During the ride to Central, Melba asks Sarge if the soldiers feel as odd as the Little Rock Nine to be propped up in jeeps with guns mounted up front just to take them to school. Sarge says that they do not feel at all awkward, for they are carrying out orders. The hecklers have a lot of energy that morning. A girl walks on Melba’s heels and when Melba turns around to look at her, the girl spits in her face. A group of boys then bumps straight into her and begins to kick her. When Melba asks why Danny does not do something, he makes it clear that he is not present to engage in any conflict with the students.
There is a contrast between the soldiers’ display of power and how they use it. The guns mounted on their jeeps suggest aggressive power, but their orders are to deflect violence, not to initiate it. The contrast between the military’s aggressive appearance and the way Danny protects Melba initially confuses her. She expects him to physically defend her from abuse, though he can never do that, due to the possibility of inflaming more violence.
Melba goes to the principal’s office to report her abuse, but a female clerk sitting behind the desk says that they require adult witnesses to file complaints against students and the soldiers do not count. The clerk then mocks Melba, which hurts as much as being abused. She decides to mimic Danny’s confidence and alertness, imagining herself as a soldier in battle.
Unlike at her previous school, Melba cannot rely on the adults for protection or guidance. More frustratingly, no one believes her reports of abuse and they seem to favor her harassers. Knowing that both the adults and the students are hostile to her presence, Melba relies only on herself for protection.
Melba spends the rest of the day enduring the pranks, then gets in the convoy where she enjoys verbal games with her friends, and finally goes to Daisy Bates’s house to give more interviews. The next day, Friday, Danny announces that he is going to be “in the background,” for school officials want to see how the students fare without the military presence. Melba realizes that she has come to rely on Danny for protection.
Melba’s life at Central has become rather routine, and Danny’s presence is a key aspect of that routine. It also seems to be the first time that she has had any kind of relationship with a white male and the first time that she has come to trust a white man.
Meanwhile, there is a lot of excitement at the school due to an upcoming football game with Baton Rouge High School—Central’s archrival. While Melba is walking through one of Central’s cavernous halls, Danny screams for her to look out. He tells her to get down as a stick of dynamite whizzes past her. He stamps out the flame and urges her to keep moving. His voice sounds “cold and uncaring,” but Melba assumes that this is the attitude that is necessary to survive.
The students’ jubilation over the game contrasts with the peril Melba faces in “Central’s cavernous halls.” Her description makes the school seem like a dark yet expansive space in which anything can happen at any time. Though the dynamite could have killed them both, she is stunned by Danny’s “cold” attitude, which she slowly adopts.
After gym class, Danny tells Melba that she will be going to her first pep rally and he cannot go into the auditorium with her. When Melba settles into a seat, she sees that Thelma Mothershed is just a few feet away. Still, Melba is afraid of what could happen in the “dimly lit room among [her] enemies.” To keep herself calm, she quietly repeats the Twenty-Third Psalm. When the students use the school song, “Hail to the Gold, Hail to the Black” to mock Melba, she does not care.
Though Thelma is nearby, Melba does not feel more at ease—perhaps due to Thelma’s fragile health condition. Melba takes solace in her faith instead. Her quiet chanting of the psalm separates her from the loud singing of the school song, which some students use as yet another weapon against her.
When the rally is over and Melba moves to exit with the other students, she is shoved backward by a strong hand, knocking down her books. A forearm presses against her throat. Her harassers are “three or four football-player types” who promise to make her life hell. When Melba tells Danny about the incident, he is surprised that she did not defend herself, saying that she is a part of a battle that needs warriors. Melba thinks about what he says and realizes that either the students’ behavior will have to change or Melba will have to do a better job of protecting herself.
Melba is relatively defenseless against a group of boys who resemble “football-player types,” though, as she begins to think about self-defense and protection, she realizes that it can take many forms. She can physically defend herself, as Danny suggests, or she can contribute to a change in the white students’ responses to her.