Lies We Tell Ourselves: Shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal
Жанр: Детская литература
Год издания: 2018 год
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“Who knows what would happen,” I say. “No one thought we’d be forced to let them into our school. It’s not as if they didn’t already have their own. If they weren’t happy going to school with each other, why should they be happy dancing with each other?”
“Oh,” Judy says. “I hadn’t thought about it that way.”
I picture the shiny blue dress in my closet. It’s strapless, with a matching blue wrap and blue high heels. It looks almost as good as the fancy one from Miller & Rhoads I modeled in the Future Business Leaders of America fashion show last year. Mom took me shopping for it the day they announced the schools were going to reopen. She said it was too bad about the integration, but at least I wouldn’t have to miss out on all the fun of my senior year.
Daddy was furious when he found out. He said I wasn’t going to any dance with any colored boys. I told him I wasn’t going with a colored boy, I was going with Jack, and besides, it wasn’t my fault the governor gave up on segregation. Daddy said as long as I was under his roof I would speak to him respectfully, and I said then it was a good thing I wouldn’t be under his roof much longer. Then he pulled back his hand. For a second I thought he was going to do it. I think he thought so, too.
I almost wanted him to do it. To prove I still mattered to him even a little bit.
But he didn’t. He put his hand down and said I was an ungrateful little girl and he had work to do. Then he went to his study and didn’t come out again all night. As though he’d forgotten I was out there.
Mom told me to keep the dress because you never knew. Daddy had been known to change his mind about things. Then she disappeared upstairs with a glass of sherry and I was alone again.
The noise is getting louder as we near the stairwell. “We’re gonna shut that nigger up!” a boy yells.
Oh, for heaven’s sake. This again?
“That looks like a colored girl they’ve got there,” Judy says. The shouting is so loud I have to strain to hear her.
“A girl?” I say. “Who’s got her?”
“Bo and his gang, I think.”
I could’ve guessed. Bo Nash and his friends are a bunch of nobodies. Or they would be, anyway, if Bo hadn’t scored two touchdowns back-to-back sophomore year. He went from no-good redneck farm boy to town hero in one night. It only got worse that spring, when he pitched a no-hitter for the baseball team’s state championship. Girls stopped joking about Bo’s dirty, mismatched socks and started cooing about his dreamy blue eyes. It was enough to make you vomit. Now Bo thinks he owns the school. And everybody else seems to think so, too.
Well, not me. Any boy who wants to beat up on a girl, colored or not, isn’t worth the sweat in his undershorts. Bo’s a star of the team, so I can’t be outright nasty to him—not unless I want to hear everyone whispering about me in the halls all year—but I can take him down a peg or two.
Bo is right up in front of the colored girl when I get there. He and his friends have got her backed into a corner. She’s turning her head this way and that, looking for a way out. It’s one of the younger ones. Her white blouse has an ink stain on it, and her brown skirt is old and patched.
I stride up to the group and step in neatly between the boys and the girl, facing Bo. He scowls at me. Behind us, people are yelling, and another girl is screaming. I hold out my hands the way Reverend Pierce does when he’s trying to get an especially rowdy congregation at Davisburg Baptist to sit down and be at peace already.
“What’s the matter, Bo?” I ask, raising my voice so everyone can hear. “You’ve got everybody all riled up. For a second I thought Elvis came to town.”
A bunch of people laugh. I smile, because I know it’ll make Bo mad. I haven’t forgotten what he said to Judy in French yesterday. If he thinks he can get away with treating my best friend like that, he’s even dumber than I thought.
“You best just get on out the way, Linda,” Bo says. “We’re teaching somebody a lesson.”
I look over my shoulder in fake surprise, as if I didn’t know the colored girl was there. She’s cowering against the lockers. I take my first good look at her. Her eyes are wide and shockingly white around her deep black irises. The sleeves of her blouse have been let out so far the frayed edges are showing. She probably lives in one of those falling-down shacks out in Clayton Mill. My brothers say those places are full of lowlifes and it isn’t safe for a girl like me to go near them.
The colored people are all poor as dirt. They look it and smell it, too. Everyone says so.
I turn back toward Bo. “Right,” I say. “Because picking on some dumb, dirty little colored girl takes you and twenty of your friends.”
There’s more laughter behind Bo. The girl who was screaming before has stopped, thank the Lord. Everyone is watching me.
“She talked down to Gary’s girl,” Bo says, nodding toward the black-haired boy behind him. “She needs to learn her place.”
“Gary has a girl?” I’d heard that—Gary started going out with that freshman Carolyn, because everyone says she’ll go all the way with anyone who gives her his football pin—but I pretend I haven’t. “That’s really nice, Gary. Maybe we can double-date sometime.”
“Well, sure, Linda,” Gary says, smiling as if it’s a sunny Sunday afternoon, and there isn’t a scared little colored girl hiding behind me in the hallway. All the boys on the team want to go on double dates with Jack and me. “That’d be swell.”
Bo isn’t smiling.
“I’m not joking around, Linda,” he says. “You got to get out of our way. I don’t like to push a girl, but—”
Unless she’s a colored girl, apparently. I lower my voice so only Bo can hear. “I’m sure you didn’t just threaten me, Bo. Because if you did, you know Coach Pollard will hear all about it.”
Bo cocks his head to the side. His face slackens. I’ve won.
I raise my voice again.
“I thought you all might like to know Principal Cole is right around the corner,” I lie. “I saw him on my way from English. Maybe you don’t care, but I just figured I’d mention it...”
The boys back away. Everyone knows the new rule about fighting. No one’s talked about anything else all day.
My father thinks the rule is absurd. He told Mom and me all about it last night. He’ll have an editorial out tomorrow about how we need to teach our children personal responsibility, instead of harshly disciplining boys for being boys. Once the people of Davisburg have read what he has to say, he told us, he expects the policy to be reversed promptly.
“Don’t you do that again, Linda,” Bo says under his breath before he fades away with the rest of his group.
“Aw, Bo, I’m just teasing,” I reply, just as low.
I hope he believes me. I don’t have a bit of respect for Bo Nash, but he’s not someone you want mad at you, either.
When I turn around, the little colored girl is gone. I guess she went to her class. We only have two minutes left before French, but Judy still needs to do up her makeup, so we go into the bathroom.
Judy scrubs her face clean, grabs her compact and gets to work, moving so fast she’s going to leave streaks. I’m about to tell her to fix it when the door bursts open and a girl rushes past us and crouches on the floor. It’s another colored girl.
Judy drops her compact she’s so shocked. I’m surprised, too. We used to come in this bathroom between classes every day last year, and not once did anyone else come in.
“What are you—” Judy says, but I hold up my hand for her to let me handle this.
“You’re not welcome here,” I tell the girl, who’s not looking at us. I’m not sure she even noticed we were in here. It’s not the same colored girl Bo was after, so I don’t know why she’s making such a fuss. “We were here first.”
The girl doesn’t seem to hear me. She’s fallen down on her knees on the tiles, her head bent.
Oh, no. She’s praying.
I can’t interrupt a girl who’s praying. Even a colored girl.
Why does she have to pray in the bathroom? They have colored churches, don’t they?
Why does she have to come where I am in the first place? And why did that other girl have to go where Bo and his friends were waiting? It’s utter foolishness. If the school had to let them in, they should’ve picked some other section of the building where the colored people could go so the rest of us wouldn’t have to see them, the way they did at the bus station.
Or smell them. I sniff the air to see if the girl has made the bathroom stink yet. So far it’s just the usual smell of disinfectant and old paint, but she hasn’t been here long.
Judy looks at me, waiting for me to tell her what to do, but I don’t know what to say. When someone’s praying, you’re supposed to be quiet and respectful. But those are the rules for white people. Are they the same for Negroes? It’s so hard to keep track.
There’s still another minute until French, and Judy isn’t done with her makeup yet. I gesture for her to keep working on her cheek. She turns back to the mirror.
There’s something wrong with the colored girl. Her lips are moving quickly but silently, and she’s rocking up and down. She’s crying. I wonder what’s upset her so much.
If Daddy ever finds out I was in a bathroom with one of them, by choice, he’ll let his hand fly after all.
The girl goes on praying for a long time. She looks familiar. I must’ve seen her before, but it’s hard to tell them all apart.
Then I remember. This girl is the one from French. The one who called me “awful.”
She’s the worst of the whole lot.
Why did she have to run in here, out of all of them? Why do these colored people have to keep making my life harder?
Finally the girl stops rocking. She keeps her head bowed and her eyes shut, but her lips aren’t moving anymore.
It’s strange seeing a colored person so close up. Her hair is straight, but it looks rough and coarse. Not like my hair or Judy’s at all. And her skin is so dark. Much darker than mine gets even after I’ve been out in the sun for months. Touching her probably feels like touching sandpaper. Not that I’d ever touch colored skin.
It would be all right for us to leave now. God would understand. The truth is, though, I want to know what’s wrong with this girl.
I’m just curious. Who wouldn’t be?
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