Lies We Tell Ourselves: Shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal
Жанр: Детская литература
Год издания: 2018 год
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Ennis swiftly lifts his tray away from a boy who’s trying to knock it over and puts it down on the table across from me.
“What happened?” I nod toward the blonde girl.
Ennis sits down, shrugs and stirs his applesauce. “I don’t know. I walked by her, and she took one look at me and started screaming. You’d think she’d never seen a colored man before.”
Oh. I hadn’t thought about that. I wonder how many other girls at this school are going to scream whenever one of the Negro boys crosses their paths.
For years now, ever since we moved down here, I’ve been listening to Mama and Daddy talk about integration. Sometimes at night Ruth and I sneak out of our room and sit on the top step in our nightgowns, listening to our parents’ voices drift up the staircase. Mostly they talked about the court cases. That part was boring, but sooner or later they’d stop talking about injunctions and petitions and hearing dates and start talking about what integration might really be like for us. Once, when it was so late Ruth had fallen asleep, I heard Mama whisper to Daddy that what worried her most was our Negro boys. The white parents might give a dozen reasons for opposing integration, she’d said, but what they were really worried about deep down was their girls being around our boys. She never said exactly what worried them about that, though. Intermarriage, I suppose. The idea that black boys might get their nice white girls in trouble.
I don’t like to think about that sort of thing. It makes me blush. Besides, no Negro boy I know would ever risk going near a white girl. A few years ago a boy down in Mississippi got killed for doing a lot less than that.
“Hey, I saw your sister after second period,” Ennis says. “She was all right.”
I jerk up in my seat. “You’re sure? She wasn’t hurt?”
“She looked great. Walking down the hall with her nose in the air. From the way she acted you wouldn’t even know there was anyone yelling.”
I’m relieved, but at the same time I want to cry. “People were yelling at her?”
“Well, yeah. But no worse than the rest of us.”
I nod. “Thanks for helping her this morning. With those boys on the way in. I was so worried.”
“Oh. Sure.” He shrugs like it was nothing.
“I wish I could see her,” I say. “During the class breaks, just to make sure she’s all right. Then I wouldn’t have to worry all day. But I don’t even know where the freshmen classes are.”
“They’re all mixed together.” Ennis opens his notebook and turns to a blank sheet. He sketches out the school’s first floor, second floor, third floor and basement. “This is where I saw her this morning. She must have a class near there.”
He draws blocks around the Math, English, History and Science sections of the school, then draws in the stairwells and puts stars next to the gym, cafeteria and auditorium.
“How do you know all this?” I ask him.
“Mr. Muse snuck Chuck and me in during one of his shifts last summer. He wanted to make sure we knew our way around in case there was trouble.”
Right. Just in case.
“This is the main entrance.” Ennis draws a big X. “Where we’ll never go in again if we can help it.”
“You really think it’ll make a difference?”
“I think we’ve got to try.”
I can’t tell whether Ennis means what he’s saying. Whether he really thinks there’s any point in hoping things will get better.
But there are only five months left until I graduate. I can do this for five months.
I have to graduate from this school. It means so much to Mama and Daddy.
To me, too. I want to walk across that stage in front of all those white people and get that diploma. Show them there’s nothing they can do that I can’t.
But once I’m gone, Ruth will still have another three years in this place.
I squeeze my eyes tight against that thought.
A tray clatters down on the table beside mine, making me flinch.
“Sorry I’m late,” Chuck says.
“What happened?” Ennis fixes Chuck with a look.
Chuck shrugs. “Some guys hassling me. I got rid of them.”
“Got rid of them how?” There’s a warning in Ennis’s voice.
“It’s not important,” Chuck says.
I don’t want to know how Chuck got rid of them. I wonder if fighting is the sort of thing boys always talk about at lunch.
I’ve never sat with a boy in the cafeteria before. Girls and boys don’t usually do that after elementary school. But everything in my life is different now, so I suppose this might as well be different, too.
I wonder what will happen when word of it gets back to our old school. I wonder if the girls will talk about me. Say the sorts of things that get said about girls sometimes.
I had my first boyfriend last year. His name was Alvin. We went to the movies and held hands and walked around the park. We even kissed a little, but we never French-kissed. Girls aren’t supposed to do that until after high school.
I don’t mind that. I try not to even think about things like kissing and holding hands. When I do, I get confused and upset, and I have to stop thinking about it fast before I start thinking the wrong things.
I used to think the wrong things all the time. Before I knew they were wrong.
It started back when we lived in Chicago. One day I was walking with Mama and Ruth and we passed a movie theater that had a poster out front for Gone with the Wind. The poster showed the girl lying back in the man’s arms. Her green dress was cut low. I looked at that picture and it made me feel—
Something. I don’t know what, exactly. I just know that feeling was wrong.
But I didn’t know that then. And I didn’t know it was wrong when I used to take Mama’s copies of Ebony off the coffee table when she was done with them. I’d take them up to my room and turn straight to the back, where they had the fashion pictures. I’d turn the magazine around to all angles and look at the girls posing. The swimsuit articles were my favorites. I read every word on those pages. Mama was always surprised when she’d take us shopping for swimsuits in June and I knew all about cotton knit Lastex and the new “disciplined” bikinis.
Now that I’m almost grown-up, I know about right and wrong. It was shameful, the things I used to do. That’s why I don’t like to think about things like kissing.
I still have every one of those magazines in a box under my bed, though.
I try to focus on Chuck and Ennis’s conversation. They’re talking about their teachers. None of the others were as bad as Mrs. Gruber.
I tell them about what happened in French. Neither of them knows who Judy is, but when I mention Linda, Ennis knows exactly who I’m talking about.
“That’s Linda Hairston,” he says. “You know about the Hairstons, right?”
I shake my head, but as Ennis starts to explain, I realize I do know.
Linda’s father is William Hairston, the editor for the Davisburg Gazette. He’s the one who writes the editorials opposing integration. He’s also Daddy’s boss.
Daddy reads his editorials out loud at the breakfast table sometimes. They’re mostly about how integration will ruin our state for good. The last one he read us had a section about how Negro children should be taught only by Negro teachers, for our own benefit, because no one else can understand how “uniquely” our brains work.
Daddy says Mr. Hairston is much worse for Negroes than the boys who throw rocks or call us names. People respect Mr. Hairston. Thousands of people read what he writes and think it’s the truth.
Daddy is a copy boy for Mr. Hairston’s paper. He hates working there, but he doesn’t have any choice. He doesn’t make enough money just writing for the Negro paper, the way he used to when we lived in Chicago.
Did I put Daddy’s job at risk when I talked back to Linda? I need to be more careful from now on.
“What other classes did you have this morning?” Ennis asks me.
“Math, Typing, History and French. Every one was either a repeat or remedial.”
“Mine, too,” Ennis says. “And I’m in Auto Shop.”
“I’ve got Shop, too,” Chuck says. “Next period.”
The boys in College Prep at our old school never took Shop. I doubt Chuck and Ennis ever learned how to use tools. Ennis especially. His father is a lawyer, and his mother hires a handyman whenever they need something fixed. I hope Ennis doesn’t wind up cutting himself with a saw or anything like that.
“Why can’t we take the right classes?” I say. “The ones we were supposed to take at Johns?”
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