'What's wrong with your leg?'
'So what happened to the car?'
He laughed so much he almost fell off his crutches.
'I don't know. I didn't see it. Someone drove into me from behind, and I blacked out and woke up in my grandmother's spare room.' He laughed again, his whole face smiling. 'When I woke up, I thought I was in heaven, because the first thing I saw was one of those pictures where it says Jesus lives.'
'So you believe in God then?'
'No, I never have, but when I woke up in my grandmother's house, I thought perhaps I'd been wrong. Luckily then, I worked out where I was. That picture had always been there.'
He leaned on his crutches, dangling one leg over the grip and laughed non-stop. I had decided not to make friends with anyone at this school, but this bloke was hard to refuse.
'Something wrong with your eyes?'
'I can't take the bright light,' I said and felt bad about it, because that wasn't quite true, but it was truer than other things I had said. 'I start throwing up straight away.'
'Fair enough,' he said, and there was a silence, and I felt like a fraud. But then a ball rolled our way. I saw it first and was going to give it a kick, but then he saw it too, got ready, and using his crutches as a pommel horse, he thumped the ball with his good leg so hard it flew to the other end of the playground and smacked into the fence. It was impressive, but not something you did on a football field.
'Not bad,' I said, and he just kept on grinning and said:
'My name's Arvid, by the way,' and then the bell rang.
This time it was easier to enter the classroom, I was not the last one in, but I kept my glasses on. As long they left me in peace, this day might be OK.
When we were all seated at our desks, Levang went up to the dais and sat down as well, crossed his hands and let his gaze wander around the class until it settled on me. He smiled, I felt my neck go stiff, and then he said in a very friendly voice:
'Well, Audun. There wasn't much time in the first lesson, but now I was wondering if maybe you could tell us something about what it's like where you come from. Most of the class, you know, haven't lived anywhere else but here in Veitvet. What's it called, the place where you grew up?' I should have known. He wasn't going to leave me in peace. He was a nice man, no doubt about it, and he was doing this for my sake, he wanted me to feel at home. I shrugged.
'I mean, it could be interesting for us to hear about. Did you live on a farm?'
'There's nothing to tell,' I said in a loud voice. The blackhaired girl was giggling again.
Levang smiled, his face slightly flushed. 'Surely that can't be true,' he said. 'I mean, you're thirteen years old, after all. You must have experienced lots of things that are different from what we are used to here.'
'I said there's nothing to tell!'
'Are you sure?' he asked. Then I got up from the desk, grabbed my schoolbag from the hook on the side and made for the door. No one was giggling now.
Arvid turned to look at me, but his eyes told me nothing of what was in his mind.
'Oi, where are you going?' Levang said, and then he got up and took a few steps to cut me off. I felt my whole body tense up. I looked past his shoulder to the door, but there was no point in trying.
'I've always done my homework,' I said. 'I've always paid attention. You can see my school report if you like, but you have no right to ask me questions about things that have nothing to do with school.'
Per Petterson. Excerpt from It's Fine By Me. Copyright © 1992 by Forlaget Oktober, Oslo. English translation copyright © 2011 by Don Bartlett. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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