Lies We Tell Ourselves: Shortlisted for the 2016 Carnegie Medal
Жанр: Детская литература
Год издания: 2018 год
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Did she notice? Could she tell?
This hasn’t happened to me in a long time. Noticing a girl like that, and letting her see it. I’ve learned how to force it down when I feel those things. To act as if I’m normal.
But sometimes I can’t stop it. I can’t stop it now.
My cheeks are flushed. I feel off balance, even though I’m still sitting down. I grip the armrest to steady myself.
My mind is running to scary places. The images come too fast for me to stop them.
I imagine what it would be like if I were alone with the red-haired girl. How it would feel if she smiled at me with her pretty smile, and I smiled back, and—
No. I know better than to think this way.
I can’t take any risks. Especially not at this school. If anyone found out the truth about me it would mean—I don’t even know what it would mean. I only know it would be horrible. It would be a hundred times worse than what happened in the parking lot this morning. A thousand times.
Then I realize I’ve got another problem altogether.
The other white people have noticed I’m turned around. They’re whispering to each other and pointing at me.
The boys leer. The girls scrunch up their faces. One boy rolls a spitball.
I turn back around fast. I can’t make that mistake again.
I’d thought some of the white people at Jefferson might be all right. But if they were, they’d be helping us, wouldn’t they? They’d be telling the other white people to leave us alone. They’d have held the doors open so we could get through.
No one’s helped us yet.
The teacher is back at the front of the stage, still looking bored. “All right, seniors. It’s time to distribute your schedules and locker assignments for the year. When your name is called, go to Mr. Lewis or Mrs. Gruber to pick yours up. Then go straight to your first period class. There will be no dawdling in the halls. Tardiness will result in detention.”
“Want to bet she said that just for us?” Chuck mutters.
The spitball hits my back. The surprise of it makes me catch my breath, but I don’t let the white people see me flinch. Instead I reach back and pull the spitball off my blouse. It’s cold and slimy. It makes my stomach churn, but I tell myself it’s no worse than changing my little brother’s diapers, and I did that for two and a half years.
“Donna Abner?” calls a man standing in the aisle to our left. Mr. Lewis. His name was on the Glee Club poster, so he must be the Music teacher. A white girl moves up the aisle toward him.
“It’s alphabetical,” Ennis whispers as Mrs. Gruber calls for Leonard Anderson from the opposite aisle. “Sarah, you’ll be first, but come back here and wait for us after you get your schedule. We’ll all go to first period together.”
“What if we’re not in the same class?” Chuck asks.
Mrs. Mullins said the school might put us in different classes. If we were separated, the school officials thought, there’d be less risk of violence. I guess they thought two or three Negroes together would try to take on an entire classroom full of whites. As if any of us wanted to get killed.
“We’ll walk together anyway,” Ennis says. “The longer we’re together the safer we are. That’s more important than detention.”
But when the teachers reach the D’s, they skip right over where my last name, Dunbar, should be and go straight from Thomas Dillard to Nancy Duncan.
Should I say something? I look at Ennis.
“Let’s wait,” he whispers.
When they get to the M’s, when Ennis should be called, the teachers skip over him, too. The same thing happens with Chuck when they get to the T’s.
Maybe this was all a big mistake.
We were told we’d been admitted to the school, and that we should come in today along with the white people, but maybe the courts have issued a new ruling. Maybe the police will troop in to pull us out of here. The white people will line the halls and cheer as we’re escorted from the building.
The auditorium is almost empty now. Somehow it’s scarier seeing just a few angry white faces staring us down instead of a hundred. If they got one of us alone they could do anything they wanted and it would be their word against ours.
Finally the last name, Susan Young, is called. Mr. Lewis gives Susan her schedule. Once her back is turned he comes over to stand in front of Ennis, Chuck and me.
The rest of the teachers have left. Mr. Lewis leans back and rests his elbow on the stage, looking us over.
My heartbeat speeds up. Mr. Lewis is a teacher, but that doesn’t mean he supports integration. Would he do something to us if it meant risking his job? Not that anyone would believe three colored children telling stories about a grown white man.
Then Mr. Lewis smiles.
I tilt my head, confused. It looks like a real smile, not a sneer.
“Hello,” he says. “Welcome to Jefferson High School.”
Is this a trick? Next to me, Chuck shifts in his seat. There’s suspicion in his eyes.
Mr. Lewis looks at each of us in turn, still smiling. “I’m told you three will be the first Negroes to graduate from a white school in Davisburg County. All I can say is, it’s about time.”
It’s the first kind thing anyone has said to us.
I try to smile back at Mr. Lewis. Mama would want me to be polite.
“Let’s get you some schedules.” Mr. Lewis pulls three rumpled papers from his pocket. “Sorry we didn’t have them with the others. Apparently someone in the office didn’t think you’d be here today, so your schedules had to be assembled rather hastily.”
He chuckles. I don’t. We might very well not have been here today. Some of the white parents tried to file an emergency petition at the courthouse just yesterday to stop us from getting into Jefferson.
The white parents, and the school board, and Senator Byrd and Governor Almond fought this with everything they had. It’s been five years since the Supreme Court said integration had to happen, but for five years, the white people kept fighting, and our schools stayed segregated. Until last week, when the courts put out their final ruling: the white parents, and the governor and the rest of the segregationists had lost.
Here we are. Whether they like it or not.
Whether we like it or not, too.
“Miss Dunbar.” Mr. Lewis hands me a paper.
No one ever calls me “Miss.” Usually it’s just “Sarah.” Or, if it’s a white person talking, “Girl.”
He hands Chuck and Ennis their schedules, too. I try to read the scrawled handwriting on mine.
* * *
Typing? I took Typing at my old school. And I’ve already had two years of French. Plus there’s no music class on my schedule at all. At my old school, Johns High, I was going to take Advanced Music Performance this year.
“What do these R’s after the course names mean?” Chuck whispers. I look at his schedule. He has the same first-period Math class I do. Other than that, we don’t have any classes together.
I don’t know what the R’s mean, either. I want to ask Mr. Lewis, but Ennis is already standing up.
“Come on,” he says. “We don’t want to be late. Thank you, sir.”
“Go straight to your first-period classes,” Mr. Lewis says. “There’s no Homeroom today. Good luck.”
Good luck? I wonder if he’s joking.
We file out of the auditorium in silence. Someone has shut the doors, even though the assembly only just ended. Ennis pushes them open and steps out into the hall.
“There they are!” The cries are coming from all around us. At least a dozen boys are gathered, most in letterman’s sweaters. “There’s those coon diggers!”
“You have to go to the second floor?” Ennis mutters to me, not taking his eyes off the boys. They’re coming closer. They’re smiling.
“Yes,” I whisper. “Chuck does, too.”
“You go first, Sarah,” Chuck says. His voice is low and gravelly. “We’ll keep them from following you.”
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