Wherefore, if anyone knows of any impediment, either of consanguinity, affinity, spiritual relationship or any other reason whatsoever why these two people should not be joined together in holy matrimony, you are bound to declare the same to the parish priest as soon as possible.
Oh sorry, that’s the wrong one. But at least you can tell which religion I was brought up in, can’t you? What I meant was, if there’s any reason why you shouldn’t be reading this, then don’t. Please. Oh well, go on then if you really want to; just don’t blame me or Nifty if the bogeymen catch you, okay?
Well, we’ve reached an important turning point in the story, one of the pivotal chapters, so I’d be especially interested to read your reactions to what I’ve done. Please e-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll reply as soon as I can.
It’s Tuesday; I’ve got to see Mr. Atkinson after supper. I’m not looking forward to it one bit, but I’ll only have to do it a few more times and it’ll be over. I don’t care how much trouble he gets me into, once Callum’s safely out of the way, that’s it. Classes have just finished; we’ve got an hour and half before we have to go to prep. It’s been raining on and off all day. Right now it’s not raining hard, just a steady drizzle, but it’s too wet to do anything outdoors. I head off to the art room; I want to see if I can finish the picture I’ve been working on. I’m pretty good at art, and I enjoy it, even though Mr. Townsend doesn’t seem to like me much.
By twenty past four I’ve done it. I clean up and put my stuff away. As I open the art room door I see another boy coming out of the trunk store. WHAT THE FUCK! I quickly duck back inside. I recognise him immediately; his name’s Alex Pienaar. He’s looking upset and walking rather awkwardly. Shit! I know what that means. Fuck!
Alex only started here this term; he’s in year two. He’s from South Africa. His mum and dad are both doctors; they spoke out against the apartheid regime there. His dad was arrested on suspicion of being a communist and got tortured by the security police. Anyway after a couple of months he was released ‘cause there was no fucking evidence. Then their house was attacked by white extremists. They’ve got three kids; they decided it was too dangerous to stay there, so they left and came to England. They sent Alex here while they sort themselves out. They’re fucking heroes as far as I’m concerned.
I’m pretty sure I know what’s happened, but I’ve got to make absolutely certain. I wait just inside the art room, with the door just open a bit. Two minutes later, Mr. Atkinson emerges from the trunk store and heads towards his classroom. I’m angry and upset. He’d told me I was his special boy, the only one he wanted to have sex with. It was a load of bollocks; he’s just bummed Alex the way he did it to me. Well, I’m going to put a stop to it.
I run up to the dorm and grab some cotton wool from my locker then head back down the stairs and onto the bottom corridor. I go into the boys’ room; it’s the obvious place for Alex to have gone. Two of the stalls are empty; the other one’s occupied. There’s only one thing for it; if I’m wrong and it’s one of the older kids in there I’ll be risking getting my head kicked in, but I don’t have much choice. I get down on the floor and look under the door. It’s him! I jump to my feet and knock on the door.
“Alex! Open the door!” I say in a loud whisper.
There’s no response.
“Alex!” I repeat. “My name’s Toby. I know what’s happened and I want to help. Please open the door.”
A little shuffling about, but the door stays shut.
“Alex! I’m not going to hurt you, I promise!”
There’s the sound of the bolt being pulled back. The door swings halfway open. I step inside and bolt it again. Alex has gone back to sitting on the toilet, his shorts and briefs down round his ankles. He’s been crying. This is not fucking right!
“I know what’s happened because he’s been doing it to me too,” I whisper. “I’ll explain later; there’s no time now. I just need to make sure you’re okay. Did he give you some cotton wool?”
Very nervously he takes it out of his briefs. There’s spunk on it as I expected, but there’s blood as well. Shit!
“I need to have a look at it,” I tell him. “Please.”
He gets up and turns round, bending over the toilet so I can see. He is far too trusting; if I had wanted to fuck him he’s just put himself in the perfect position. His bum’s red and looks very sore, but there’s no sign of any more blood coming out. I’m just going to have to hope for the best.
“I think you’re going to be all right,” I tell him. “I’m going to take that and hide it,” I add quietly, taking the soiled cotton wool and giving him the fresh piece. “It’s evidence. Can you be very brave?”
He looks at me and nods.
“I’m going to go and see him. I’ll tell him if he doesn’t leave the school in two days, we’ll walk out of here and go to Jenkins & Parrish, the solicitors in town. We’ll both make sworn statements about what’s happened. If he doesn’t do as I say, will you come with me?”
“Yes,” he whispers.
“Good,” I say, smiling at him. I like this kid; he’s got balls.
I quickly head back to the dorm to hide the cotton wool. I put it into a paper bag and stow in my locker; it’s not ideal, but I’ll hide it properly later. I’m just about to leave when Rob appears. I quickly retrieve it.
“Rob, hide this in your locker for me, will you?” I ask.
“Yeah, cool,” he says. “What is it?”
“Can’t tell you at the moment,” I say, “but you won’t get in trouble for it. Trust me please, Rob.”
“Yeah, sure,” he repeats, grinning.
Now for the hard part; I step out onto the corridor, take several deep breaths and try to compose myself. I’ve got to do this and I’ve got to do it right. It’s not just about me now; it’s not even just about me and Alex. Once we’ve gone he’ll do the same thing to other boys; he might be doing it with other boys right now for all I know. It’ll be no good me going in there shouting and screaming; he’ll just bat it off, say I’ve got it all wrong or something. For some reason an image of Mr. Halford comes into my brain. For all the times he’s punished me, I’ve never seen him lose his temper, not even once. He’s always perfectly calm, completely in control. In control; that’s how I’ve got to be.
I walk down the stairs and make my way to Mr. Atkinson’s classroom. He’s sitting at his desk, marking books, just as I expected. This is it. I walk into the room and close the door behind me.
“Hello, Toby,” he says brightly, “I wasn’t expecting to see you here. What can I do for you?”
I walk across and stand right in front of his desk.
“Twenty minutes ago I was just leaving the art room,” I say calmly. “I saw Alex Pienaar coming out of the trunk store. A couple of minutes later you followed him. We both know what that was about, don’t we?”
He doesn’t answer.
“Well, as a matter of fact I know all about it, because I found Alex and he told me.” I continue.
He’s still not saying anything, but his eyes are betraying a mixture of fear and panic.
“You took him to the trunk store and raped him, just like you did with me.” I say coldly.
“Oh, he was quite willing,” he counters nervously.
“Bollocks!” I tell him. “After all the shit he’s had to go through, he was too frightened to say no, and you know it.” I pause for a second or two, my eyes locked on his. “How did you stop him squealing when you stuck it up him?” I continue. “Stuff his underpants in his mouth?”
“I didn’t mean to hurt him,” he mumbles, “or you, especially not you.”
“You made him bleed!” I say sharply.
He looks completely panic-stricken, watching me tear his world down around him.
“I thought I was your special boy, the only one you wanted,” I say mockingly.
“You are, Toby, you are!” he protests.
“You’re a liar and a pervert!” I snap, cutting him off. “I ought to bust your ass straight into jail!” I smirk at him. “Sorry about the Americanisms; it’s all the films I’ve been watching.”
“I’ll never touch either of you again, I promise,” he says, almost in desperation.
“It’s too late for that,” I say coolly. “You’ve got to leave the school and never come back. You’ve got two days.”
“I can’t just leave the school like that!” he says, now in danger of falling apart completely.
“Of course you can!” I say, still smirking at him. “Your brother in New Zealand has just been killed in a car smash; you’ve got to go out there to sort out his affairs.”
“But I don’t have a brother in New Zealand!” he says, sounding in more of a panic than ever.
“Then invent one,” I say evenly. “You’re clever man, Mr. Atkinson; you’ll think of something.”
“And if I don’t go?” he asks.
“Let me spell it out for you,” I say calmly, looking right at him, the way Mr. Halford does when he’s telling us off. “If you have not gone two days from now, Alex and I are going to walk out of here; this isn’t a prison you know. We’ll go into town, to Jenkins and Parrish, the solicitors. Each of us will make a sworn statement about what you’ve been doing. Oh, and just in case you’re wondering, I’ve got the cotton wool that you gave to Alex. It’s got blood and spunk on it. And don’t bother trying to find it; it’s far too well-hidden for that. And don’t try getting to Alex either, not unless you really want to end up in jail.” I pause to let him take it in, my eyes not wavering for an instant. “Two days.” I repeat.
“I’m not the only one, you know,” he says, right out of the blue.
“Oh really?” I say, my attention perking up. “I think you’d better tell me about it.”
He squirms in his chair, looking very uncomfortable, clearly wishing he’d kept his mouth shut.
“Come on!” I say, imitating Mr. Halford. “I haven’t got all day!”
“Mr. Cooper and Mr. Burman have been having sex with boys since before I came here,” he mutters.
“Very interesting,” I say calmly. “It doesn’t alter anything though; you’ve got two days.” I’m about to leave when a final thought hits me. “And leave the projector in the trunk store,” I tell him. “I’ve got plans for that.”
I leave the room, closing the door behind me. My heart’s thumping like it’s about to jump out of my chest. I’ve pulled some stunts before, but none of them came close to being as scary as that was. I was bluffing about him getting to Alex, of course; I just hope he doesn’t realise, and I was being downright cheeky at the end there, telling him to leave the projector behind, but it seemed like he was in such a state, it was worth giving it a try.
Now I’ve got to wait and see what happens. Maybe he’ll think about it and decide to call my bluff. If he does, we’ll have to do what I said we would; I’ve just got to hope that if it comes to that point, Alex doesn’t bottle out. I don’t think he will, but I don’t really know him, so I can’t be sure. It’d be better all round if he just fucked off like I told him to. The next couple of days could seem like a very long time.
I take several deep breaths and head back to the dorm. What he said about Mr. Cooper and Mr. Burman was a total shock; I’d never even thought about it. I’m not even sure I believe him, but why would he say it if it’s not true? Maybe he thinks I’ll go blabbing it around the school and get myself sent down or something; if he does he’d better have another think, ‘cause I won’t be saying anything to anyone, at least not till I know if it’s true or not. Mind you, I can sort of believe it about Mr. Burman; in fact I pretty well know who he’s been doing it with, Leo Johnston in Lower Fourth.
Leo’s the school’s star musician, plays the trumpet. He spends so much time around the music room, he practically lives there. It has to be him; he worships the ground Mr. Burman walks on, he’s always going on about what a great teacher he is and how much he’s helped him. Mr. Burman’s a lot richer than any of the other teachers; from what I’ve heard, his grandparents left him a lot of money. Anyway, he’s got a beautiful house not far from school, a flat in Chelsea and he drives a Jag. None of the other teachers could afford that.
Quite often he takes Leo to concerts in London, and when he does, they always stay over at his flat and come back the next day. The excuse is that if they came straight back after the concert they wouldn’t get back till after lights out and Leo would disturb everyone getting to bed. Well, now I know the real reason; I bet he fucks the kid senseless. That leaves a question gnawing away at me. Does Leo like Mr. Burman having sex with him? It seems like he must do, otherwise why would he keep going? That’s weird; Mr. Burman’s nearly forty and as square as they come, I’d hate it if it was me. But Sean likes getting fucked by his step-dad; I don’t get that either. It’s up to them, I guess.
As far as Mr. Cooper goes, I find it really hard to believe; he’s certainly never tried anything like that with me, and anyway, he just doesn’t seem to be, you know, like that. But Mr. Atkinson didn’t either, so that’s no guide, and there are other boys who are around him much more than I am; if it is true, I guess it must be one of them, maybe more than one. I’ve no idea who though.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
After yesterday’s rain, today’s been warm and sunny. It’s dragged even worse than I thought it would; I didn’t get much sleep last night either. I’ve checked in with Alex a couple of times, just to make sure he was okay. He was still sore, but he told me that no more blood had come out, even when he had a shit, so that was good news. The worrying thing is that I found him on his own both times; it seems like he hasn’t made any friends yet. We had English the period after lunch; Mr. Atkinson was there as usual, carrying on as though nothing had happened. Does that mean he’s going to try toughing it out? I don’t know, but it looks like he might.
Classes have finished for the day; it’s time for cricket practice. With all the shit that’s been going on I don’t really feel like it, but I’ve got to go; there’ll be awkward questions asked if I don’t. Anyway, it’ll be good to get away, you know, do something to take my mind off things. I’m probably better at cricket than I am at rugby; I just don’t enjoy it as much. There are a few of us in third year that aren’t bad. As I’ve mentioned, Dominic’s a pretty decent batsman, nice, neat strokes. He times the ball really well, but he doesn’t bowl and has to field close to the wicket because he hasn’t got a very strong throwing arm. Craig Shackleton’s a good batsman too, really nice to watch; he’s quite tall and plays very well off the front foot. He doesn’t bowl either, but he can field just about anywhere. I can bat pretty well; I hit the ball harder than either of them, but I don’t have enough patience. I play silly shots and throw my wicket away. The best bowler in our year is Rob; he’s not lightning fast, but quick enough and very accurate. I bowl off-spin. I don’t turn the ball very much, but I’m pretty accurate and I’m learning to use change of flight and pace to lure batsmen into making mistakes.
The one area where I do shine is fielding. I’ve got a safe pair of hands, very good reactions and I can throw myself around like a jack-in-the-box if I have to. It’s not just about catching though; I’m very quick over a short distance and most of the time I know where the ball’s going to go before the batsman’s even hit it; don’t ask me how, I just do. I save a lot of runs because of that. But my secret weapon’s my throwing. I can pick up and throw in one movement, and from fifteen yards away I can hit the stumps nine times out of ten; no-one else can do that, not even the older boys.
There are a couple of things I don’t like about it though. First is that half the kids that turn up to practice are pricks, you know, posers. They’ve got all the kit, expensive bat, pads, gloves, boots, the whole lot, and they talk like they’re really good at it, but they’re actually fucking useless; most of them are scared of the ball. Second is that Mr. Halford’s the coach. Now I’m not saying he’s not a good coach; he is, in fact he’s very good. He played for Sussex first eleven for five years before he started teaching, so he’s a really good player and he makes sure we learn to do everything right. I don’t mind him being strict about that; cricket balls are fucking hard, you wouldn’t want to get hit by one. He always spends five minutes with me at the end of a session too, so I can practice throwing at the stumps. It’s just that the only other time I see him is when I’m in his office getting the cane, so I guess we don’t like each other too much.
I don’t think any of us will make the school team this year; the older boys are just so much bigger and stronger and more experienced, but Dominic and I have to be at all the matches, me as twelfth man and Dominic to score. For those of you that aren’t familiar with cricket, if a player gets injured during a match, you can use a substitute fielder, but he can’t bat and he can’t bowl. I’m the best fielder, so I guess I’m the obvious choice. As it goes, I haven’t been needed yet, so it can get a bit boring. Dominic’s a pretty obvious choice as scorer too. He’s really neat and accurate in everything he does; the score book looks like a work of art when he’s done it. He doesn’t mind; it means he gets to watch Russell.
Today we’re playing a practice match; third year batsmen and lower fourth bowlers on one team, lower fourth batsmen and third year bowlers on the other. That’s the team I’m in; I’m a batting all-rounder really, but we’re short of bowlers. You’d think that would make for a pretty good match up, but the lower fourth kids who are in the school team aren’t allowed to play. That means the best bowler they’ve got is Jeremy Pollard, and Rob’s better than he is.
I need to tell you about Jeremy. His dad runs a wholesale greengrocery business, but Jeremy’s a complete snob, talks very posh and puts on airs and graces like he’s really somebody. He’s a creep too, always sucking up to Mr. Cooper and Mr. Halford, Mr. Cooper especially. There’s a rumour that he’ll be rugby captain next year. That’s a joke; yeah, he’s a big, strong lad and a reasonable player, but he’s nothing special, and he’s as thick as two short planks; I call him Concrete Head; I hate him!
Anyway, he’s just taken a wicket. Brian Harper from Lower Fourth tried to cut a ball that was a bit too close to him and chopped it onto his stumps. So now it’s my turn. I stride to the wicket and take guard. Although I’m naturally right-handed, I bat left-handed like a lot of guys do. The first ball is straight and on a good length. I get right in line and push it back down the pitch. The next one’s short and wide, a long-hop outside the off-stump. I go back and across, get up on my toes and smash it away through the covers; four runs. The next one’s short too, but straighter. I pull it away to the mid-wicket boundary, another four. I smirk at Jeremy; I’m enjoying this! The last ball of the over coming up. It’s outside the off-stump again, but on a good length. I ought to just let it go through; instead, I step across and try to drive it through the covers, hitting it on the up like the West Indians do. My wrists aren’t strong enough to control the shot; the ball screws off the outside half of the bat, giving Craig an easy catch. Bollocks! I’ve done it again!
Practice over, we get changed and make our way back into school. I deliberately walk past Mr. Atkinson’s room. The door’s open and he’s sitting at his desk working, the same as he usually is. This is not looking good.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
I’m sitting at breakfast with a few of the other boys. I’m not at my best; that’s two nights in a row I haven’t been able to sleep. Mr. Halford appears and comes up behind us. He leans over my shoulder.
“As soon as you’ve finished eating, report to my office,” he says evenly.
He turns and walks out of the refectory. I can feel the colour draining out of my face. Atkinson’s said something; he must have done. Maybe he’s said I’m trying to blackmail him. Shit! I clear my plate and make my way onto the corridor. I’m not usually that worried about going to see Mr. Halford, even when I know I’m going to get whacked, but this is different. I’m going to have to do the one thing I was trying to avoid; tell him about what’s been going on. Fuck knows how I’m going to do that without dropping Callum in the shit; I’ll just have to see.
I knock on Mr. Halford’s door and walk in. He’s sitting behind his desk. I go and stand in front of him, standing up straight, arms at my sides.
“I suppose you know why you’re here?” he says calmly.
“Sir,” I mumble, trying not to give anything away.
He opens the top drawer of his desk and takes something out. It’s my religious studies exercise book. Fuck! It’s not about Atkinson at all! The sense of relief is overwhelming. He opens the book.
“This is an insult,” he says firmly.
Perky told us to write an essay about the Holy Trinity, so I wrote about what a load of bollocks it is.
“I’m getting fed up with your persistent defiance,” he says. “Mr. Perkins has taught the boys of this school for forty years, and you will show him the same respect that you would give to any other member of staff. Now bend over!”
I don’t hesitate, positioning myself over the stool that he keeps there for the purpose. He takes out one of his canes and stands behind me. One stinging blow is quickly followed by a second.
“Stand up,” he says.
I do as he says.
“Toby, is there anything you want to talk to me about?” he asks gently, his brows knitted together.
Shit! He knows I thought he wanted me for something else! Fuck!!
“No, sir,” I tell him, trying to stop my knees knocking, my heart racing a mile a minute.
He pauses for what seems like forever. “Okay, off you go!” he says finally.
Back on the corridor I’m gasping for breath. My arse is on fire but I’m hardly aware of it. Fuck, man! That was scary!
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
Our maths lesson comes to a close; I wasn’t really with it but I got by somehow or other. It’s morning break now, then English. I didn’t get a chance to speak to Alex at breakfast; I need to check in with him before going to hang out with my usual gang. I find him on the playground, just outside the main door, on his own like he was yesterday.
“Hi Alex,” I say brightly. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he says quietly, shrugging his shoulders. “Still a bit sore, but not as bad as it was.”
“Is anyone picking on you?” I ask, looking right into his eyes.
“A couple of boys in my dorm make fun of me because of the way I talk,” he says.
His South African accent is very strong; it seems he’s grown up speaking mainly Afrikaans; he only speaks English as his second language. Even so it’s no excuse for kids to pick on him.
“So who’s your form master?”
“Mr. Perkins,” he tells me.
Well that explains it; there’s no point in telling him; that useless old fart won’t do anything.
“If it carries on, you’ve got to tell me about it, okay?”
“Yeah, okay,” he says nervously.
“Have you had English today?” I ask.
“No, not till this afternoon.”
“Right, well I’ve got to go. Take care of yourself, all right?”
He nods. I head off to join my friends. I’m not happy about Alex being on his own, but I can’t hang out with him; boys from different years don’t hang out together, it’s just not done. I’ve got my own friends anyway; they wouldn’t accept a younger boy tagging along. I told him to tell me if he was getting bullied, but I don’t think he will. So I’ll keep an eye out for him and that, but unless I actually see some other kids having a go at him, there’s not much I can do.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
We line up outside Mr. Atkinson’s room, waiting for him to arrive. Quite often he’s here before we are, but he might have had to go to the staff room for something. Unexpectedly, Mr. Halford comes bustling along the corridor. He unlocks the door.
“In you go, gentlemen,” he says, his voice a model of quiet authority.
We troop in and sit down in virtual silence.
“Right boys,” he says, standing by the teacher’s desk. “Mr. Atkinson has been called away to attend to some urgent family business, so for your sins and mine, for the remainder of this term I will be teaching you English.”
“Will Mr. Atkinson be coming back sir?” Mark Wyndham asks.
“No; he has in fact resigned so that we can appoint a replacement in time for the new school year in September.”
For the second time this morning I get an overwhelming sense of relief, like a huge weight’s just been taken off me. He’s gone; he’s actually gone, just like I told him to. Shit! After nearly two days I can finally stop worrying about it.
“Right! Get our books out,” Mr. Halford continues, “Time to get some work done!”
After all the run-ins I’ve had with him, I can’t say I’m looking forward to this. Okay, Mr. Atkinson was a perv and he had to go, but at least his English classes were fun; this is going to be as boring as shit. I guess I’m just going to have to try to stay out of trouble.
We’re studying ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’. Mr. Halford starts to read it to us while we follow. He takes me completely by surprise; instead of reading it in ‘English’ English, like Mr. Atkinson did, he reads it with a thick American drawl. I can’t believe it; he’s got it off perfectly! I sit there, spellbound, hanging onto every word. Suddenly, it all makes sense in a way it never did before. He’s brought it to life; it’s like I’m right there with them, hanging out in the woods with Huck and his friends. Wow! This isn’t boring at all!
He finishes reading and starts firing questions at us. His enthusiasm is an even bigger surprise. It’s infectious too, hands shooting up all over the place with kids eager to answer. Better still, he’s actually funny; we’re having a great laugh. Of course Idiot-Face starts showing off. Prick! Suddenly Mr. Halford’s got his stern face on again. The room descends into silence.
“There’s always one, isn’t there?” he says quietly. “Has to spoil things for everyone else.” He points to the desk right in front of him. “Mark Wyndham, brings your things and sit here.”
Mark does as he’s told, visibly smarting. He hates getting told off.
“Unless I speak to you,” Mr. Halford continues, looking right at him. “I don’t want to hear a squeak out of you. Understand?”
“Sir,” Idiot-Face mutters.
A moment later we’re off again. He reads some more, then fires off some more questions. I thought he might leave me out, but he doesn’t; he comes to me several times. Wow! He’s not just as good as Mr. Atkinson, he’s better, much better! I’ve never been in a class like it! What a gas! Finally he tells us to write a story during prep, imagining that we’re one of Huck’s friends, and the adventures we have. What a gas! He watches us as we leave the classroom.
“I’ll be interested to read the story you’re going to write for me,” he says as I pass his desk, almost smiling at me. “Mr. Atkinson was always telling us what a good story-writer you are.”
I head out onto the corridor. As it goes, I can hardly wait to get started on it. I grin to myself; I can think of quite a few things we might have got up to, but I guess I’d better not write about them! The other boys are as high as I am; it seems they enjoyed the class as much as I did.
“I can’t believe he was like that,” I say. “He’s usually so strict.”
“That’s only because he’s had to cane you so often,” Dominic observes. “That was the real Mr. Halford, the one we saw just now. That’s what Julian says; he teaches their class all the time.”
“Why didn’t you say something?” I ask.
“There was no point,” he says drily. “You wouldn’t have believed me.”
He’s hit the nail right on the head; if he’d told me that, I’d have told him he was talking crap. Well, I got it wrong. I still don’t think he likes me though.
0 o 0 o 0 o 0
Prep’s over; supper starts in five minutes. I’ve finally got my chance. I slip away from the others and hurry down past the art room. I quickly check to see that there’s nobody about. There isn’t; the place is deserted. I unlock the trunk store and let myself in. The projector’s still there, under the fold-up bed. Man! That feels so good! All I did was say the right things in the right way at the right time and he did exactly what I told him to. I like that! I stand up straight and take a very deep breath. I know now; if I really put my mind to it I can do anything I want.