Lies We Tell Ourselves: Shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal
Жанр: Детская литература
Год издания: 2018 год
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Each new voice is sharper and angrier than the last.
I still can’t make out what they’re saying, but we’re not far now.
I want to cover Ruth’s ears. She’d never let me. Besides, she’ll hear it soon enough no matter what I do.
Our group has gone quiet. The boys are done blustering. Ruth lets go of Yvonne and steps back toward me. Behind us, a girl hiccups.
What if one of them starts crying? If the white people see us in tears, they’ll laugh. They’ll think they’ve beaten us before we’ve begun. We have to look strong.
I close my eyes, take a long breath and recite in my clearest voice. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.”
Ruth joins in. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters.”
Then, all ten of us, in the same breath. “He restoreth my soul.”
Some of them have spotted us from across the street. The white boys at the front of the crowd are pushing past each other to get the first look at us.
Police officers line the school’s sidewalks in front of the boys. They’re watching us, too.
I don’t bother looking back at them. The police aren’t here to help us. Their shiny badges are all that’s stopping them from yelling with the other white people. For all we know they trade in those badges for white sheets at night.
Then reporters are running toward us. A flashbulb goes off in my face. The heat singes my eyes. All I see is bright white pain.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
I want to reach for Ruth, but my hands are shaking. It’s all I can do to hold on to my books.
“Are you afraid?” a reporter shouts, shoving a microphone at my chin. “If you succeed, you’ll be the first Negroes to set foot in a white school in this state. What do you think will happen once you get inside?”
I step around him. Ruth is holding her head high. I lift mine, too.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.
We’re almost at the parking lot now. We can hear the shouts.
“Here come the niggers!” yells a boy on the steps. “The niggers are coming!”
The rest of the crowd takes up his chant, as if they rehearsed it. “The niggers! The niggers! The niggers!”
I try to take Ruth’s hand. She shakes me away, but her shoulders are quivering.
I wish she wasn’t here with us. I wish she didn’t have to do this.
I wish I didn’t have to do this.
I think about what the white reporter said. If you succeed...
And if we don’t?
“It will be all right,” I tell Ruth.
But my words are drowned out in the shouting.
And “nigger.” Over and over.
“Nigger! Nigger! Nigger! Nigger! Nigger!”
I’ve never been called a nigger in my life. Not until today.
We step over the curb. The white people jostle us, bumping up against us, trying to shove us back. We keep pushing forward, slowly, but it’s hard. The crowd isn’t moving, so we have to slide between them. Ennis and Chuck go in front, clearing a path, ignoring the elbows to their sides and shoves at their chests.
I want to put Ruth behind me, but then I couldn’t see her, and what if we got separated? What would I tell Mama and Daddy?
I grab her arm too tight, my fingers digging in. Ruth doesn’t complain. She leans in closer to me.
“Go back to Africa!” someone shouts by my ear. “We don’t want niggers in our school!”
Just walk. Get inside. Get Ruth inside. When the reporters go away everyone will calm down. If we can get through this part it will be all right.
My cup runneth over.
Ruth’s arm jerks away from me. I almost fall, my legs swaying dangerously under me, but I catch myself before I collapse.
I turn toward Ruth, or where she should be. Three older boys, their backs to me, are standing around my little sister, towering over her. One of them steps close to her. Too close. He knocks the books out of her arms, into the dirt.
I lunge toward them, but Ennis is faster. He dodges through a gap between the boys—he doesn’t shove them; we’re not allowed to touch any of them, no matter what they do to us—and pulls Ruth back toward me, leaving her books where they fell. He nods at me in a way that almost makes me believe he’s got everything under control.
He doesn’t. He can’t. If the boys do anything to him, Ennis doesn’t stand a chance, not with three against one. But they let him go, snarling, “We’re gonna make your life Hell, black boy.”
Ruth’s still holding her chin high, but she’s shaking harder than ever. I wrap my hand back around her arm. My knuckles go pale. I swallow. Once, twice, three times. Enough to keep my eyes steady and my cheeks dry.
“What about my books?” Ruth asks me.
“We’ll get you new books.” The blood is rushing in my ears. I remember I should’ve thanked Ennis. I look for him, but he’s surrounded by another group of white boys.
I can’t help him. I can’t stop walking.
Two girls, their faces all twisted up, start a new chant. “Two, four, six, eight! We don’t want to integrate!”
Others join in. The whole world is a sea of angry white faces and bright white flashbulbs. “Two, four, six, eight! We don’t want to—”
“Is the NAACP paying you to go to school here?” a reporter shouts. “Why are you doing this?”
A girl pushes past the reporter to yell in my ear. Her voice is so shrill I’m sure my eardrum will burst. “Niggers go home! Dirty niggers go home!”
Ennis is back in front, pushing through the crowd with Chuck. Ennis is very tall, so he’s easy to spot. People always ask if he plays basketball. He hates it because he’s terrible at basketball. He’s the best player on the football and baseball teams, though.
He was at our old school, anyway. That’s all done now that he’s coming to Jefferson. No sports for the boys, no choir for me, no cheerleading for Ruth. No dances or plays for any of us. No extracurriculars, that’s what Mrs. Mullins said, not this year.
Something flies through the air toward Ennis. I shout for him to duck, but I’m too late. Whatever it is bounces off his head. Ennis keeps moving like he didn’t even feel it.
I look for the police. They’re standing on the curb, watching us. One sees me looking and points toward the main entrance. Telling me to keep moving.
He’s looking right at us. He must have seen Ennis get hit.
He doesn’t care. None of them do.
I bet they’d care if we threw things back.
“Nigger!” The girl is still shrieking at me. “Nigger! Nigger! You’re nothing but a filthy, stinking nigger!”
We’re almost there. The door is only a few yards away, but the crowd of white people in front of it is too thick. And the shouts are getting louder.
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