Lies We Tell Ourselves: Shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal
Жанр: Детская литература
Год издания: 2018 год
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There’s a long pause where all I hear are footsteps. Then one of the boys says, “What’s the matter, Judy, you turning into a nigger-lover?”
There’s another long pause.
Then Linda speaks up. I’d recognize her voice anywhere.
“Don’t feel like you have to protect her, Judy,” Linda says. “You don’t owe her anything. They’re the ones who messed up this whole year for all of us, remember?”
There’s another pause. Then Judy’s voice falters. “Well. She talked real fast. Like how people up North sound.”
Some of the boys chuckle.
“I bet she wasn’t really saying anything in French,” Judy says. “I bet she just making a bunch of noises.”
Everyone’s laughing now. One of the boys makes a honking sound.
“Yeah, do that again!” another boy says. “That’s what nigger French sounds like.”
Soon all the boys are doing it. Their laughter howls down the hall.
But they’re getting drowned out now by the other shouts. The usual ones. The circle has started to form around me, the way it always does in the halls. There are too many catcalls of “Nigger!” and “Ugly coon!” to distinguish one voice from another.
In a way, I’m relieved.
When it’s this loud it’s hard to hear the voice in my head.
The one that’s saying I was wrong. That Judy isn’t all right.
That every white person in this school is just as bad as every other.
Lie #4 (#ulink_54e3db22-7bff-506a-828f-ea46cfe0a143)
“LOOK AT THAT ugly face.” The white girl behind me in the lunch line is talking to her friend, but she’s gazing straight at me. “I guess there ain’t nothing she can do about it, though. They don’t make no black lipstick.”
Her friend stares at me, too.
I want to tell the white girl she’s uglier than I’ll ever be, with her fat ankles and her rat’s nest hair.
Instead I keep my eyes on the wall.
I’d expected the name-calling. The spitting. The shoving. I wasn’t ready for it, but I’d known it was coming.
What I didn’t plan on was the staring.
Everyone stares at me. Boys, girls. Freshmen, seniors. Teachers, secretaries.
Everyone. All day long. If I so much as move my little finger, fifty people watch me do it.
Maybe they think I can’t see them. That I’m blind as well as black.
“There she is!” a man’s voice booms. “There’s our young Miss Sarah Dunbar!”
I start to panic. Then I remember none of the white people know my name.
Mr. Muse is coming toward me, a bucket swinging from his hand and a wide smile on his face.
“Mr. Muse!” I grin up at him. He’s the tallest man in our church, nearly a foot taller than Daddy. His wife is in the choir with me, but I’d forgotten he worked at Jefferson. He sets his bucket down on the floor, peels off one of his rubber gloves and holds out his big hand to me. I clasp it, ignoring the looks and snickers from the white people. Mr. Muse’s hand is warm in mine.
“Bless you, Sarah,” he says, beaming down at me. “You know we’re all real, real glad to see you here.”
I can’t find words to tell Mr. Muse how glad I am to see him, too. His is the first friendly face I’ve seen in I don’t know how long.
“Now you just remember, we’re all so proud of you.” Mr. Muse drops my hand. He bends down to retrieve his bucket with the mop handle poking out the top. “And you’re surely making your mama and daddy proud, too.”
“Thank you so much, Mr. Muse, sir,” I say.
“Sir?” the girl behind me snickers in a high-pitched voice that she probably thinks sounds Northern. Like me. “Leave it to a doggone dirty nigger to call the doggone dirty janitor ‘sir.’ You get on out of here with your stinking bucket, boy.”
Mr. Muse acts like he didn’t hear the girl. He smiles at me again, then turns to leave the cafeteria, whistling that jazz tune they’ve been playing on the radio all winter.
I wish I could keep clasping Mr. Muse’s big warm hand for the rest of the day.
Usually when I see Negroes working as janitors or cleaning women, I get embarrassed. I understand why they’re doing it—it’s hard enough to find jobs as it is—but I hate to think of any of us mopping up spilled food we wouldn’t be allowed to eat if we were paying customers.
But the food in this cafeteria isn’t only for white people anymore. I’m here now.
I smile as I make my way through the lunch line. I take a double helping of green beans, my favorite, from the lunch ladies who pass me a tray without meeting my eyes. I will eat green beans today. The same green beans the white people get to eat. Because that’s my right. Mr. Muse and the others are counting on me to prove that it’s so.
But when I come out of the line Mr. Muse is long gone. The only black face in the room is mine.
The tables are arranged in long rows. There are almost no empty seats left. I was near the back of the lunch line, since I was late getting to the cafeteria. Groups of boys kept blocking my way in the halls.
One table has a few empty seats at the end. I move toward it, carefully stepping over the feet stuck out in my path, and set my tray on the painted wood surface.
Right away there’s a murmur from the white people nearest me. And then everyone sitting at the long table—there must be thirty of them—stands up.
“I can’t eat with this stench,” one girl says.
“I know. I lost my appetite.”
“They’re going to have to bleach this whole table to get the smell out.”
They leave, squeezing into other tables. Some of the girls are sharing seats. The boys hold their trays in their hands, trying to shove food in their mouths standing up.
I pretend not to notice. I pretend not to hear the laughter all around me. Or the new rounds of taunts that come with it.
I know I don’t really smell, but I still want to take about fifty showers when I get home to make sure.
No. I can’t think that way. I can’t let these white people get to me.
I’m lucky, really. I have a whole table to myself.
But I don’t feel lucky.
I take a bite of my green beans. They taste like rubber.
Just then, a girl shrieks near the end of the line and I forget all about my food. What if it’s Ruth?
I stand up fast, ignoring the boy behind me who calls me a damn nigger when my chair bumps into his, and crane my neck to see what’s going on in the line.
It’s not Ruth. The shrieking girl is white and blonde. She’s standing with a group of friends, covering her face with her hands.
Ten feet behind her Ennis is backing away slowly, gripping his tray, his eyes surveying the room.
No one else seems to have noticed the girl’s shriek. I sit back down. Whatever’s going on, I don’t need to draw more attention to it.
Ennis sees me and makes his way over, casting looks back at the blonde girl. She’s crying. Her friend pats her arm.
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