Lies We Tell Ourselves: Shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal
Жанр: Детская литература
Год издания: 2018 год
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And it doesn’t matter if I’m a tiny bit late to French. None of the teachers ever give me detentions, not if they want to get invited to the Christmas parties. My mother has been president of the Jefferson PTA since my oldest brother was a freshman.
“Are you all right?” Judy asks the girl when she finally opens her eyes.
I glare at Judy. She whispers an “Oh” and looks apologetic.
Judy never remembers you’re supposed to act differently around different people. If it weren’t for me, she’d talk to this colored girl the same way she talks to Reverend Pierce.
The colored girl doesn’t show any sign of having heard Judy. She’s looking down at her clothes. I wonder if she’s checking for stains. This morning I saw one of the other colored girls get sprayed with ink outside the library. Everyone was laughing. It made me think of the time Eddie Lowe pushed me into a puddle in second grade when I was wearing my new Easter dress. I got so upset Daddy wrote an angry letter and Eddie’s father sent us a check for five dollars to buy me a new one.
The girl this morning didn’t look upset, though. She just kept walking with her head held up so high I wanted to look around for her puppet strings.
“I’m leaving,” this colored girl says, standing up.
“You don’t have to,” Judy says. “No one ever comes in this bathroom. If you want to be alone—”
Judy stops talking when I shake my head at her. It’s one thing to show basic human decency. It’s another to go out of your way to accommodate someone who’s trying to change our whole way of life.
I wrote an editorial about that for the school newspaper last year. I said if the integrationists won, the rest of us should behave like civilized people, but we shouldn’t feel obligated to act happy about things.
Daddy liked that column. Or anyway, Mom told me she thought he probably did.
The colored girl is looking at Judy, her head tilted. Even with her dark skin and old, patched clothes, the colored girl is pretty. She has long hair, longer than the style is now, and her eyes are wide and dark.
It’s strange. I’ve never thought of a colored girl as being pretty before. My friends whisper sometimes about how a few of the colored boys look all right, but everyone says that’s because so many of them are tall and muscled from working outside. I don’t know what would make a colored girl nice looking, exactly. But then, I’d never seen a colored girl up close before yesterday.
“Do you need—?” the colored girl starts to ask Judy. Then she stops. Judy cups her hand over her cheek, and I realize what the girl is looking at. Judy never finished fixing her makeup. The colored girl saw her birthmark.
Judy takes out her makeup case and hurries to brush more onto her face.
“Never mind,” the colored girl says. “I’ll be leaving now.”
“Good.” I tug Judy’s elbow. “You can leave the whole school while you’re at it, and take your friends with you. Hurry up, Judy, we’re already late.”
“Are you all right?” Judy asks the girl as she sweeps on more makeup. “You were crying. And—praying.”
“Don’t talk to her, Judy,” I whisper.
The colored girl looks at me, tilting her head to one side. I look back just as fiercely. What gives her the right to stare at me?
She looks like she’s thinking hard. Deciding something. Finally, she opens her mouth. When she speaks, it’s slow, like she’s measuring each word before she says it.
“Since when do you care about being polite?” the colored girl says.
Judy gasps. I would, too, except I can hardly breathe at all.
I can’t believe she spoke to me that way.
No one speaks to me that way.
No one who’s not related to me, anyway. Certainly not a Negro.
Who does this girl think she is?
And after I just finished helping that other colored girl, too. If it weren’t for me that little girl would be splattered all over the lockers by now.
Daddy was right. The Negro students think they’re entitled. They think their own schools—the ones set aside specifically for them—aren’t enough. They think they have to come to our schools, even if it means hundreds of us have to suffer just so a handful of them can be satisfied.
The colored girl smiles. As though she’s proud of herself.
“I didn’t ask you to come to this school,” I tell her.
A corner of the girl’s lip turns up.
Is she laughing at me?
“I’ve got you figured out,” she says. “You’re Linda Hairston, aren’t you? Your father is William Hairston.”
“Yes,” I say. Everyone knows that. I don’t know why this girl is acting as if knowing it makes her special.
“You were the one talking to that gang of white boys. You called my sister dumb.”
Oh. I try to remember if I heard anything about two of the integrators being sisters, but I don’t think the paper said anything except that there were ten of them and they’d all claimed they weren’t Communists.
“So why did you get in front of her in the first place?” the girl asks me. “Some sort of stunt to show that your father isn’t the monster his editorials make him out to be?”
“My father’s no monster,” I hiss.
But I do wonder why I got between Bo and that girl. I was mad at Bo, sure, but I could’ve just made fun of him in the cafeteria or something instead.
I guess it just didn’t seem right, what Bo was doing. A whole group of boys, going after a little freshman girl.
And there was something about the little girl’s face, too. She looked so afraid. It didn’t seem right that she had to be so scared just because she was a Negro. She couldn’t help her color.
She could help being an agitator, though. She shouldn’t have been stirring up trouble at our school. What happened to her was her own fault. I’m too softhearted for my own good.
What bad luck, that I had to run into her older sister right after. I glare at the girl. She glares back at me and shakes her head.
“I’ve read your father’s editorials,” the girl says. “Looks as though you both like to tell everybody else what to do. Especially us Negroes.”
“Nobody’s telling you what to do,” I say. “Your people are the ones telling us what to do. If you’d just let things be, we’d all be better off, your people and mine both. Your sister wouldn’t have gotten in trouble in the hall today and needed my help.”
I try to emphasize that last word, help, so this girl will know she should be thanking me, not arguing, but she doesn’t look especially thankful. When she speaks again, her words are still slow and deliberate.
“All my sister and I are trying to do is go to school,” she says. “We should be able to do that without having to worry about people coming at us in the halls.”
“You already had a school to go to,” I point out. “A school that’s been open all year long. Your prom didn’t get canceled. I bet you’re happy to have ruined it all for the rest of us, though.”
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