What is your name?
Your friend is she a good student, too? He was looking beyond her, at Ellen, who hadnt moved.
Annemarie looked back, too, and saw that Ellens face, usually rosy-cheecked, was pale, and her dark eyes were wide.
She nodded at the soldier. Better than me, she said.
What is her name?
And who is this? he asked, looking to Annemaries side. Kirsti had appeared there suddenly, scowling at everyone.
My little sister. She reached down for Kirstis hand, but Kirsti, always stubborn, refused it and put her hands on her hips defiantly. The soldier reached down and stroked her little sisters short, tangled curls. Stand still, Kirsti, Annemarie ordered silently, praying that somehow the obstinate five-year-old would receive the message. But Kirsti reached up and pushed the soldiers hand away. Dont, she said loudly.
Both soldiers began to laugh. They spoke to each other in rapid German that Annemarie couldnt understand.
She is pretty, like my own little girl, the tall one said in a more pleasant voice.
Annemarie tried to smile politely.
Go home, all of you. Go study your schoolbooks. And dont run. You look like hoodlums when you run.
The two soldiers turned away. Quickly Annemarie reached down again and grabbed her sisters hand before Kirsti could resist.
Hurrying the little girl along, she rounded the corner. In a moment Ellen was beside her. They walked quickly not speaking with Kirsti between them, toward the large apartment building where both families lived.
When they were almost home, Ellen whispered suddenly, I was so scared.
Me too, Annemarie whispered back.
As they turned to enter their building, both girls looked straight ahead, toward the door. They did it purposely so that they would not catch the eyes or the attention of two more soldiers, who stood with their guns on this corner as well. Kirsti scurried ahead of them through the door, chattering about the picture she was bringing home from kindergarten to show Mama. For Kirsti, the soldiers were simply part of the landscape, something that had always been there, on every corner, as unimportant as lampposts, throughout her remembered life.
Are you going to tell your mother? Ellen asked Annemarie as they trudged together up the stairs. Im not. My mother would be upset. No, I wont, tell either. Mama would probably scold me for running on the street.
She said goodbye to Ellen on the second floor, where Ellen lived, and continued to the third, practicing in her mind a cheerful greeting for her mother; a smile, a description of todays spelling test, in which she had done well.
But she was too late. Kirsti had gotten there first. and he poked Annemaries book bag with his gun, and then he grabbed my hair! Kirsti was chattering as she took off her sweater in the center of the apartment living room. But I wasnt scared. Annemarie was, and Ellen, too. But not me!
Mrs. Johansen rose quickly from the chair by the window where shed been sitting. Mrs. Rosen, Ellens mother, was there, too, in the opposite chair. Theyd been having coffee together, as they did many afternoons. O f course it wasnt really coffee, though the mothers still called it that; having coffee. There had been no real coffee in Copenhagen since the beginning of the Nazi occupation. Not even any real tea. The mothers sipped at hot water flavored with herbs.
Annemarie, what happened? What is Kirsti talking about? her mother asked anxiously.
Excerpted from Number the Stars by Lois Lowry Copyright © 1998 by Lois Lowry. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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