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Back at boarding school in Kenya where her parents serve as missionaries, Anika learns a lesson about loving her enemies as she tries to deal with another student who continually torments her.
"Hey, Anika, I heard you've got an illegitimate brother who drinks," Sabrina Oats yelled at me, over a whole line of kids.
It was the first day of a new term at boarding school. We were in line for supper. I didn't need this hassle from Sabrina Oats right in front of everyone.
See, during vacation I'd found out that I had a half brother. When Mom was a teenager, she had a baby and had to give him up for adoption. Now that he's grown up, he found out who Mom was. Without telling anybody he had come out to where we live in Kenya to see what Mom was like. It was very weird for our family.
The kids at school would find out about him soon enough, but this was terrible! Everybody was staring at me. My mouth went dry with panic. How did Sabrina know, anyway?
"Who told you to stick your nose in?" I demanded.
"Mrs. Geisler told my mom to pray for your family. She said your evil brother could stop your parents from being good missionaries." Sabrina tossed her head. "I think just having a kid like you proves how rotten they are."
I glared at her. Sabrina Oats never liked me. Ever since my cousin Tianna accidentally broke Sabrina's arm, Sabrina had hated me even worse. I stuck my chin up. I wasn't going to let Sabrina Oats intimidate me!
"What's it to you?" I asked.
"Oh, nothing." She gave me a mean fake smile. "I'm just glad my mom has better morals."
"Look, Mom wasn't even a Christian yet when she had Rick," I said, trying not to let my voice shake.
"His name is Rick, is it? Rick the wreck! Rick the wreck is going to wreck your family," she jeered.
"He is not! The mission said we could stay!"
"Well, they made a mistake then," Sabrina said, tossing her head again.
"Shut up, Sabrina," said one of the tenth-grade girls ahead of us in line. "Even you should be able to tell this is nothing to bug her about." She frowned at Sabrina, then turned back to her friends.
I let my breath out with relief. Sabrina tossed her sleek, pale blonde hair. Then she stuck her tongue out at the girl's back. Esther Miller, Sabrina's friend, was staring at me wide-eyed. I twisted away from them and saw Amy and Muthoni walking up to the end of the line. I got out of line and walked toward them.
"So go hide behind your friends, wimp!" Sabrina yelled as I left.
"Hi, Anika!" Muthoni said. "What was Sabrina bugging you about?"
I shrugged and kicked at the dust.
"You and Lisa get to be in the same room. Amy and me get to be together this term, too. We're in the other room," Muthoni said. She turned back to Amy. "My dad said we could go horseback riding at midterm break."
"Really?" Amy said, grinning. "Where at?"
She and Amy ignored me and talked to each other. They weren't trying to be mean. They were just best friends that hadn't seen each other all vacation.
"Where's Lisa?" Amy suddenly asked. "Isn't she here yet?"
"Her mom made her stay home until she gets over the flu," I said. Lisa Barnes is my best friend.
"What a drag!" Muthoni said.
"You can sit with us, OK?" Amy said.
"Thanks," I said, feeling a bit better. I wanted to tell them about Rick, but the words wouldn't come out.
"You're really lucky," Amy said as the line moved up.
"Huh?" I blurted. Lucky wasn't how I felt right then.
"Yeah, Lisa lives right on the same mission station with you. Muthoni and I never get to see each other except at school."
"You have midterm together," I pointed out.
"That's only because my parents live too far away. There isn't time for me to travel all the way home and back in a week," Amy said. "See, you're even lucky that your parents live close."
We went through the door. The dining hall sounds washed over us. Think of four hundred excited kids in one big hall. Trays, dishes, glasses, and silverware were clinking and clanking. Everybody was calling out to friends they hadn't seen all vacation.
"Hey, Anika!" Cheddy yelled at me. "I heard you guys climbed Mount Kenya."
"I made it to the top, too!" I called back.
"No way!" he said, following his friends to a table.
"Really! Ask Lisa Barnes if you don't believe me," I called after him.
Cheddy was all right. He was thin and tough with soft brown hair. His real name was John French. He had a big brother named Eddy, and when Cheddy first came to boarding school, he looked just like a small version of his brother. People called him "Titch Eddy." Titch means "little." He'd been called Cheddy ever since.
"Did you really make it all the way up?" Muthoni asked me. Her eyes were wide in her dark face.
I grinned and told her about the climb. I told how it was so hard to keep going. I told about the weird plants and foggy rain. I didn't say anything about how Rick had found us there. Amy started telling us how her big brother climbed the Mountains of the Moon in Zaire.
I bit my lip. Would everybody hate me the way Sabrina did when they found out about Rick? Please help with this, Jesus, I prayed in my head. Help it not to wreck things at school. Just help things be OK even with Lisa gone.
I looked around for my sister, Sandy. She's two years younger than me. Were people bugging her about Rick too? I could see her sitting with Traci Stewart and a bunch of other friends. She was laughing. At least Sandy is OK, I thought. I poked at a limp green bean on my plate. Boarding school food was always hard to eat the first few days.
After supper, I started back down to the dorm. Wind blew against my shirt. I spun to face it so it lifted my hair like a mane. Late-afternoon sunshine was painting everything gold. I whirled and ran down the twisting path.
In front of me the ground went down in huge steps. The bottom of the Rift Valley was four thousand feet below our school. It stretched out wide in front of me. I could see Mounts Longanot and Suswa, hazy in the late sunshine. Laughing out loud, I leapt from rock to rock. I'd missed the huge valley and the wind of this place.
I stayed outside and watched the sun go down over the valley. I had been planning to tell people about Rick right away. Now I didn't want to. I didn't even want to tell Amy and Muthoni. Things were so much simpler away from people. I stayed out of the dorm room until it was bedtime.
Mr. Jackson did dorm devotions. He read from Luke, Chapter 6. I watched Sabrina uneasily. When she'd come in, Esther Miller was with her, as usual. So were Kristi Askin, Joan Rivard, and some other kids. Now all of them kept staring at me. I frowned. Sabrina Oats was a jerk. What had she been telling them, anyway?
Suddenly Mr. Jackson's voice cut through my thoughts. "Ask God to bless those who say bad things to you. Pray for those who are cruel to you."
I stared at Sabrina. Ask God to bless her? Mr. Jackson went on. "If you love only those who love you, should you get some special praise for doing that? No! Even sinners love the people who love them!"
I squirmed and wished devotions would hurry up and be over. I already knew the stuff Mr. Jackson was saying. I didn't want to think about it. Last term I'd tried to be nice to Sabrina. She still hated me. I shook my head like I was trying to shake off a fly. Maybe Sabrina is listening this time, I thought. Maybe she'll lay off me.
It was no use hoping. As I walked into the room to go to bed, Sabrina yanked out my top drawer.
"Hey, what are you doing?" I demanded.
"Looking for beer," she said, throwing clothes onto the floor. "Your brother probably taught you bad habits."
I was lucky because Mrs. Jackson walked in right behind me. "Good night, girls," she said. Sabrina stood stock still. Mrs. Jackson kept talking. "It's nice to have you all back. Let's make this a good term. Sabrina, please finish putting your clothes away and get into bed. Fold them up, please."
Sabrina glared at me. Then she started folding my clothes and putting them back. She was stuck. If she said the clothes weren't hers, she'd have to tell what she'd been doing. Sabrina is one of those people who is automatically neat. I'm not. When she finished, my clothes were neater than they were before. I didn't laugh, but I couldn't help grinning.
"Sleep tight. Remember, no talking," Mrs. Jackson said as she switched out the light.
I was still smiling when the light went out, but my stomach was tight. Sabrina was going to be even madder at me now. She'd get even somehow. Still, she'd had to fold all my clothes and put them away. I grinned again.
In class the next day, the school smell of dusty pencil erasers filled the morning. The spiral wire on the back of my new notebooks felt rough on my hand as I put them away. I managed to stay out of Sabrina's way all morning. It wasn't hard, since she was ignoring me. I was glad. Being ignored beat being hassled about Rick.
At recess, we blasted out into the sunshine. Cheddy was already dribbling a soccer ball back and forth between his feet. He lifted it with his toe and flipped it at me. I passed it to Muthoni. A second later we were in the middle of a game of pickup soccer. There weren't any teams. It was mostly guys against girls. Whoever had the ball tried to fire it between two sticks we'd put on the ground as goalposts.
I dodged in to steal the ball from Thomas Njerogi. He got around me. The muscles in my legs stretched and worked as I went into a hard run to keep up with him. Sun was warm on my back. I darted one foot at the ball—and missed. Thomas dodged and danced with his back towards me. Arms out for balance, I tried again. My toe hooked it, and the ball was loose. Laughing, I ran for it, trying to beat Thomas.
Thomas got there barely ahead of me. He kicked the ball toward Cheddy. It was a wild pass. Cheddy ran hard, but Muthoni beat him to the ball. She took a wild swipe at the goal. The ball ricocheted off her foot, hit the swing post, and bounced away downhill. She tore after it.
"Way to go, Muthoni," Thomas yelled after her sarcastically. All of us were panting hard. We stood and watched Muthoni run frantically after the ball. It picked up speed in big bounces until it finally hit a hedge.
"Everybody kicks the ball out sometimes," I said, looking at Thomas. What was wrong with him, anyway?
"Did she even try to stop and control the ball?" he asked, whirling on me. "No, she just swipes at it. That's stupid. But then I guess stupid is normal for someone whose father was dumb enough to marry a Luo." He yelled the last part loud enough for Muthoni to hear.
Kikuyu and Luo are two tribes in Kenya. Even I knew that usually they were on opposite sides of things. I looked at Thomas blankly. I didn't get why he should be on Muthoni's case all of a sudden. He always knew her mom was Luo.
"Isn't your dad Kikuyu like Muthoni's?" I asked.
"Yes, and so is my mother." He said that right at Muthoni, who was just coming up the hill with the ball. "My father also is no weakling to be swayed by a woman!"
Those were odd words for Thomas to use. He wasn't usually like that. I glanced at him. Was he just copying something he'd heard? If he was, he was going to catch it. Muthoni is one of those people who is almost impossible to pick on. She has too many friends. Also, she can always think of something to say to make anyone feel stupid.
I waited, but Muthoni didn't say anything. She didn't even answer him. She pitched the ball onto the field, and the game started up again. A couple of seconds later, the bell rang for class.
I didn't think about Muthoni's problems for long because mine got worse. After school Amy came up to me and said, "You should hear the lies Sabrina Oats is telling everyone about you!"
"What lies?" I asked in a small voice.
"She says your mother has no morals. She said that your mom even had a kid with another man than your dad!" Amy frowned indignantly. "I told her to quit lying!"
My head hurt. It wasn't fair. Sabrina was mixing up lies and truth together. If Amy found out part was true, would she believe the whole thing? I spun and ran for my bed. Diving onto it, I hit something squishy. There was a soaking wet cigarette box half full of muddy, soggy cigarettes.
"Gross!" I yelled, flipping it off onto the floor.
"Don't you want to save them for your brother?" Sabrina asked, pretending to be surprised.
"Rick doesn't even smoke!" I yelled. "Leave me alone!"
"So you really do have a half brother?" Kristi asked. I glared at her. More and more kids were crowding into the room. Amy and Muthoni were there too.
"Is it true?" Kristi asked again.
Sabrina strutted across the room toward me and swung to face the others. "Obviously it's true. She would have said so otherwise, right, Anika? You're a good girl. You don't lie."
White-hot rage flashed up inside me. I grabbed the soggy box of cigarettes off the floor and threw it into Sabrina's face as hard as I could throw. I missed. It slapped into the wall and hung there for a second, dripping filthy water. Then it fell to the floor with a plop.
Mrs. Jackson was standing in the doorway. "Anika!" she said in a shocked voice. "Whatever made you do that?"CHAPTER 2
I looked up at Mrs. Jackson standing in the doorway. What could I say to explain why I'd thrown that muddy cigarette box at the wall? I swallowed hard. It was too complicated. I'd have to tell about Rick with everybody in the whole dorm staring at me. I just shook my head.
Mrs. Jackson stared suspiciously at Sabrina. Sabrina glared back at her.
"Would someone kindly tell me what is going on here?" Mrs. Jackson asked.
There was a long silence. Finally Amy said, "Sabrina's really been bugging Anika."
Mrs. Jackson sighed and said, "Sabrina, you will help Anika wash that entire wall tomorrow." She turned toward me and said, "Anika, throwing garbage at the wall is unacceptable no matter what! Do you understand?"
I nodded miserably.
"Mrs. Jackson, does Anika really have an illegitimate half brother?" Kristi asked.
My stomach tightened. Did Mrs. Jackson know?
"Is that what this is about?" she asked. She looked at me. "Anika, do you want me to explain, or would you like to do it yourself?"
"You," I said, trying to keep my voice steady. I hunched down, shivering inside, while she talked.
"When Anika's mother was a teenager, she had a baby," Mrs. Jackson started.
"When she wasn't even married?" Joan squeaked. Joan was one of those kids that always acts shocked. Now she was almost screaming.
"That's enough, Joan," Mrs. Jackson said. "Show a little compassion. Remember Jesus loves people while they're still sinners. He loves them enough to die for them. Anika's mom had to give up her baby. Later both she and Anika's dad came to know Jesus. They dedicated their lives to serving him." Mrs. Jackson looked at me. "Your mom told me she has prayed for Rick almost every day since she's known the Lord."
"So what happened?" Kristi demanded. "How come he came here?"
"He was looking for his birth mother," Mrs. Jackson said.
"He's a pagan and he drinks!" Sabrina cut in. "Mrs. Geisler told me!"
"Sabrina, for that comment you will wash the wall on your own!" Mrs. Jackson said. She looked around the room, frowning. "Girls, this hasn't been an easy time for Anika. I don't want any of you to make it worse. It's time for dinner. You'd better get going." Just before she went out the door, she turned back and said, "Some of you asked if the whole dorm could build a big fort together under the pepper tree. I checked with Mr. Jackson, and he said it was a great idea."
"All right!" Kristi yelled. A bunch of other kids jumped up cheering too.
After lights out that night, I lay awake for a long time. My top bunk squeaked every time I moved. Lisa's bed, underneath mine, was empty. If only she'd been here today it would have been better, I thought. If she was here we could be together building the fort. That verse Mr. Jackson read stuck in my head: "If you love only those who love you, should you get some special praise for doing that? No! Even sinners love the people who love them!"
It was too hard. Sabrina had glared at me when Mrs. Jackson said she had to clean the wall by herself. She was going to try to get even. My throat tightened up as I lay there on my back. Hot tears trickled slowly across my cheeks and into my ears. Finally I fell asleep.
My eyes were all gummy from crying in the night when I woke up. Rubbing the sand out of them, I looked around. The other kids in my room were quiet humps under their blankets. Sliding out of bed, I stuffed on jeans and a sweatshirt and went out. It was Saturday, and I didn't want to be around people.
Excerpted from Sabrina the Schemer by Karen Rispin. Copyright © 1994 Karen Rispin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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