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Yuzi Ukachi has every right to be mad. Because of her dad's job, their family has moved all over the place, so it's always been tough to make friends. And now his job has landed Yuzi in quite possibly the smallest town on the planet: Marion, Ohio-the Popcorn Capital of the World. Her mom volunteered her to wear a totally embarrassing corncob costume to the Popcorn Festival, and at school she ends up in detention for something she definitely did not do! When she opens up her heart to the three girls she meets in ...
Yuzi Ukachi has every right to be mad. Because of her dad's job, their family has moved all over the place, so it's always been tough to make friends. And now his job has landed Yuzi in quite possibly the smallest town on the planet: Marion, Ohio-the Popcorn Capital of the World. Her mom volunteered her to wear a totally embarrassing corncob costume to the Popcorn Festival, and at school she ends up in detention for something she definitely did not do! When she opens up her heart to the three girls she meets in detention, she's invited into the Secret Keeper Girl Club. The club's adventures teach her that revenge isn't always the sweetest end to a story.
This is not happening! This is NOT happening! I feel all prickly from head to toe-and not because it's a hot day, either. Here I am totally sprawled on the ground with no hope of saving a scrap of dignity or I-meant-to-do-that-ness. Why can't the warm ground split open and swallow me whole?
Maybe if I lie here perfectly still, no one will notice me. No one will notice the girl lying facedown dressed in a tight, itchy, horrible corncob costume!
Yes. I am dressed as a cob of corn.
This was not my idea. It's all part of my mom's twisted plan to help me feel welcome here in Marion, Ohio, which happens to be "The Popcorn Capital of the World." My family just moved here one week, six days, and thirteen hours ago because of Dad's job. Mom figured it would be a good idea for me to be a greeter at the town's annual Popcorn Festival. No big deal, except I had to dress from head to toe in bright green and yellow spandex! This is definitely not the best way to make a good impression in a new town. I know I'm feeling sorry for myself. But I should! Nobody else seems to be too bothered by the fact that I was volunteered, without being asked, to be a corny greeter.
When I came home from school earlier today to find the corncob costume lying on the couch, I asked my mom the obvious question, "What is that?"
"It's for you to wear when we go to the Popcorn Festival this afternoon," she told me. "I met a new friend today. Her name is Sue Kenworth and she is in charge of the greeters for the festival. One got sick, so she needs someone to fill in for her at one of the entrances. I told her you'd he glad to do it."
It all started to make horrible sense.
"Me?? I'm supposed to wear it?" My voice had gone so high, I was squealing. But I didn't care. "How am I supposed to get my hair in there?!"
Well, my hair is in there. And now, me and my hair can't wait to get oat of this suit. I'm never gonna forgive Mom for this!
The stiff corn husks made it really difficult to get vertical again. When I finally got up, I ignored all the concerned faces looking at me. My nose is doing that tickly thing it does when I'm about to cry.
Don't you dare cry, I tell myself.
The only thing worse than being stuck in a corncob costume at a festival in a new town is bawling your eyes out in a corncob costume at a festival in a new town. I clenched my jaw, but one stubborn tear slipped out anyway.
"Well, hello. You must be the new girl in town!" The voice came from a super-smiley lady with lime-green glasses. Her short red hair was sticking out in every direction. On purpose, I think. I pretended to scratch the corner of my eye as I quickly wiped away the tear.
"Thanks for helping out today," she said, squinting in the sun. I assumed she was the woman who got me into this unfortunate comedy. "What's your name again, hon?"
"Yuzi," I answered.
"Yuzi," I repeated.
"You're woozy? No wonder, in that getup!" She laughed.
"No. Yuzi," I said, slowly. "Y-u-z-i."
"Ohhh, Yooozy! Wherever did you get a name like that?" Spiky Red asked, grinning.
I took a deep breath and started to explain. "My full name is Uzoma Ukachi. It's Nigerian. Most people can't pronounce it, so my nickname is just the first two letters of my first name: u-z. And I spell it Y-u-z-i. Yuzi."
"Woo! That was a mouthful! I have never been sooo happy to hear someone has a nickname. I'm Sue. No story. Just Sue Kenworth." She stuck out her hand to shag mine, and then laughed like someone had told a funny joke. "It is hot to-day. But that probably doesn't bother you since you're from Africa. I, on the other hand, feel like I'm melting," Sue said, fanning herself with her hand.
People usually assume I can handle any kind of heat because I'm Nigerian. But hot is hot. Besides, I'm wearing a spandex corncob.
"My son's around here someplace," Sue said, looking around. "I'd love for him to meet you."
I tried to stop her. "Oh, no ... that's okay ... I don't really ..."
"I don't see Trevor anywhere. He'll be so sad he missed you," she said with a sigh.
I smiled sympathetically, but inside I was relieved.
"Where are you going to school, Yuzi?" Sue asked.
"Rutherford B. Hayes Middle School."
"Oh, that's perfect! You'll probably run into Trevor there. Maybe you'll be in some of the same classes," Sue said excitedly. She looked at her watch. "I've got to run. But it was so nice rallying to you. See you around, all right?"
I nodded and smiled.
"By the way," she said, winking like we shared a special secret, "you speak very good English." She waved, and then disappeared into the crowd.
I waved back limply, I'm getting used to that weird compliment. So many people I've met think that if I'm African, and my name is African, then English must be difficult for me. But it's not. In my family, we speak to each other a lot in Ibo, a Nigerian language. But of course, when we speak to anyone else, we use English.
I looked around, wondering where my family was. They were probably walking around, visiting different booths, and having a grand time dressed as people. I sighed. I hadn't even asked Mrs. Kenworth when my torture would De over. A person can only handle so many hugs from cranky, sticky toddlers.
I heard familiar voices behind me and turned to see my dad, mom, two sisters, and little brother standing there with their hands full of hot, roasted corn on the cob, towering ice cream cones, glistening hot dogs on soft buns, clouds of cotton candy in rainbows of color, and, of course, buckets of buttery popcorn. I grabbed a handful of Dad's popcorn and shoved it into my mouth.
My mom said, "Hello, dear! We just saw Sue and she said you'll be done in about fifteen minutes."
"Good," I said. "I feel like I've been wearing this forever." I still wasn't sure if I planned to forgive my mom and dad for ruining my life by moving me to this literally corny town. I did know the chances were slim that I'd recover from this traumatic start.
"But you look great-and leafy," my six-year-old brother, Ike, said, grinning mischievously. His real name is Ikechukwu, but most people call him Ike so they don't choke on his full name. His tongue was blue from his giant puff of cotton candy.
I rolled my eyes.
"Bye," I said pitifully as they walked away.
There's got to be a way for me to make friends in this new place, but I'm pretty sure it won't happen while I'm wearing this outfit.
I tried to make an effort for the last ten minutes. I smiled widely and put up with more hugs. Then, just as I saw Mrs. Kenworth coming toward me again, my left foot somehow caught my right foot, and-yeah-I was on the ground again.
Lately, it's like my body's not mine. It's as if someone gave me a new collection of muscles and forgot to leave a manual. Mom says I'm going through a major growth spurt, as if moving to a new town isn't enough for me to deal with.
Sue hurriedly helped me up, concerned. "Are you all right, Yuzi?"
"Growth spurt," I mumbled, humiliated yet again.
She looked at me with a puzzled expression.
Not wanting to be rude but dying to get out of there, I asked quietly, "Am I done?"
"Absolutely yes. You were a lifesaver. Fantastic job. Thank you so much!" she said. "I'll be by next week to pick up the costume. Are you sure you're all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine. Thanks. See ya." And I stalked off toward our van. Yes, stalked. And it's not funny.
I think I'm going to hate this town.
Chapter Two An Angry Ostrich
"Two thousand forty-two ostriches. Two thousand forty-three ostriches. Two thousand forty-four ostriches ..."
This is how I stayed awake Sunday night. I figured that if counting sheep helps a person fall asleep, then maybe counting something else might help me stay awake. I chose ostriches.
If you stay awake for most of the night, it seems to slow down the coming of the next day-which was good for me. But it also gives you a lot of time to think-which was bad for me. By the time my mom came in to wake me up this miserable Monday morning, my head felt like it would explode and my eyeballs were on fire. I lay there, slowly rolling my eyes around. Ow. Burny.
Mom came into my room to see if I was awake, and could immediately tell I had not slept well.
"Uzoma, you look so tired. Are you still worried about school today?" Mom asked.
I squinted back at her like the room was smoky.
"I'm worried because of how Thursday and Friday went. What if the school still has my classes all mixed up? I hate having to constantly switch classes and teachers!" I said, hoping she'd feel sorry for me and let me stay home for the rest of my life.
"Everything about your classes will he worked out. You'll see. It'll be fine." She hugged me. "Now, go get ready."
She was speaking to me in Ibo, which totally calms me down-normally. But nothing seemed to be breaking through the fuzz around my brain this morning.
As I was brushing my teeth, the knot in my stomach tightened. I tried to ignore it, but my thoughts were in a knot, too.
My mom wasn't right about me liking this town. What if she's not right about making friends? What if I don't ever make any friends?
What if they think I dress funny? Of course, according to the corncob costume I wore on Friday, I do dress funny.
I spit into the sink.
Maybe I don't feel well, I thought, staring into the mirror. In old cartoons, people always check their tongues for spots when they're sick. I stuck my tongue out really far. No spots. Not a one.
As I stepped into the shower, my six-year-old sister, Peace, opened the bathroom door and came in. She's Ike's twin, older by ninety seconds. And she doesn't let him forget it.
"Peace! I've told you like a zillion times ... you need to knock!" I said, really annoyed.
"Sorry," she chirped.
Peace looked like a blurry blob through the shower curtain, but I could totally tell she was excited about school. Oh, to be six again ...
"Striped one or the purple one?" she asked.
"What?" I asked. I hadn't been listening. Besides, with the shower running and her mouth full of toothpaste foam, it was had to understand what she was saying. Peace started to repeat herself.
"Spit out first. I can't understand you," I said.
She spit. "My shirt. Should I wear the striped one or the purple?"
"What top?" I asked.
"My orange shirt with the sparkly fish on the front," she said.
"Striped," I answered.
"What are you going to wear?" she asked.
"No idea," I muttered.
"That's okay," she said matter-of-factly. "You look great in anything." And she bounced out of the bathroom.
I really do have a sweet little sis. Too had I can't just hang out with her all day instead of going to school.
At school, the faded smell of textbooks and floor cleaner greeted me. I could hear my heartbeat louder than my footsteps as the shiny hallway floor stretched out in front of me. I was being led to my new class lay Principal Butter. No joke. His name really is Principal Butter.
I followed him to Language Arts. Hopefully this was the last switch.
"So, how long did you live in Nigeria?" Principal Butter asked.
"Well, actually," I explained, "I've never lived in Nigeria, but my parents are Nigerian. I was born in Texas, then we moved around a lot. But before we moved here, we lived in London, England."
"Very interesting ... well, I'm sure you're going to really enjoy your new LA teacher. Her name's Mrs. Chickory," he said.
Mrs. Chickory is tall, but with really small feet. Her head is small, but she has the hugest black eyes with dark, bushy eyebrows and a super-weird, almost beaklike nose. She reminds me ... of something ...
Oh, yeah! The ostriches I was counting last night, I thought as she walked toward me. I could picture her strutting around in my ostrich-counting mind. She put one feathery wing, er, arm around my shoulders.
"Welcome to oar class," Mrs. Chickory said loudly.
She smelled a little like cream of broccoli soup. I could imagine her heading down to slurp it, ignoring, the spoon.
"Class, this is Yuzi," she said as if she had rescued me from some other LA class.
I heard the whole class repeat my name in giggly whispers. How embarrassing.
"She is new to our school and is all the way from Nigeria," she said. "Please make her feel welcome."
Great. Whenever I'm introduced that way, people think I flew in from Nigeria just this morning and can't speak a word of English.
Mrs. Chickory pointed the way to my desk. "Larissa, Yuzi is going to sit next to you so you can help her out. Okay?"
Larissa smiled at me, and ] was relieved to finally sit down. I was pulling a notebook out of my bag when Larissa leaned over to me. She has big brown eyes and she opened them even wider as she said, "Will you be my African friend? I've never had an African friend before."
Excerpted from Yuzi's False Alarm by Dannah Gresh Chizuruoke Anderson Copyright © 2008 by Dannah Gresh and Chizuruoke Anderson. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted February 8, 2013