At the end of the last chapter David's only hope of rescue disappeared, at least for the time being. But of course he didn't know it existed in the first place, so his situation is unchanged – or is it? In fact, things are about to get worse. He's also going to have to try living as an African shepherd for a while, which might be a bit of a culture shock. And back in Cheltenham life goes on – how are David's friends dealing with the situation, and is there any sign of Dhif waking up? Read on to find out...
For the first two weeks after Dhif went home David was allowed to settle in. The twins beat him a couple of times for misdemeanours, but only in their room: he didn’t see the inside of the Punishment Room at all during this period. The twins went on fucking him, of course, and sometimes they did it in front of Ali and his servants, which was horribly humiliating. And the slaves went on making him suck them, though only once or twice a day, and nobody except the twins beat him, so it could have been a lot worse.
He spent a lot of time working on his dictionaries, and by the end of the second week he had a good vocabulary of nouns in what he called in his own mind ‘Twinnish’, together with several basic adjectives of size and colour, the imperative and present indicative form of a number of useful verbs, (‘Come’, ‘go’, ‘fetch’, ‘carry’, ‘bend over’, and so on) and the numbers from one to thirty. While learning the numbers he had astonished the twins, who found it impossible to believe that he was really fifteen – he had to count all the way up to fifteen using his fingers as well as the Twinnish words before they would accept that he had not simply got the wrong word. And he in turn was a little surprised to find that the twins were only eleven: their physique had led him to believe that they were older.
He was working hard on his Arabic, too, collecting a similar vocabulary list every time he worked with one of the slaves; and talking to Ali and Rafik – who also spoke a little French – was helping to polish up his knowledge of that language, too. By the end of the second week he was starting to think that maybe he could survive this after all.
And then everything changed. He had no idea why – he hadn’t changed the way he was behaving at all – but suddenly it was as if a switch had been flicked, and the servants and slaves all became far more hostile. He was punched and kicked a lot more frequently, and the older boys started finding excuses to beat him, and the younger ones took to urinating on him at every opportunity. He only found out why at the end of the third week, when he was taken to Ali’s room and tied down over the table once more.
“My cousin said that there was a chance he’d want you sent back to England,” Ali explained. “He said we should not deal with you too harshly to start with, just in case. But Brahim said that if he did change his mind about you it would happen soon after he got home, and that if we hadn’t heard from him for two weeks we could assume you were ours for ever. And we haven’t heard from him, so he has obviously decided you’re not worth saving. So now we know for certain that you are here for the rest of your life, and that means we can treat you the way you really deserve, and not softly, as we have so far.
“So the first thing we have to do is to mark you as a slave. Of course, we don’t do it the old way any more: now we just tattoo a very small mark on the inside of every slave’s left arm above the elbow, and we’ll do that to you in due course. But first I thought it might be fun to go back to the old methods, just this once.”
He clapped his hands and one of the servants went to the open window and said something, and somebody outside handed him what looked like a poker, the end of which was glowing.
“There’s a brazier outside,” Ali explained, “and this is one of the old branding-irons. Can you guess what happens next?”
David could, and he screamed in terror and started to babble for mercy, struggling uselessly against his bonds. Ali took the iron from the servant and approached, looking for a suitable place to apply it before finally choosing the outside of David’s left buttock. He grinned at the struggling boy and applied the end of the iron, and David shrieked in agony… and he supposed he must have fainted, because the next thing he knew someone was pouring a flask of cold water over his head. He jerked away from the water and found that he had been untied, and that his left buttock was aching abominably.
“We’ve put something on it to keep it from infection,” Ali told him, “but you should be careful to keep it clean for a day or so. You are relieved of duty for the next two days, except for serving the twins at meal times. After that you will really begin to discover what slavery means for one such as you. Now go – return to your masters’ room.”
Walking was painful, but David managed to get back to the twins’ room. They were not there, so he went to his closet and lay down on his right side, leaving the door open. He scarcely dared look at his bottom, but when he had plucked up courage he found a burn mark consisting of a couple of squiggly lines, which he assumed were Arabic letters. It was smaller than he had thought, only about an inch long, but it still hurt like hell, and moving his bottom didn’t help. Sobbing, he lay down again on his right side and tried, vainly, to go to sleep.
When the twins came back they treated him surprisingly well: they made him stand in front of them while they examined the brand, but then let him lie down again.
“You hurt?” asked Yeyne in Twinnish.
“I hurt,” David confirmed.
“Soon you do not hurt,” Yeyne assured him, and while that was a bit of an exaggeration, because it went on hurting for a long time, at least by the end of the day the pain had faded to a dull ache. The twins collected their own lunch, and even brought him the evening meal before they went to eat with Ali, and that at least meant that he didn’t have to eat with the other slaves for once. And he even managed to sleep a little that night.
Next morning the twins woke him up as usual.
“You hurt?” Kuyo asked.
“I hurt small. I fetch food,” said David, thus offering to resume his duties, and the twins looked pleased.
“Good Cockroach,” said Yeyne, approvingly as he returned with the three bowls of rice.
And in fact the twins were the only ones whose treatment of him did not seem to have changed since the end of the second week, and he was soon seeing his time with them as a refuge from the rest of the palace staff, who seemed to rejoice in causing him as much pain and misery as possible. Even though the twins started to fuck him again on the third day after his branding, he still felt safer with them than he did anywhere else in the palace.
At least he only had to survive another few days before the twins took him back to their home village for their manhood ceremonies, although he was a bit worried about his limited knowledge of their language. But those few days were very unpleasant.
On the fourth day after his branding he received the small slave tattoo on the inside of his left arm, about halfway between the shoulder and the elbow. This was done by an adult who had apparently come from the main part of the palace, and who was clearly an expert, in that it took very little time and didn’t actually hurt very much. When he had finished David found that he had a small box about half an inch square tattooed on his arm, and inside the box was the Arabic word عبد which means ‘slave’. It stopped hurting a few minutes after it was done, and he supposed that was one reason why this was the usual method these days: it didn’t leave your slave incapable of work for two days.
But once it was done he had to go back to work, and that meant being abused and beaten by all the other slaves – and no matter how hard he worked they were still not satisfied with him. Usually this dissatisfaction simply took the form of kicks and punches, but on the Thursday of his fifth week in the palace one of the oldest slaves, a boy called Samir, accused him of laziness and ordered him to the punishment room after the evening meal had been eaten. That meant that most of the other slaves were free to come and watch.
He was strapped to the frame in the usual way and then, with the rest of the slaves watching, laughing and cheering, Samir whipped him, not just on his buttocks, but on his back, too. It was the worst beating he had yet received, and each blow made him cry out with pain – and this time some of the blows broke the skin, drawing blood. He was given the standard nine blows, and at the end of it, when they released him from the frame, he just collapsed onto the ground underneath it, unable to stand.
The slaves left the room, one or two pausing to kick him on the way out, and he was left alone. Eventually he roused himself and began to make his way back to the twins’ room, but he was hurting so badly that it took him nearly half an hour to get there. And every step of the way he was wondering why this was happening to him: how could these boys possibly hate him so much? He’d worked hard; he hadn’t done anything to upset them – and yet they clearly hated him, and the only reason he could think of for that was the colour of his skin. But how could that generate such loathing?
Eventually – and it was a measure of how much pain he was in that this took some time to happen – it dawned on him that being publicly whipped for being white wasn’t so very different from being expelled from school for being non-white. He supposed that Dhif would be happy if he could see him in this state, now that the lesson was finally starting to get through to him…
At last he reached the twins’ room. The twins weren’t very happy about his condition, not because they thought he didn’t deserve it, but because it would prevent him from being able to work properly – and also because it would be impossible for them to fuck him tonight without getting blood all over them.
They took him along the corridor to the servants’ wash room and washed his back to get rid of the blood, and Kuyo rubbed some sort of paste into the wounds that stung painfully but which Kuyo assured him would ‘kill pain’. And by the time they had helped him back to their room he was feeling a little better, so before he went into his cupboard for the night he knelt, bowed and thanked them several times for helping him.
He didn’t sleep well that night, because his whole body was hurting, but fortunately the next day was Friday, and that meant a day away from the other slaves. He was able to get the twins’ breakfast and midday meal, and when the time came for his evening meal he was feeling well enough to eat it in the slave quarters as usual. The other slaves taunted him but generally left him alone, and over the following weekend he found out why: Ali explained that the twins didn’t want their slave incapacitated, and that in future they would have to give permission for any visit to the punishment room, though the other slaves were still free to discipline him on an ad hoc basis, provided that it was done without drawing blood.
Once again David felt grateful to the twins, even though he recognised that they were largely protecting him for selfish motives, so that he could work for them and offer his anus when required.
On the Sunday morning he and the twins set out for their native village, which was some distance away ‘across the border’, though David had no idea which border or which countries were being spoken about. A Land-rover driven by one of the adult servants from the main part of the palace transported them, and it wasn’t a particularly comfortable ride because the roads, such as they were, were potholed and bumpy and the vehicle’s suspension was unable to cope with some of the demands placed upon it. Nonetheless the twins were obviously excited to be making this journey, and David wasn’t sorry to get away from the palace for a while, either, and so he quite enjoyed the journey.
They seemed to have crossed the border without seeing any sort of customs post or guard house or anything else, because they reached their destination without having to stop anywhere en route. Obviously such formalities meant rather less out here at the back of beyond than they did in Europe.
They finally arrived at the twins’ village in late afternoon. David had been expecting to see something temporary-looking with huts made of grass or something, but in fact most of the buildings here seemed to be made of stone and clay and looked solid and permanent. There were a few buildings with conical roofs made of grass or leaves, but most of the buildings had flat roofs. The area around the village looked fairly arid, but there were signs of grass and a few trees, and in the distance David could see what looked like a long cliff, which he supposed from his geography lessons indicated a geological fault line.
He’d been spending progressively more and more time outside the palace over the past three weeks or so, and as a result he now had a pretty good tan, but even so he looked absolutely nothing like the twins, and his long, straight hair, bleached even blonder than usual by the sun, immediately marked him out as an outsider. And, of course, he was naked. One or two toddlers were wandering around unclothed, but most of the people wore robes of one sort or another, while some of the younger men had brightly-coloured Western-style clothes on.
The Land-rover dropped them off and headed back the way it had come – the driver obviously wanted to get as far as possible before nightfall – and the twins led David through the village, attracting undisguised curiosity on the part of everyone they met.
By now he was getting used to being naked, but he still felt horribly self-conscious to have all these people staring at him and clearly commenting on his appearance. He was relieved when the twins reached a house near the centre of the village and led him inside. He was a little surprised to find out that this wasn't a simple one-room hut but a decent-sized building with separate rooms. Here he was presented to the twins’ parents, their father's second wife, and their younger brother and sister, and while he didn’t understand most of what the twins were saying, it didn’t attract a hostile response.
The twins’ father asked him something, but he could only make out a couple of words.
“Sorry,” he said in Twinnish, “I not understand”.
“Father says ‘Are we good masters?’” Yeyne translated.
“Yes, they are good,” David replied, and he meant it: compared to the way he was treated by the rest of the slaves, the twins were fairness personified.
The father spun him round and looked at the whip marks on his back and buttocks, but the twins explained – presumably – that this had been done by another slave and not by them.
“Not twins,” David confirmed, in Twinnish. “Twins good.”
Having satisfied their father that they were behaving honourably the twins took him on a tour of the village, pointing out the various places he could not go: the low, grass-thatched building that they said was the men’s meeting-house, into which they had never been themselves but where they would be welcomed in a few days’ time; the large house at the edge of the village that was something to do with women, though he couldn’t understand exactly who used it or why; the granaries where the (some sort of crop, another word David didn’t know) was stored; and finally the hut a little way outside the village where their own manhood ceremony would be taking place over the next two days.
They explained that after the ceremony they and the other ‘new men’ would spend around three weeks learning the things that men had to know, and that during this period David would have to make himself useful by helping to look after the sheep: their nine-year-old brother, whom they called Tahnu (which David already knew meant ‘Three’) would be responsible for him while they were otherwise engaged, and he was to do whatever Tahnu told him to, or else.
Obviously this explanation was given in much simpler terms, accompanied by a lot of sign language and the occasional diagram scrawled in the dust, but David got the message in the end and swore he’d be good and do what Tahnu told him to.
On the way through the village the twins had spoken to a number of other boys of their own age and had obviously explained who David was, because it made them laugh, though in a good-natured way. Some of them came and touched his hair, and quite a few looked at his genitals in a very obvious way, laughing, but nobody seemed hostile to him.
By the time they got back to the twins’ house David’s collar was uncomfortably hot; the bare metal heated up in the sun quite quickly. But as soon as he realised the problem Kuyo produced the key to the padlock from the pouch on his belt and took the collar off.
“Albarka,” said David, gratefully: if he was going to be out with the sheep for hours at a time he felt sure that the collar would have been a serious problem.
Inside the house Kuyo took the collar and handed it to Tahnu, saying something that David didn’t understand, but he got the impression that Tahnu was being given permission to put the collar on again if David didn’t behave himself.
He ate with the family that night, a dish of vegetables and something else that David couldn't identify, but which he recognised was some sort of cereal, and then discovered that the whole family slept on the flat roof of the house, as this was cooler than staying inside. The roof was reached by an external ladder made from a single tree-bough, forked at the top for stability, which looked a bit insecure but which proved perfectly serviceable. There was no mattress, but he was given a brightly-coloured blanket, and he managed to sleep sitting in a corner with the blanket wrapped round him.
The twins went to start the preparations for their ceremony the following morning, so David was left in Tahnu’s care, and the younger boy took him round the village so that he could show his friends that he now had a white slave boy. Again there was a lot of laughter, but none of it seemed cruel or hostile, and David already felt much more relaxed here than he had at the palace.
The twins didn’t return home that evening, and in fact would not now sleep at home until their training was over, so David was able to use their mattress that night: even though it was very thin and apparently only stuffed with straw it was better than the bare clay of the roof. And the following afternoon he went with the family and those of the other initiates to greet the twins when they emerged from the hut where the village blacksmith had done his work.
The twins and about eight or nine other boys between ten and twelve emerged from the hut. All of them were naked, and to David the scars on their penises looked raw and painful, but the twins looked really happy, with big grins across their faces. David watched as their parents and brother and sister greeted them and decided that he ought to say something as well, so he dropped to his knees in front of them and said “Masa aram–mm-bu-ww,” which he hoped meant ‘now you are men’. And it must have been close enough because they grinned at him and nodded happily. And at that moment David felt genuinely happy for them. He smiled back at them, wishing that if he had to remain a slave it could be here with the twins, instead of back in the palace where everyone hated him.
It seemed that the twins appreciated his efforts, because Yeyne pulled him to his feet and hugged him, though making sure it was upper body only – he didn’t want his sore penis to touch anything. And Kuyo came and joined them, making a three-way hug. If someone had told David three or four months previously that he would be standing in the open air stark naked and hugging a couple of equally naked black boys, he would have thought they were insane – which, he supposed, proved that you never know what life has in store for you.
The twins released him, grinned at him again, and set off around the village with the other initiates, so that everyone could admire their new status as adults.
David went back to the house with their family, and early the following morning Tahnu took him a mile or so out into the country to where the sheep were grazing – though these sheep were scrawny animals that looked almost goat-like, and were nothing at all like David's idea of what a sheep should look like. There were a couple of other boys of around the same age already there, though they didn’t seem to be doing a lot except sitting under a tree and playing some sort of game using pebbles. These two hadn’t been in the village when Tahnu had been showing him off earlier, so he had to explain who David was once again, and the two boys stared at him with undisguised interest, especially his hair, which both of them wanted to stroke. They were also interested in the marks on his back and bum, and Tahnu explained that David was a slave who had been disciplined for misbehaviour.
The other boys seemed to like that idea, and so whenever any of the sheep looked like wandering off it was David who was sent to fetch it back, and so he spent a fair bit of time running about in the hot sun chasing sheep. But when he wasn't acting as a sheepdog he sat with the other boys, watching and later joining in their games, the one using pebbles that was a bit like jacks, and the one using a stick. In that game one boy would kneel up while another tried to jab him with his stick; the aim was for the first boy to grab the stick before it touched him. This obviously needed very fast reflexes, and David wasn't much good at it at first, but as his time with the shepherds went by he got better and better at the game.
As the first week went by the other boys grew to accept him. They still teased him, and if he lost the stick game three times in a row they made him pretend to be a sheep and scamper about on all fours while they chased him and drove him with their sticks into the corral where the sheep were kept overnight. David joined in the game, doing his best to evade them, and they appreciated that, applauding him if he managed to dodge them for any length of time.
Once they accepted him fully the other boys lost any inhibitions they might have had. They removed their shorts and ran about naked (and for once nobody commented on the fact that they were all bigger than him where it counted). They urinated quite openly in front of him and even squatted to defecate without any sign of shame near the tree that had apparently been designated for the purpose, and after two or three days David found that he could do the same.
Each night two of the boys stayed out to watch over the corralled sheep. The first night David and Tahnu stayed out he was really nervous, asking if they weren't in danger of being attacked by lions, or something (he had to mime 'lion', crawling about on all fours, snarling and swiping his claws at them). But Tahnu assured him that there were no large predators round here.
When the sheep were corralled and the other boys had gone back to the village he and Tahnu built up the fire, had a couple of races (which David won) and then wrestled for a while. It was a measure of how David's muscles were developing through all the manual work he had been doing for the past five or six weeks that he was now a match for a boy who had good muscles himself: the old David would have lost easily, while the new, sleek, muscular version was growing stronger all the time.
Eventually Tahnu pinned him down, grinning at him. He kept him pinned on his back for a few seconds, and then laughed, rolled off and looked at David's groin.
David was horrified to realise that he had an erection. He supposed it wasn't particularly surprising: he'd been unable to masturbate for a while, either because he'd been hurting too much following his branding and whipping, or because he'd been sleeping on the roof with the twins' family. But it was still pretty embarrassing to go hard like this in front of Tahnu, and he tried to cover himself with his hands. Tahnu just laughed at him, batted his hands away and took hold of David's erection, playing with it.
“Do that to me,” he commanded, and reluctantly David took hold of the other boy's penis, which was limp to start with but which quickly hardened as he handled it. After a minute or so Tahnu stood up so that David could see how big he was. It wasn't as big as his brothers', of course, but David would have guessed at a good four inches.
“Good?” asked Tahnu, flaunting himself.
“Very good,” said David, wondering how long it would be before he was that big. In fact it did seem to be growing a little, and his balls were definitely a little larger now than they had been when he was kidnapped, and he wasn't sure whether to be happy about that or not: he certainly wanted to look like a normal fifteen-year-old, but since puberty would bring with it castration he was happy to stay as he was now for a lot longer.
Tahnu took a couple of steps off to one side and urinated, his erection making the water arc out into the night. David did the same thing, trying to project his water further, and it was a close contest.
Tahnu grinned at him again, pulled a blanket from his bag and settled down with his back to a large tree, beckoning David to come and sit right next to him, and then he put the blanket over their shoulders and wrapped it around them. And David slept comfortably like that until Tahnu woke him up just as the sun was rising.
They let the sheep out and wrestled some more, and this time Tahnu deliberately tried to give David an erection by rubbing his body against David's groin, and when he achieved his objective he took hold and played with it some more, and after a minute or so he guided David's hand to his own groin, and David took hold – and this time it was already stiff.
They lay together fondling each other until they heard voices: the rest of the day team was approaching. Tahnu quickly pulled on his shorts, but David was forced to greet the two boys with a very visible erection, which made them laugh at him.
After that their games took on a sexual element: anyone who lost a wrestling match, or three bouts of the stick game, had to let the other three play with his genitals until he got an erection, and he had to keep it hard until someone else lost a game.
David still found this twisted: touching another boy's naked genitals still seemed wrong somehow, and having other boys handling his private parts was pretty disgusting, too, even though he had to admit that the way the three boys combined to stimulate him actually felt nice. And it was funny watching Numuy trying to maintain his erection all through the midday meal: Tahnu had declared that it was time to eat straight after David had beaten Numuy at wrestling, so the youngest of the shepherds had to try to eat with one hand while playing with himself with the other. David joined in with Tahnu and Niy as they teased the unfortunate boy.
The days went by. Every fourth night David and Tahnu took their turn staying out with the sheep, spending the intervening three nights sleeping on the roof of the family house. Some mornings David found himself with another duty: he was assigned to the well in the village, from where he would carry full water jars for the women. This was quite embarrassing, as apparently girls had their adulthood ceremonies much sooner than boys, and so quite a few of the 'women' were only ten or eleven years old; and while he was by now used to being naked in front of other boys, having a whole flock of young girls peering at him was quite humiliating. He was glad when the water-carrying was over and he could run off to join Tahnu and the other shepherds.
Because he was outdoors the whole time his tan went on getting deeper and his hair went on getting bleached whiter, and he became more and more used to being a shepherd boy. His command of Twinnish was improving all the time, too. He liked Tahnu and the other young shepherds, and he'd have been happy to stay there indefinitely. He wondered if he might eventually be accepted as a proper member of the village and live there for the rest of his life... of course, this was largely a subsistence existence, but the villagers seemed happy enough, and by now he was so used to getting along without televisions or cassettes or cars or... well, pretty much anything else that he had known before his mother moved to London about five hundred years previously.
Could he take a black wife and live here as a farmer? Well.... he wasn't sure about that. And of course he didn't know how the village coped in the winter – though maybe here there wasn't a winter - at least, not as he knew it.... But living here as a grower of millet had to be better than being slowly beaten to death back at the palace.
So he was less than happy when the twins came and told him they would be returning the following day. The twins were still naked, and their scars looked a little less painful by now, but it was still a reminder that this was going to be done to him once they got back, and so he asked if he could stay here and be a shepherd with Tahnu instead of coming back with them.
“Kikem likes our village?” asked Kuyo.
“Very much,” said David.
“Very good. And you like our brother?”
“Tahnu is good. I like him very much.”
“Then you will come back with us for his manhood ceremony in three years. But now you come back with us.”
“Oh,” said David, looking miserable.
“Kikem does not want to work for us?”
That was a dangerous question.
“You are good masters,” David said. “I am happy to serve you. But the palace slaves... they hate me. They are not good masters.”
“You work hard, perhaps they not hate you. But you must come: it is the command of Ali, our master.”
And that was the end of that, and so when the Land-rover returned the following day David had to go with the twins. He said goodbye to their parents and sister, and to Tahnu, who came to watch the Land-rover leave.
“Be good, Kikem,” said Tahnu. “If you serve my brothers well, they will bring you to visit us again. I would like that.”
“I will like that, too. So I will be a good slave.”
They reached the palace late in the evening, and the twins took him with them when they went to report to Ali that they were back, putting his collar – which had been off for most of his stay in the village – back on first.
“And did your Cockroach behave himself?” asked Ali.
“He did. He worked hard.”
“Good. Show me your scars.”
The twins lifted their kilts and showed their newly-circumcised penises to their master, who nodded in approval.
“Now you are men indeed,” he said. “So, we must have the Cockroach cut, too. However, it would be better for us to wait until the Holy Month is over – we are supposed to abstain from pleasure during Ramadan, and I am sure that most of the household would count watching his cutting a pleasure. Let's say the day that follows Eid, which is in eleven days' time..., no wait, the day after Eid is a Friday. On the Saturday, then. I shall find the slaves that like him least and have them perform the operation.”
And when David curled up in his cupboard again, the thought of that was so terrifying that he was unable to get to sleep for a very long time.
Back in Cheltenham, nothing had changed: the summer holidays were almost over, and school would be starting again in two days' time. Nobody had heard anything about David's whereabouts, and although he was officially listed as 'missing', the authorities had made no progress towards finding him.
Brahim Dhif's condition hadn't changed, either: he was still in a coma. Jordan had been to the hospital two or three times to sit with him: the nurses had told him and the other visitors who came in from time to time that the best thing he could do would be to sit and talk to him as if he was awake: quite often, they said, it is this that can bring a patient in a coma back to consciousness. So Jordan had sat and talked to him about football or the weather or anything else he could think of, but he hadn't seen so much as a twitch of an eyebrow to suggest that Dhif was hearing him.
Michael had been in a couple of times, too, and so had several other members of Dhif's form: apparently he was a popular member of the class. On his previous visit Jordan had been there at the same time as Dhif's parents, who had thanked him for coming but had heard nothing from the doctors to indicate any improvement in Brahim's condition.
This afternoon Jordan was intending to visit Jeremy, but as Jeremy lived across town from him he had decided to drop in to the hospital on his way, just to see if there was any improvement. The nurse on duty directed him to Dhif's room, telling him he already had a visitor with him, and Jordan wondered who it was. He expected it to be Mr Dhif – it was a Sunday, after all, and so he wouldn't be working. But instead he entered the room and saw Paul Southgate sitting beside the bed, holding Brahim's hand. There was a cassette player on the bed beside him, and he had put the headphones on Brahim's head.
“Hello,” said Jordan, and Paul let go of Brahim's hand as if he had received an electric shock from it.
“Oh, it's you,” said Paul. “What are you doing here?”
“I've been in a couple of times,” Jordan told him. “I saw the accident, and... well, I keep hoping he's going to get better...”
“Me, too. I've been in pretty much every day, except when my parents dragged me off to Wales for a week...”
“Oh. What's that you're playing to him?”
“Oh,” said Paul, looking flustered. “It's just... It's Queen. A Night at the Opera. It's a track we listened to on the day he had the accident, that's all. It's sort of special, and I was hoping he'd hear it, wherever he is, and come back.”
“That's a good album,” said Jordan. “I've got it, too. Which track?”
“It doesn't matter,” mumbled Paul, and he hit the stop button on the player and ejected the cassette, which he stowed away in its box and then in his pocket. He took the headphones from Brahim's head and moved the player off the bed onto the table beside it.
“So,” he said, obviously wanting to change the subject, “why do you care if he recovers or not? After what you did to him at the end of the spring term, I'm surprised you're interested.”
“I know. I'm sorry about that – I know I shouldn't have done it. I did admit to Brahim that it was really my fault, and that he ought to blame me for it and not Villiers-Gore, but I'm not sure he believed me.”
“I reckon you were both guilty. But... so was I. I mean, I didn't exactly argue when the Rat told me to do those things with him, did I? But I still don't see why you're ready to spend your holiday coming here.”
“Well... did you know Villiers-Gore has disappeared?”
“No... well, come to think of it, I can't remember seeing him around at the end of last term, but... disappeared? How?”
“Brahim arranged it. Nobody knows how or who helped him, but somehow he had Villiers-Gore kidnapped. But Villiers-Gore had changed a lot during last term, and he was nothing like he'd been before Easter... anyway, Brahim told us that if we could find twenty people to speak up for him, he'd arrange to get Villiers-Gore brought straight home. And on the day of the accident all V-G's friends came and spoke up for him, and Brahim was really surprised – but he was going to keep his word: he promised that as soon as he got home he was going to make a phone call and get V-G sent back home. Except the van hit him before he got home, so he never had a chance to make the call.”
“Oh, right – you want him to wake up so he can rescue your friend the Rat.”
“Well, yes. But I'd want him to wake up anyway: he doesn't deserve to be lying there like that. It wasn't his fault that V-G picked on him in the first place, and I don't blame him at all for trying to get his own back. But he said that the people who've got V-G won't ever let him go unless he tells them to, and I'm scared they might... well, kill him. I know that's probably a stupid thing to think, but I can't help it. So I've come here a couple of times to try to help wake Brahim up.”
“Okay. Well... do you want me to go? I mean, I'm not going home or anything, and I'll come back to stay with him when you've gone, but if you'd sooner talk to him on your own, I don't mind.”
“No, it's okay, you can stay if you like. I usually only talk to him for about ten minutes, because I sort of run out of stuff to talk about after that.”
He sat in the second chair, opposite Paul.
“So, what's happened since I was last here?” he said to Brahim. “Well, it was my birthday just after I last came, so I'm twelve now. And I had a party....”
For a while Jordan spoke about his birthday and the presents he had received, and then he spoke about his family holiday to Cornwall and what they had done there.
“I got a really good tan,” he said. “I was on the beach most days, and it was really sunny. I reckon my skin is actually darker than yours now – well, except for the bit around my middle, where I had my trunks on. That's still really white. I look funny when I get undressed.... anyway, Brahim, you know I'm worried about V-G – the Rat, I mean. Please come back so you can fix it to bring him home. And all your friends miss you, too... term starts again on Tuesday, and if you don't wake up for that you'll get into trouble for bunking off.
“Anyway, I'm going to go now, but Southgate's still going to be here, so you'll be okay. I'll probably come back at the weekend, if I can. Bye!”
He stood up. “Okay, you can get back to playing Queen to him,” he said. “And... well, thanks for letting me talk to him. I mean, he's your friend, and... well, I really hope he wakes up soon. And not just for V-G's sake, either.”
“That's okay,” said Paul. “You can come whenever you want. The more people that talk to him, the more chance there is that he'll... well, you know.”
So Jordan left, and Paul took the cassette from his pocket, put it back in the machine and rewound it so that he could play Brahim Love of my Life once more.
The following day Michael also decided to go and visit Brahim in hospital. He'd been in a couple of times during the summer, too, though he hadn't known what to say, and had just ended up sitting looking at the sleeping boy for five minutes or so before leaving. But this was the last day of summer, and he was determined to tell Brahim how he felt about David: he thought that perhaps if the boy's soul knew how badly he was missing David it would struggle that bit harder to get back in control of its body.
But when he approached Brahim's room he could hear music, which indicated that someone else was with him. He almost turned round, but he decided to carry on: perhaps the other visitor would leave before too long.
Paul had inadvertently left his headphones at home: he'd taken them out of his bag that evening to use them with his record player instead and had then forgotten to put them back in the bag. But he'd asked the nurse, and she had said it would be okay to play the music as long as the volume was kept low, and so today the strains of Love of my Life were drifting out into the corridor.
Michael walked quietly into the room. He'd never met Southgate, of course, so he didn't know who he was. He just knew he was looking at a slim boy with light brown hair who cared far more for Brahim Dhif than any ordinary school-friend, because he was holding Dhif's hand tightly and tears were rolling down his cheeks as he listened to the song. Michael almost backed out of the room again, but before he could Paul opened his eyes and saw him.
“Who are you?” asked Paul, though this time he defiantly kept hold of Brahim's hand: it was obviously too late to pretend he hadn't been holding it, anyway.
“I'm Michael Stagg,” said Michael. “I'm in 4A – no, I suppose I'm in 5A now. Anyway, I saw the accident, and I've been in a couple of times...”
“Oh, so you know Fielding?”
“Yes, but not very well. I only met him that day.”
“So I suppose you were one of the ones trying to persuade Brahim to bring the Rat back home?”
“That's right. See... look, I don't even know your name....”
“Thanks. Well, Southgate... see, I really like David – Villiers-Gore, I mean. In fact....” (He took a deep breath). “In fact, I reckon I feel about him the same way you feel about Dhif.” And he looked meaningfully at the joined hands.
Paul let go of Brahim's hand, turned off the cassette player, pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes. Then he took Brahim's hand again.
“I'm in love with him,” he said, looking Michael in the eye and daring him to comment. “I love him more than anything in the world. And I don't care if you think that's wrong, or disgusting, or perverted, because I don't give a fuck what anyone else thinks, okay?”
“I don't. I don't think any of those things, because I feel exactly the same way about David. I love him, and I want him back. I miss him so much...”
Paul looked at him and saw that he was sincere, and finding someone who could understand the way he felt about Brahim was too much for him, and he started crying again, and Michael pulled him to his feet and hugged him.
“It'll be okay,” he said, trying not to cry himself. “He'll wake up, and he'll rescue David, and then we'll all be together and everything will be okay.”
“What if he doesn't? Suppose he never wakes up?” sobbed Paul. “I don't think I could cope with losing him.”
Michael couldn't think of an answer to that, because he found the idea of a future without David equally bleak. So he just held Paul until the younger boy got himself back under control.
“Thanks,” sniffed Paul, sitting down and taking Brahim's hand again. “Would you like to stay for a bit? It'd be nice to have someone else here with us for a while. I hope you like Queen, because I'm going to play the whole album to him this time, not just our special track.”
“I'd like that.”
So Paul fast-forwarded to the end of Side Two, ejected the cassette, turned it over and started from the beginning, and Michael brought the second chair round so that he could sit beside Paul, and they sat and played A Night at the Opera to Brahim, who simply lay silently in the bed and never even twitched.
On Tuesday September 6th a new school year started at King Edward the Fifth School in Cheltenham. Colin Blackman was confirmed as Head Boy, and the acting prefects all became permanent. Marcus Garrett went to Oxford University, his record as Head Boy untarnished. Philip Baxter-Cauldwell had passed his end of term exams so successfully that his mother had gladly handed over the promised £50, which was currently making Jordan's Post Office Savings Account look very healthy indeed, and she had also given Philip the same amount for working so hard, a result that meant that when Jordan had finally removed the chain he had actually thanked the first-former instead of beating him to a pulp.
Of course, here at the start of a new term Jordan was now a second-former, happily wearing long trousers and feeling greatly superior to the new crop of shorts-wearing first-formers. Jeremy was also wearing long trousers, though Charlie was still in shorts: his mother had suggested that he was still too young for long trousers, and in fact Charlie hadn't argued too much, even though his shorts got him teased a bit by the rest of the form.
“I like wearing shorts,” he confided to Jordan and Jeremy. “It makes me feel even more like your little brother.”
There was no school rule that said pupils from the second-year up had to wear long trousers, and in fact Charlie wasn't the only one still in shorts. A couple of the other second-years were wearing them too, and Jordan was amused to see that Steven Larkin was still in shorts, even though he was now in 5A. This was because both Billy Larkin and Nathan Watson were now in 1A, having sailed through the eleven-plus as easily as Steven had feared they would, and they had decreed that Steven would have to stay in shorts, at least for the autumn term.
Nigel Stephens had done really well in his O levels and was now in the Lower Sixth. Jordan talked to him on the bus most days, and it was obvious that things between Nigel and John Baker were still going really well: every Monday Nigel would tell Jordan what he and John had got up to the previous weekend.
At the end of the summer term Jordan had removed the chain from Nigel's balls and given it to John, as Nigel had asked him to, and Jordan was amazed to learn that Nigel still wore the chain for a lot of the time.
“It's a game,” Nigel explained. “We pretend that I'm John's slave, and I can only have the chain off if I'm obedient. It's fun – he makes me do whatever he tells me, and if I don't do a good job I have to have the chain on again afterwards. And we've got a rule that I'm not allowed to play with myself except when he says I can, and if I forget or can't stop myself I get chained again.”
“And you like being chained?” asked Jordan, incredulously.
“Sort of. I mean, you know about us, so you know I'd do anything John wanted anyway, but this makes it more exciting. And I'm pretty well used to it by now, so it doesn't stop me sleeping the way it used to.”
“And has he let you grow your hair again yet?”
“Of course not! He likes me being hairless. Of course, I can't use the Immac while I've got the chain on, so usually I go to his house every weekend and after school once or twice a week so that he can make sure the hair can't start growing again. I'll ask if you can come and watch one evening if you like.”
So one Thursday evening Jordan went home with John and Nigel.
“My parents don't get home till six on Thursdays,” John explained, “so we can make sure our Nigel stays nice and smooth. Get undressed, then, Nige – don't keep our guest waiting or I might have to spank you.”
So Nigel stripped naked. He was wearing the chain, and John removed it and put it in his pocket;
“Don't you think it looks even smaller without any hair?” he asked Jordan. “You'd never guess he was sixteen, would you?”
“I am getting bigger, though,” protested Nigel.
“Not much. Come here and we'll find out.” And John caressed Nigel's balls until he got a good hard erection, at which point John took the six inch ruler from his blazer pocket and used it to demonstrate to Jordan that Nigel was still way below average for a sixteen-year-old.
“Exactly four inches,” he said. “And it's still really thin, too, and it hasn't started to get darker yet. Though I suppose his balls are a little bigger now. Still, it's not up to much for sixteen. Okay, Nige, get to the bathroom and we'll make sure you stay smooth.”
So Nigel stood in the bath while John had applied the hair-dissolving cream to his genitals, bum-crack and armpits, and then he was made to stand still for ten minutes to allow the cream to do its job. Finally he was rinsed down and allowed to dry himself.
“Don't you think it feels nice like this?” asked John, running his fingers over Nigel's genitals, and Jordan joined in and agreed that it did feel nice. And Nigel seemed to be enjoying it too, to judge from his groans and the way his penis was twitching and throbbing.
“Shall we have sex?” John asked Nigel. “I mean, you don't have to until Jordan goes if you don't want.”
“No, I'd like him to see,” said Nigel. “It's thanks to him that we're together, after all.”
John stripped and revealed that his penis at least was growing a little, and his hair had grown a little thicker, too.
“I've got four and three-quarters now,” he said, proudly. “And I've got quite a bit of sperm – haven't I, Nige?”
“There's loads,” confirmed Nigel. “It tastes nice, too.”
He bent over the bed and John fucked him, and after only two or three minutes Jordan saw why they had put a towel on the floor beneath Nigel's groin, as the older boy ejaculated, spurt after spurt of it. And only a few seconds later John climaxed, too.
“Wow, you're both really mature now,” said Jordan. “It takes me way longer than that to get excited.”
“It's because he's so sexy,” said Nigel. “It feels so brilliant when he's inside me that I can hardly control it at all.”
“Same for me,” said John. “You just can't believe how great it feels doing this with someone who is not only really good-looking, but who actually wants to do it, too.”
“And who loves you,” Nigel reminded him.
“Yes, but we’re not supposed to tell anyone about that,” said John.
“Jordan isn't going to tell anyone,” said Nigel, confidently. “He's our friend. Anyway, he knows all about both of us, remember? If he hadn't known that we both like boys, he wouldn't have brought us together, would he?”
“True. Okay, Jordan, so we love each other. Is that okay with you?”
“God, yes, I think it's brilliant. I just hope you go on loving each other for ages.”
“Don't worry, we will.”
So life at KEV went on. But there were a couple of empty seats: the desk next to Paul Southgate's in 3B was unoccupied, as was the one next to Michael Stagg's in 5A, and they, and the missing boys' other friends, were very much aware that things could never be normal again until those seats were occupied once more. But as the autumn half-term holiday approached there was nothing to indicate that either seat was likely to be occupied again soon.
Well, some of the boys whose story we have been following seem happy enough, but it looks as if there's no change to Dhif's situation, which means that David is still on his own. And the next chapter will see him hit rock bottom, though after that the only way forward is up. And in Cheltenham it's not just David's friends that are finding life hard to cope with...
Okay, you know how this works by now: sent your comments, thoughts, questions and criticism to email@example.com and I'll be happy to respond.
Copyright 2009: all rights reserved. Please do not reprint, repost or otherwise reproduce this or any part of it anywhere without my written permission.