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Lies We Tell Ourselves: Shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal

Автор:
Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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I wasn’t expecting that.

No white student has said a single sentence to me today that didn’t include nigger, coon or some other hateful word. Except the girl in the hall who spat on my good skirt.

“Bonjour,” I murmur, waiting to see if this is a trick.

“My name is Judy,” she says in terribly mangled French.

“My name is Sarah.”

We’re quiet after that. I suppose Judy thinks she’s said enough not to fail. I look at the clock over the blackboard, wondering how many minutes will pass before someone yells something new at me.

“Um,” Judy says again. She holds the cover of her French textbook out in front of her, squinting.

Then I see the real problem. “My name is Judy” is the only sentence this girl knows how to say in French.

“How are you?” I ask, hoping a simple sentence like that will be familiar to her.

She stares at me blankly.

This is useless. I turn back to the clock.

“I—” Judy starts to say.

I shake my head to show her she’s still speaking English.

Judy shakes her head, too, and half smiles. She raises her eyebrows and shrugs in what looks like an apology.

Maybe this is an act. Part of an elaborate trick she and her friends are pulling. I bet the cruel red-haired girl is the ringleader.

Or maybe I was right before. Maybe not all the white people in this school hate us.

Miss Whitson is coming our way. Judy peers up at the bulletin board, which lists some common French words. Colors. Parts of the body. Family members.

“Sister!” Judy says. She struggles to say a complete sentence, butchering the French. My mother, who teaches French and English at the colored junior high, would cringe if she heard. “Um. You have sister?”

What?

The only way this girl could know I have a sister is if she’s seen her. Everyone always says Ruth and I look alike.

I haven’t seen Ruth all morning.

“Did you see my sister?” I ask Judy in rapid French. “Where? How was she? Was she safe?”

Judy frowns and shrugs helplessly. She doesn’t understand.

“Have you seen her?” I repeat in English. “Is she safe?”

Miss Whitson is watching us. I’m sure she heard me speaking English, but she doesn’t say anything.

“Oui,” Judy says.

“Was anyone hurting her?”

“No,” Judy says. “I mean, non.”

I close my eyes and breathe in, long and slow. I feel like I haven’t breathed all morning.

Maybe we really can do this. Maybe it will be all right.

I’m so relieved I don’t even mind practicing French with a girl who can’t pronounce bonjour. So we get out our books and take turns conjugating regarder.

When the bell rings I grab my books. I try to move straight for the door, but before I’m even out of my desk the red-haired girl is blocking my way.

I wish she wouldn’t stand so near. I try again to force that feeling down. The strange buzzing in my chest that comes with being so close to a girl who’s this pretty. It doesn’t work.

“It’s a shame you had to work with her, Judy,” the girl says, looking right at me. “I’ll speak to my father tonight. He’ll get us both transferred out of this class. Math, too. We shouldn’t have to suffer just because some Northern interloper judge says so.”

The girl is right in my face. Her bright blue eyes are narrowed and fixed on mine. I can’t let her know she’s getting to me. I try to edge around her but she blocks my way with her purse. It’s just as fashionable as the rest of her—a cloth bag with round wooden handles covered in the same plaid fabric as her skirt.

There’s something about the way this girl talks. Something about the look in her eyes.

She makes me angrier than the others do.

She’s not like the girl who screamed at me in the parking lot or the one who spat on me in the hall. This girl doesn’t do that sort of thing. She works quietly. Efficiently. Ruthlessly.

I just wish she weren’t so pretty. That lovely face sets off a fire inside me that isn’t ever supposed to burn.

She frightens me. But she makes me want to stop being polite.

I shouldn’t say anything to her. It’s against the rules, and the rules are there for a reason.

It only happens because I can’t stop myself.

“It’s a shame you had to have such an awful friend, Judy,” I say, looking straight into the red-haired girl’s eyes. “I suppose we all have to suffer in our own ways.”

The red-haired girl stiffens. Everyone in the classroom is staring at us.

As soon as the words are out of my mouth, my nervousness returns. This girl may be too smart to throw rocks in the parking lot, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t just as dangerous as the rest of them. Smarts can do more damage than strength.

But if this girl is really so smart, why does she believe in segregation? There’s nothing logical about keeping people separated by their skin colors.

She’s as bad as the governor. Everyone says he’s an intelligent man. He’s a lawyer who argued in front of the Supreme Court, saying it would be too dangerous for colored children and white children to go to the same school. Then he got elected to the highest post in the state. Governor Almond has got to be one of the smartest men there is, but he believes in segregation, too.

I should’ve been smart enough not to talk back to this beautiful, dangerous girl.

It scares me, the way she makes me feel. I need to get away from her.

I slip around the red-haired girl while she’s still distracted and leave as quickly as I can. The rest of them spill out behind me. They don’t seem to be following me, though. They’re talking to Judy and her friend.

“It’s true,” one of them says. “Those agitators are just awful. I can’t believe that one had the nerve to talk to you that way, Linda.”

Linda. That must be the red-haired girl’s name. It suits her.

“What was it like speaking French with the nigger?” a boy asks Judy.

“Yeah, did she speak some of that coonjab to ya?” another one says.

“I don’t know,” Judy says. “I couldn’t understand what she said. It was in French.”

“No way,” a boy says. “You know that nigger don’t speak no French. They don’t say no ‘parlez-vous’ in Africa.”

Everyone laughs.

I’ve still got my back to the group. To be safe, I really should speed up to get away from them, but I want to hear what else Judy says. She’s the only white student all day who’s seemed like she might be all right.

“Does she stink even harder up close?” a boy asks her. “Man, I bet sitting next to one of them is worse than being on a pig farm in August.”

“I didn’t smell anything,” Judy says.
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