Home > Never Let Me Go(5)

Never Let Me Go(5)
Kazuo Ishiguro

Miss Geraldine was everyone’s favourite guardian when we were that age. She was gentle, soft-spoken, and always comforted you when you needed it, even when you’d done something bad, or been told off by another guardian. If she ever had to tell you off herself, then for days afterwards she’d give you lots of extra attention, like she owed you something. It was unlucky for Tommy that it was Miss Geraldine taking art that day and not, say, Mr. Robert or Miss Emily herself—the head guardian—who often took art. Had it been either of those two, Tommy would have got a bit of a telling off, he could have done his smirk, and the worst the others would have thought was that it was a feeble joke. He might even have had some students think him a right clown. But Miss Geraldine being Miss Geraldine, it didn’t go that way. Instead, she did her best to look at the picture with kindness and understanding. And probably guessing Tommy was in danger of getting stick from the others, she went too far the other way, actually finding things to praise, pointing them out to the class. That was how the resentment started.

“After we left the room,” Tommy remembered, “that’s when I first heard them talking. And they didn’t care I could hear.”

My guess is that from some time before he did that elephant, Tommy had had the feeling he wasn’t keeping up—that his painting in particular was like that of students much younger than him—and he’d been covering up the best he could by doing deliberately childish pictures. But after the elephant painting, the whole thing had been brought into the open, and now everyone was watching to see what he did next. It seems he did make an effort for a while, but he’d no sooner have started on something, there’d be sneers and giggles all around him. In fact, the harder he tried, the more laughable his efforts turned out. So before long Tommy had gone back to his original defence, producing work that seemed deliberately childish, work that said he couldn’t care less. From there, the thing had got deeper and deeper.

For a while he’d only had to suffer during art lessons—though that was often enough, because we did a lot of art in the Juniors. But then it grew bigger. He got left out of games, boys refused to sit next to him at dinner, or pretended not to hear if he said anything in his dorm after lights-out. At first it wasn’t so relentless. Months could go by without incident, he’d think the whole thing was behind him, then something he did—or one of his enemies, like Arthur H.—would get it all going again.

I’m not sure when the big temper tantrums started. My own memory of it is that Tommy was always known for his temper, even in the Infants, but he claimed to me they only began after the teasing got bad. Anyway, it was those temper tantrums that really got people going, escalating everything, and around the time I’m talking about—the summer of our Senior 2, when we were thirteen—that was when the persecution reached its peak.

Then it all stopped, not overnight, but rapidly enough. I was, as I say, watching the situation closely around then, so I saw the signs before most of the others. It started with a period—it might have been a month, maybe longer—when the pranks went on pretty steadily, but Tommy failed to lose his temper. Sometimes I could see he was close to it, but he somehow controlled himself; other times, he’d quietly shrug, or react like he hadn’t noticed a thing. At first these responses caused disappointment; maybe people were resentful, even, like he’d let them down. Then gradually, people got bored and the pranks became more half-hearted, until one day it struck me there hadn’t been any for over a week.

This wouldn’t necessarily have been so significant by itself, but I’d spotted other changes. Little things, like Alexander J. and Peter N. walking across the courtyard with him towards the fields, the three of them chatting quite naturally; a subtle but clear difference in people’s voices when his name got mentioned. Then once, towards the end of an afternoon break, a group of us were sitting on the grass quite close to the South Playing Field where the boys, as usual, were playing their football. I was joining in our conversation, but keeping an eye on Tommy, who I noticed was right at the heart of the game. At one point he got tripped, and picking himself up, placed the ball on the ground to take the free kick himself. As the boys spread out in anticipation, I saw Arthur H.—one of his biggest tormentors—a few yards behind Tommy’s back, begin mimicking him, doing a daft version of the way Tommy was standing over the ball, hands on hips. I watched carefully, but none of the others took up Arthur’s cue. They must all have seen, because all eyes were looking towards Tommy, waiting for his kick, and Arthur was right behind him—but no one was interested. Tommy floated the ball across the grass, the game went on, and Arthur H. didn’t try anything else.

I was pleased about all these developments, but also mystified. There’d been no real change in Tommy’s work—his reputation for “creativity” was as low as ever. I could see that an end to the tantrums was a big help, but what seemed to be the key factor was harder to put your finger on. There was something about Tommy himself—the way he carried himself, the way he looked people in the face and talked in his open, good-natured way—that was different from before, and which had in turn changed the attitudes of those around him. But what had brought all this on wasn’t clear.

I was mystified, and decided to probe him a bit the next time we could talk in private. The chance came along before long, when I was lining up for lunch and spotted him a few places ahead in the queue.

I suppose this might sound odd, but at Hailsham, the lunch queue was one of the better places to have a private talk. It was something to do with the acoustics in the Great Hall; all the hubbub and the high ceilings meant that so long as you lowered your voices, stood quite close, and made sure your neighbours were deep in their own chat, you had a fair chance of not being overheard. In any case, we weren’t exactly spoilt for choice. “Quiet” places were often the worst, because there was always someone likely to be passing within earshot. And as soon as you looked like you were trying to sneak off for a secret talk, the whole place seemed to sense it within minutes, and you’d have no chance.

So when I saw Tommy a few places ahead of me, I waved him over—the rule being that though you couldn’t jump the queue going forwards it was fine to go back. He came over with a delighted smile, and we stood together for a moment without saying much—not out of awkwardness, but because we were waiting for any interest aroused by Tommy’s moving back to fade. Then I said to him:

“You seem much happier these days, Tommy. Things seem to be going much better for you.”

“You notice everything, don’t you, Kath?” He said this completely without sarcasm. “Yeah, everything’s all right. I’m getting on all right.”

“So what’s happened? Did you find God or something?”

“God?” Tommy was lost for a second. Then he laughed and said: “Oh, I see. You’re talking about me not… getting so angry.”

“Not just that, Tommy. You’ve turned things around for yourself. I’ve been watching. So that’s why I was asking.”

Tommy shrugged. “I’ve grown up a bit, I suppose. And maybe everyone else has too. Can’t keep on with the same stuff all the time. Gets boring.”

Hot Novels
  • Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Chris
  • Fifty Shades Freed (Fifty Shades #3)
  • Never Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #2)
  • Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2)
  • Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine’s Peculi
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades #1)
  • Fallen Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #1)
  • Forever Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #3)
  • Ugly Love
  • Allegiant (Divergent #3)
  • Hold on Tight (Sea Breeze #8)
  • Bared to You (Crossfire #1)
  • The Destiny of Violet & Luke (The Coinc
  • Captivated by You (Crossfire #4)
  • Uprooted