"Get out!" he thundered, snapping his head up, wounded fury on his face. I fled.
"Everything fine, Luc?" Prof asked when I returned. I nodded. I didn't want to talk about what had happened. I didn't even want to think about it.
I stared down at Prof's heavy valise and stretched my arms over my head, hoping my muscles would loosen in the morning sunshine. I'd seen plenty of ancient women trekking home from the fields with babies on their backs and huge bales of greens on their heads. If they could handle those, I could handle this bag. Couldn't I?
As Prof took the metal briefcase and started forward, Omar chattering on his shoulder, I heaved the valise to the top of my head. Once I'd gotten my balance, it wasn't such bad going, and the sunshine felt wonderful. I reminded myself that I would always have sunshine, no matter how my life changed.
We didn't have far to go. Prof stopped us outside of High Fashion Works of God, Franceville's fanciest store. I put the valise down and sat on top of it, preparing for a wait. Prof, already half-way inside, waved me through.
I timidly edged inside the store, stashing the valise in a corner. I'd studied the shelves from the outside many times before, but now I could see them up close. Rows and rows of treasures were lined on shiny brown shelves. Ties and tie pins; lace christening dresses; bottles of medicines in identical green glass bottles, each with its own cork stopper and hand-printed label. Omar scampered along an aisle, his tail knocking down a whole row of straw dolls.
The shopkeeper, a famously beautiful woman who wore lipstick and had her hair swooshed to one side like some boyfriend was pulling on it, smiled tightly at Prof and then frowned at me. I got ready to apologize for being there.
But Prof spoke first, his French suddenly more sophisticated. "My research assistant will need to be outfitted. Only first I must ask him a few questions."
He leaned into me. With the beautiful shopkeeper staring us down, I found it hard to meet Prof's eyes. "Do you own any shoes?" he asked.
I shook my head. I'd had shoes until a year before, when my feet had grown too large and I'd passed them along to another boy. I suspected I'd never fit into shoes ever again my toes had splayed from being barefoot all the time. The littlest ones made sharp turns at the end of my foot.
"Then we'll need to get you shoes," Prof said. "Next: Do you have any worms?"
I nodded. I had seen the things crawling after I relieved myself. It was perfectly normal, though all the boys had those.
"Do you have the worm?"
I shook my head. Missionary nuns had driven through on a bus last year and tested people for HIV. I went in and let them prick me because it was free and I got a cookie afterward. When I went back the next day, they told me I didn't have the virus. Then they wanted me to find God. But I said no because I didn't know how; besides, there was no cookie involved in that.
Prof turned back to the shopkeeper, who was still frowning, her disgust so big, it was almost funny. I thought it was just me, but her most severe looks were at Prof. They say the only person a Gabonese hates more than a European is an Arab. I hadn't thought that was true, but it certainly seemed to be the case for the beauti-ful shopkeeper of High Fashion Works of God. "My assistant has spoken," Prof said. "We need a pair of shoes and a set of boys' lothes and a bottle of anti-worm medication. The pill form, if you please, madame."
I left there with brand-new shoes slapping the ground and an exquisite green glass bottle in my pocket. My smile was as huge as the shopkeeper's frown had been. In one pocket I had another bot-tle, filched rubbing alcohol. I knew by now that treating a cut quickly was key to staying alive. The shopkeeper would never miss the bottle and deserved what she got, anyway, for the nasty looks she'd given Prof.
Excerpted from Threatened by Eliot Schrefer. Copyright © 2014 by Eliot Schrefer. Excerpted by permission of Scholastic. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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