Lies We Tell Ourselves: Shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal
Жанр: Детская литература
Год издания: 2018 год
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But I don’t know what else to do. Ruth is right. I can’t be with her all day.
Plus, I don’t know where the cafeteria is. Or the auditorium, or anything else. I’ve never set foot in this building before, but Chuck is looking up and down the halls as if he knows his way around. I’ll have to trust him.
My heart thuds as I watch Ruth go to Chuck’s side, turn her back and walk away. All I can do is pray she’ll be safe.
Yesterday I would’ve thought prayer was enough. Today I’m not so sure.
“Come on,” Ennis says. “We’ve got to go. If we’re late we’ll get detention.”
I’ve never had detention before, but Mrs. Mullins told us the white teachers would look for any excuse to send us there. We can never be late to class, no matter what.
But if we have to deal with shouting crowds every day, won’t we always be late?
No. The crowd was only for today. Tomorrow things will go back to normal.
Whatever “normal” is at this huge, looming school, with the shining glass trophy cases lining every hallway and the brand-new books everyone is carrying. And the huge white boys in letterman’s sweaters lurking around every corner.
Somehow Ennis already knows his way around Jefferson, too, so I follow him. The auditorium isn’t far from the front doors, but it takes us a long time to get there because the white people are still swarming.
They’re still shouting, too. And throwing balls of paper. And sticking out their feet to trip us. One catches Ennis’s ankle and he falls hard, catching himself with his hands before his face hits the ground. It takes all my strength not to cry out when I see him going down.
The white people howl laughter as I help him up. Ennis is biting his lip and cradling his wrist. I pray it isn’t broken. If one of us comes home with a broken bone, the courts could say they were wrong and integration was too dangerous after all. They could send us all back to our old school. Daddy would be furious.
“Hey, you look real pretty today,” a girl says in my direction.
I turn around. Did one of the white people really say something nice to me?
No. Of course not.
The girl laughs at me and draws back. I can see what’s going to happen but there’s nothing I can do about it. The crowd is too thick for me to get away before the girl spits on the yellow flowered skirt Mama made for my sixteenth birthday.
I’m shaking again. Ennis looks at my skirt, then at me. He’s still holding his wrist.
“Come on,” he says. “We’re almost there.”
It’s getting hard to breathe.
Chuck will have to leave Ruth to come join us. It’ll be my sister and two other freshmen alone with all these angry white people. What if someone trips her like they did Ennis? What if she gets hurt, and she needs me?
Somehow Ennis knows what I’m thinking.
“You’ll only make it worse if you try to go back, Sarah,” he says, giving me that serious look again. “You’ve got to have faith it will be all right.”
I’m trying to have faith. It’s so hard. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
Chuck catches up with us at the auditorium doors. It’s too loud for us to hear each other, but he nods to tell me Ruth is all right.
She was all right when he left her, anyway. Who knows what might have happened since then.
A group of boys sings as we walk through the doors. The tune is a song that’s been playing on the radio lately, “Charlie Brown.” I used to like that song, but the boys have changed the words. “Fee fee, fi fi, fo fo, fum! I smell niggers in the auditorium!”
They howl with laughter at their own joke. Other boys and girls join in, snickering at Ennis and Chuck and me as we try to find seats. This room must be built to hold a thousand people. All the seniors are running back and forth between the rows, shouting, laughing, pointing at us. Teachers are standing around, too, but they’re talking to each other, looking at their watches, as if they haven’t even noticed we’re here.
“Two, four, six, eight!” The chant continues as the three of us move toward the front of the room. “We don’t want to integrate!”
Posters for school activities hang on the walls. Basketball practice. Science club meetings. Ticket sales for the prom. My eyes linger on a poster for Glee Club auditions before I remember we aren’t welcome at the clubs and teams and dances at this school. We aren’t even welcome to breathe the same air.
We find three seats together in the front row. I sit between Chuck and Ennis, trying to fold my coat so the spit on my skirt doesn’t show. Normally I’d feel uncomfortable sitting with two boys, but everything about today already feels strange.
We haven’t been sitting ten seconds when everyone else who was sitting on the front row stands up, all in one smooth motion, and files out.
For the second time this morning, I wonder if the white people rehearsed that.
“Boy, does it ever stink in here all of a sudden,” one girl says. Her friends laugh and pinch their noses.
Now that we’re alone in the front row, the chanting starts up again behind us. At first it’s just a few people, but then the rest of them join in. The voices get very loud very fast.
“Niggers go home! Niggers go home! Niggers go home!”
I look straight ahead. Ennis and Chuck are doing the same thing. I want to meet Chuck’s eyes but I’m afraid he’ll only try to make some awful joke, and instead of laughing I’ll burst into tears.
There is only one thing in this world right now that I want.
I want to get out of here. I want to get up, go find my sister and drag her out the front door. I don’t want either of us to ever set foot in this place again.
I’m starting to think things aren’t going to get better after this. I’m starting to think they’re going to get worse.
“All right now,” comes a voice. A teacher is on the stage, holding a clipboard. I wait for her to tell everyone to stop yelling and be polite and respectful, the way the teachers at my old school would have, but she just says, “All right,” again. Slowly, the chanting dies down.
The teacher looks bored. As if it’s any other first day of school. As if we aren’t starting five months late because the governor closed the whole school last semester to stop ten Negroes from walking through the front doors. As if there wasn’t almost a riot in the parking lot five minutes ago.
“Your senior class president will lead us in prayer,” the teacher says. She nods toward yet another boy with blond hair and blue eyes and a varsity letterman’s sweater.
“Let’s all bow our heads,” the boy says.
Automatically, my head goes down, my eyes shut and my hands fold in my lap. Before the prayer has even started, I feel something pushing on my lower back. Then the pressure gets sharper. Digging into my flesh through my thin cotton blouse.
Is it a knife? Am I going to die right now, right here? Before I’ve been to a single class in this godforsaken school? What will happen to Ruth if I die?
I’m about to leap out of my seat when I realize it can’t be a knife. A blade would be slicing into my skin, not just pressing.
This isn’t a knife. It’s a sharpened pencil point.
But it still hurts. A lot.
I ignore it and breathe deeply, trying not to let the pain distract me from my prayer as the blond-haired boy intones, “Our Heavenly Father.”
A second pencil joins the first, twin points drilling into me. I move forward in my seat, but the pencils move with me. They’re pushing deeper now. I wonder if I’m bleeding.
“You best pray hard, nigger bitch,” a boy’s voice says, low in my ear. “We’re gonna tear you to pieces first chance we get.”
That makes me shiver, but I don’t let the boy see. I move my lips along with my own prayer. Please, Father, watch out for Ruth today. And for me, and for all of us. Please watch over us and protect us and let us make it through safely. In Your holy name.
“Amen,” I say with the blond boy and the rest of the senior class. I open my eyes.
The stabbing pain is gone.
Even though I know better—and I’d have killed Ruth if she’d done this—I turn around. I want to see who gave me the bruises forming on my back. I want to meet his eyes.
There’s no one there. The seat behind me is empty. So are the seats on either side of it. The rest of the auditorium is a blur of identical-looking white faces.
Then I see a pretty girl with red hair and a stylish white Villager blouse a few rows back. She’s looking at me. But this girl isn’t sneering, or pinching her nose, or getting ready to throw something at me. She’s just looking.
She nudges her friend, another white girl with frizzy brown hair. The brown-haired girl sees me looking at them and puts her hand up in front of her cheek as if she’s embarrassed, but the red-haired girl isn’t shy about staring.
It takes me too long to realize I’m staring back at the red-haired girl.
I drop my head, but it’s too late.
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