Home > Never Let Me Go(3)

Never Let Me Go(3)
Kazuo Ishiguro

I suppose Tommy wasn’t used to being disturbed during his rages, because his first response when I came up to him was to stare at me for a second, then carry on as before. It was like he was doing Shakespeare and I’d come up onto the stage in the middle of his performance. Even when I said: “Tommy, your nice shirt. You’ll get it all messed up,” there was no sign of him having heard me.

So I reached forward and put a hand on his arm. Afterwards, the others thought he’d meant to do it, but I was pretty sure it was unintentional. His arms were still flailing about, and he wasn’t to know I was about to put out my hand. Anyway, as he threw up his arm, he knocked my hand aside and hit the side of my face. It didn’t hurt at all, but I let out a gasp, and so did most of the girls behind me.

That’s when at last Tommy seemed to become aware of me, of the others, of himself, of the fact that he was there in that field, behaving the way he had been, and stared at me a bit stupidly.

“Tommy,” I said, quite sternly. “There’s mud all over your shirt.”

“So what?” he mumbled. But even as he said this, he looked down and noticed the brown specks, and only just stopped himself crying out in alarm. Then I saw the surprise register on his face that I should know about his feelings for the polo shirt.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” I said, before the silence got humiliating for him. “It’ll come off. If you can’t get it off yourself, just take it to Miss Jody.”

He went on examining his shirt, then said grumpily: “It’s nothing to do with you anyway.”

He seemed to regret immediately this last remark and looked at me sheepishly, as though expecting me to say something comforting back to him. But I’d had enough of him by now, particularly with the girls watching—and for all I knew, any number of others from the windows of the main house. So I turned away with a shrug and rejoined my friends.

Ruth put an arm around my shoulders as we walked away. “At least you got him to pipe down,” she said. “Are you okay? Mad animal.”

Chapter Two

This was all a long time ago so I might have some of it wrong; but my memory of it is that my approaching Tommy that afternoon was part of a phase I was going through around that time—something to do with compulsively setting myself challenges—and I’d more or less forgotten all about it when Tommy stopped me a few days later.

I don’t know how it was where you were, but at Hailsham we had to have some form of medical almost every week—usually up in Room 18 at the very top of the house—with stern Nurse Trisha, or Crow Face, as we called her. That sunny morning a crowd of us was going up the central staircase to be examined by her, while another lot she’d just finished with was on its way down. So the stairwell was filled with echoing noise, and I was climbing the steps head down, just following the heels of the person in front, when a voice near me went: “Kath!”

Tommy, who was in the stream coming down, had stopped dead on the stairs with a big open smile that immediately irritated me. A few years earlier maybe, if we ran into someone we were pleased to see, we’d put on that sort of look. But we were thirteen by then, and this was a boy running into a girl in a really public situation. I felt like saying: “Tommy, why don’t you grow up?” But I stopped myself, and said instead: “Tommy, you’re holding everyone up. And so am I.”

He glanced upwards and sure enough the flight above was already grinding to a halt. For a second he looked panicked, then he squeezed himself right into the wall next to me, so it was just about possible for people to push past. Then he said:

“Kath, I’ve been looking all over for you. I meant to say sorry. I mean, I’m really, really sorry. I honestly didn’t mean to hit you the other day. I wouldn’t dream of hitting a girl, and even if I did, I’d never want to hit you. I’m really, really sorry.”

“It’s okay. An accident, that’s all.” I gave him a nod and made to move away. But Tommy said brightly:

“The shirt’s all right now. It all washed out.”

“That’s good.”

“It didn’t hurt, did it? When I hit you?”

“Sure. Fractured skull. Concussion, the lot. Even Crow Face might notice it. That’s if I ever get up there.”

“But seriously, Kath. No hard feelings, right? I’m awfully sorry. I am, honestly.”

At last I gave him a smile and said with no irony: “Look, Tommy, it was an accident and it’s now one hundred percent forgotten. I don’t hold it against you one tiny bit.”

He still looked unsure, but now some older students were pushing behind him, telling him to move. He gave me a quick smile and patted my shoulder, like he might do to a younger boy, and pushed his way into the flow. Then, as I began to climb, I heard him shout from below: “See you, Kath!”

I’d found the whole thing mildly embarrassing, but it didn’t lead to any teasing or gossip; and I must admit, if it hadn’t been for that encounter on the stairs, I probably wouldn’t have taken the interest I did in Tommy’s problems over the next several weeks.

I saw a few of the incidents myself. But mostly I heard about them, and when I did, I quizzed people until I’d got a more or less full account. There were more temper tantrums, like the time Tommy was supposed to have heaved over two desks in Room 14, spilling all the contents on the floor, while the rest of the class, having escaped onto the landing, barricaded the door to stop him coming out. There was the time Mr. Christopher had had to pin back his arms to stop him attacking Reggie D. during football practice. Everyone could see, too, when the Senior 2 boys went on their fields run, Tommy was the only one without a running partner. He was a good runner, and would quickly open up ten, fifteen yards between him and the rest, maybe thinking this would disguise the fact that no one wanted to run with him. Then there were rumours almost every day of pranks that had been played on him. A lot of these were the usual stuff—weird things in his bed, a worm in his cereal—but some of it sounded pointlessly nasty: like the time someone cleaned a toilet with his toothbrush so it was waiting for him with shit all over the bristles. His size and strength—and I suppose that temper—meant no one tried actual physical bullying, but from what I remember, for a couple of months at least, these incidents kept coming. I thought sooner or later someone would start saying it had gone too far, but it just kept on, and no one said anything.

I tried to bring it up once myself, in the dorm after lights-out. In the Seniors, we were down to six per dorm, so it was just our little group, and we often had our most intimate conversations lying in the dark before we fell asleep. You could talk about things there you wouldn’t dream of talking about any other place, not even in the pavilion. So one night I brought up Tommy. I didn’t say much; I just summed up what had been happening to him and said it wasn’t really very fair. When I’d finished, there was a funny sort of silence hanging in the dark, and I realised everyone was waiting for Ruth’s response—which was usually what happened whenever something a bit awkward came up. I kept waiting, then I heard a sigh from Ruth’s side of the room, and she said:

“You’ve got a point, Kathy. It’s not nice. But if he wants it to stop, he’s got to change his own attitude. He didn’t have a thing for the Spring Exchange. And has he got anything for next month? I bet he hasn’t.”

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