slow like people think. She’s naive, that’s all. “No one wants white people and colored people dancing together.”
“Would that really happen?” Judy says. “Was someone going to force us to dance with them? Wouldn’t the coloreds only dance with each other?”
“Coloreds isn’t a word,” I tell her for the hundredth time. I swerve to step around a group of giggly sophomores. People are so rude, blocking the halls like this. They think just because our school is integrated they all have the right to act like animals.
“Right,” Judy says. “Sorry. The Nigras, I meant. But wouldn’t they?”
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