Jonas grinned, remembering the morning that Asher had dashed into the classroom, late as usual, arriving breathlessly in the middle of the chanting of the morning anthem. When the class took their seats at the conclusion of the patriotic hymn, Asher remained standing to make his public apology as was required.
I apologize for inconveniencing my learning community. Asher ran through the standard apology phrase rapidly, still caching his breath. The Instructor and class waited patiently for his explanation. The students had all been grinning, because they had listened to Ashers explanations so many times before.
I left home at the correct time but when I was riding along near the hatchery, the crew was separating some salmon. I guess I just got distraught, watching them.
I apologize to my classmates, Asher concluded. He smoothed his rumpled tunic and sat down.
We accept your apology, Asher. The class recited the standard response in unison. Many of the students were biting their lips to keep from laughing.
I accept your apology, Asher, the Instructor said. He was smiling. And I thank you, because once again you have provided an opportunity for a lesson in language. Distraught is too strong an adjective to describe salmon-viewing. He turned and wrote distraught on the instructional board. Beside it he wrote distracted.
Jonas, nearing his home now, smiled at the recollection. Thinking, still, as he wheeled his bike into its narrow port beside the door, he realized that frightened was the wrong word to describe his feeling, now that December was almost here. It was too strong an adjective.
He had waited a long time for this special December. Now that it was almost upon him, he wasnt frightened, but he was eager, he decided. He was eager for it to come. And he was excited, certainly. All of the Elevens were excited about the event that would be coming so soon.
But there was a little shudder of nervousness when he thought about it, about what might happen.
Apprehensive, Jonas decided. Thats what I am.
Who wants to be the first tonight, for feelings? Jonass father asked, at the conclusion of their evening meal.
It was one of the rituals, the evening telling of feelings. Sometimes Jonas and his sister, Lily, argued over turns, over who would get to go first. Their parents, of course, were part of the ritual; they, too, told their feelings each evening. But like all parents all adults they didnt fight and wheedle for their turn.
Nor did Jonas, tonight. His feelings were too complicated this evening. He wanted to share them, but he wasnt eager to begin the process of sifting through his own complicated emotions, even with the help that he knew his parents could give.
You go, Lily, he said, seeing his sister, who was much younger only a Seven wiggling with impatience in her chair.
I felt very angry this afternoon, Lily announced. My Childcare group was at the play area, and we had a visiting group of Sevens, and they didnt obey the rules at all. One of them a male; I dont know his name kept going right to the front of the line for the slide, even though the rest of us were all waiting. I felt so angry at him. I made my hand into a fist, like this. She held up a clenched fist and the rest of the family smiled at her small defiant gesture.
Why do you think the visitors didnt obey the rules? mother asked.
Lily considered, and shook her head. I dont know. They acted like like
Animals? Jonas suggested. He laughed.
Thats right, Lily said, laughing too. Like animals. Neither child knew what the word meant, exactly, but it was often used to describe someone uneducated or clumsy, someone who didnt fit in. Where were the visitors from? Father asked.
Excerpted from The Giver. Copyright (c) 1993 Lois Lowry. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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