|extract from the novel
I've begun to think now that I maybe just panicked this afternoon, and then over-reacted
some. But I'm still not sure yet, I still don't know for sure.
I am still shaking although, and what I'd really like
to be able to do tonight is talk to Nalda. Even just for a little while. To see what kind
of words she would have to say.
When I was a boy, you see, I heard Nalda's words
nearly all the time; while we sat out on the old sofa in the evenings, or while we swept
up leaves in the winter lady's garden through the day And always she would tell me all
about myself and how I'd come to be in her charge, and about the world too, and how things
in it worked. And whenever I was confused by something I could go and ask her some
questions, and listen to her talk, and slowly things would come back towards sense.
But all of that was a long time ago now. All before
the shouting, and all before the people came and Nalda went off And ever since then I've
only been mostly afraid and confused, by the whole of the world and most things inside it.
Almost all the time.
And so... I still can't tell about this afternoon yet.
I still don't know for sure. It's important, because of what lies within my charge, that I
live always on my guard. And so lots of times I've misjudged things and over-reacted. But
I'm not sure if that's how things were today, and I wonder if Nalda would talk until I
could see some other sense in what happened, and it no longer scared me. Or if she would
only look at her nail and say, "You did the right thing today You did the right
Ooops. But I almost told you my name there, and I
don't mean to do that. Not just yet. Just in case. Just in case of things.
So what I'll do instead, right now is I'll tell you
all about what happened this afternoon, and about why I'm still shaking.
The first thing you need to know I think, is that for quite a while now I've been working
in the gardens of a city park. I suppose that's the first thing. I mostly always try to
find work in places like that - first of all because gardening is just about the only
thing I know anything about, the only thing that you can use for a job at least. And,
secondly, because you never have to be around any other people too much of the time.
In this place, because it was so big, I hardly ever
had to talk to any of the other people who worked there at all. There were so many
different things to be done most days that, between picking up my tools and getting my
orders in the mornings and returning my things to the sheds again in the evenings, I might
not see anyone else who worked there all day long. And that's the best way for me. I've
never been around other people much, and because of that their ways mostly just get me
confused, and then I get nervous.
I spent most of it with the grass machine, cutting
lawns at the very heart of the gardens. Then, towards finishing up time, I trundled it
back to the sheds and got to work wiping the blades clean in there.
I always liked it in the sheds at the end of the day,
if there was no one else in there. Most times I tried to work on later than everyone else,
sos as they would all be gone by the time I got back. And often, when I had
cleaned up my tools and put everything away into its place, I liked to sit beside one of
the windows and just be glad that I was finished with gardening for another whole night.
And quietly make a wish that I would be freed before the next day from ever having to do
Today although, while I was still wiping the blades
clean of grass, I heard the door opening behind me and I grew quite angry that someone had
come in to spoil my peace.
"Well, that's another one endured and
conquered," the voice said, and I knew straight away who it was. I knew at once it
was the boy with the pictures on his arms.
"How was yours?" he asked me while he
clattered his tools down onto the floor, and I felt myself grow tight and shy And I fixed
my eyes very hard on the blades of the grass cutting machine as I wiped them, even
although all of the grass was gone by then.
No one else who worked at those gardens even tried to
talk to me after the first one time or two times. I think some of them worked out that it
wasn't one of the things I was good at, and that I just didn't know how to do it properly.
And some of the others, they became a bit offended by me not ever answering them properly
I think. Either way they all soon came around to leaving me alone, which was good because
it meant I couldn't let any information slip which might put me in danger from them.
But the boy with the pictures on his arms, he was
different. He just kept on by talking to me whether I gave him any proper answers or not.
It didn't even seem to matter to him very much if I answered at all. And when he had hung
up all his spades and things, he dragged the chair from the window across to where I was
wiping the blades, and he sat down on it there. Kind of backwards.
"That looks as if you've got them cleaned
now," he said to me, while he shifted around on his seat some. But I continued to
wipe for a bit more anyway Then, when I felt like it was getting to be stupid, I got up,
all unsure of my movements because I felt like he was spying on me some, and I put the
cloth away in a drawer. I even pretended to look for something else in there too, in the
hope that he would just go away before I was finished. But he didn't go. He just kept on
by sitting there.
When I turned around, although, I noticed he wasn't
spying at me at all. He was just touching the pictures on his arms instead, with his
fingers, and looking at them all carefully So seeing my chance I said "Good
night," in a voice that came out all cracked and quiet, and then I hurried out of the
shed and closed the door behind me. I even thought I was going to get away with it too,
because the door stayed shut until I was quite some steps away But it was never so easy to
escape from the boy with the pictures on his arms, and soon I heard the door opening again
and him shouting out to me, while he snapped the padlock of the shed onto the door to lock
"Hang on there," he said as he ran after me.
And without even making my eyes look at him I watched him tying a scarf around his head,
just from my corners.
"Are you busy right now?" he asked me, while
he tightened the knot at the back of his head. "I know you don't speak much, but
there's something I want to show you. Something I found today Are you doing anything else
I was still thinking of a way to run off from him at
that time, and when we reached the end of the track which leads from the sheds to the main
path I just turned my back on him quickly, and started walking off.
But he ran after me again.
"It's this way," he said, catching me
lightly by the arm. "It's not that way, it's this way" And as we stood looking
at each other, and I watched him tugging on the knot behind his head, I suddenly had the
idea that maybe he was just lonely for some company, and that was something I knew a bit
"It's just something I thought you might like to
see," he said. "Something I found in a flower-bed this morning. I'm
not quite sure what I'm going to do with it yet, but I know I can trust you not to tell
anyone else here anything about it, so you can see it if you want."
He tipped his head to the side then and I was still
anxious not to be there, but slowly I turned to face the other way and he nodded at me.
"You're quite a strange guy," he said.
"I hope you don't mind me saying that. But Christ... I mean, I'll bet you don't make
many friends acting like you act."
Then he laughed and I tried to do a smile to him, but
I'm not good at smiling to people. In front of a mirror I can do one alright. When I can
watch my own face. But whenever I try to do a smile to someone else I always think it
isn't going to work, and then it doesn't work. I kind of make it not, I think, by thinking
that. So I looked away towards the flower-beds as soon as I felt it failing, and then I
covered my mouth with my hand.
We walked quite a way back through the gardens, the
boy with the pictures on his arms and me. And then we walked beyond the gardens and on
into the rest of the park. All the way he kept on by talking, the boy, and mostly I didn't
even know what he was saying about, like I never do. But he did say a few things about how
he wished he didn't have to work in the gardens, and how much he didn't like it, and that
surprised me some. It surprised me because I'd always thought it must only be me who
didn't like it, and it was a secret I was scared about in case anyone found out and then
told me I couldn't work there anymore. And I would be left without my money. So it made me
feel good, just that. And I wanted to say something to him about it and agree some. But
just when I was getting ready to, he stopped walking, at last, and he pointed over towards
a tree near the fence.
"I've hidden it there," he said. "In a
hole in the trunk." And he hurried off across the grass and had me follow him.
It was a very broad and old tree which he brought us
to, with gnarled and old branches, and a hole at the bottom of the trunk just like he'd
said. And while he knelt down in the grass, I leaned against the trunk, and watched him
feeling with his hand inside.
"I think you're going to like this," he said
to me. "I really do." And it was just then, as he drew his hand out from in the
hole, that all of everything started happening at once.
The thing was, you see, it was a knife he pulled out
from in there. A knife with a black, black handle and a long curved blade. And while he
stood up again he did the strangest grin to me, and the time started to move very
strangely It went all slow to begin with, and in just a single second I studied the boy's
mad grin and some of the pictures on his arms, as well as thinking that what I'd been
terrified of for years was very probably just about to happen. Then, as the boy took
another step towards me, I watched the sunlight glinting upon his blade. And when he
turned it, and the light flashed directly into my eyes, suddenly time was racing instead,
moving at twice its normal speed.
And then so was I. Running off towards the fence with
my coat flapping on my knees, and my heart thumping terribly.
I heard the boy shouting something behind me, but I
didn't hear about what it was, and I didn't turn around any too. I just climbed over the
fence as soon as I came to it, ripping my trousers and cutting my leg. And on the other
side I tripped on something and fell out full. But I didn't even lie for a minute. I was
back up again and running as quickly as I could be. Running and running.
To begin with, I ran back to the room where I'd been
staying all the time I was in that city But as soon as I arrived there I realised about
how stupid a thing that was to do. And so as quickly as I could, I put a few important
things into a bag and I ran out again.
And all I did do was keep on running then.
Running and running. On and again. For a very long
Nalda said I first came to her in a complicated array of rags, silent and afraid, when I
was just newly two years old. I was wearing a shirt and trousers which had been all tacked
up the back with pins, she said, to pull them in tight against my body And, also, they
were all rolled and folded at their tops and bottoms, so that the bits of me which were
supposed to stick out still stuck out.
Sometimes when Nalda told me the story about myself
she said I came to her in spring, when the flowers were all just coming back to life
again. And other times she said I came to her in winter, along a street all covered with a
soft blanket of snow. But, no matter what, I was always brought by one of my father's
closest companions, in the passenger seat of a very expensive car. And when Nalda had told
me about that part she would always make me do a giggle by saying, "And I looked down
at this tattered bundle of rags he had handed to me, and I thought to myself... 'Good God,
I've been cursed! What did I do to deserve this?"'
And she always laughed then too, and pulled me in
towards her - in towards all of her dark scarves and skirts, and her warm hair and her
chains. And she would rattle me about like that to keep me laughing, until I asked her to
tell me about myself more again.
There were so many stories Nalda knew. And I would ask
her for the same ones about myself and about things in the world over and again. And
whenever I asked her for a new one she would always have a new one too, and after hearing
it two times, about, I would have a name for that one also, and I would begin to ask for
it over and again too.
But my favourite story was always the one about how I
first came to Nalda in a complicated array of rags, silent and afraid, when I was just
newly two years old. That was the one I asked for the most often of all. And after Nalda
had rattled me, and I had laughed until I was tired, sometimes she would open the tin she
kept in the drawer - if she was in a very special mood. And she would take out what she
said were the pins that had been used to tack up my trousers and my shirt that time. And
she would let me look at them some.
Even now I still have those pins with me. I keep them
in a tin of my own now. And when I grabbed a few things to take away with me this evening
the tin was amongst them. It was one of the first things I threw down into my bag.
I wouldn't have left that behind.
* * *
I realised, when I had no more breath left for running this evening, that I didn't even
have any idea about where I was running to. And so that was why I stopped. What I saw when
I did stop, although, was that I was just close by to the bus station. So that was where I
went to then.
At first I was going to look at the map outside of the
ticket office, to choose a place from there which wasn't too near and wasn't too far away.
Somewhere that wouldn't be too easy a place to guess about, or that wouldn't be an obvious
place for me to be heading to, just in case the boy would still try to follow me.
But then I had a better idea that I would just go and
look at which coaches had the least people inside, and which ones didn't have anyone on
who could possibly be the boy with the pictures on his arms, in disguise. And that way,
too, it meant that if he should catch up to me soon he couldn't ask at the ticket office
about where I had bought my ticket for, and then he would be stuck. If I had just bought
my ticket on board.
So I found a coach with hardly any people inside of it
at all, which was also going quite a distance away And I got up on board and settled down
towards the back, close by to the door made for emergencies.
Just in case.
It was only a few minutes till the bus left, after I'd got on. But all the time I lay away
down low on my seat anyway, hiding where I couldn't be seen from the outside. And all the
way out through the city I did the same, just peeking up over the bottom of the window's
edge every now and again, to see what I could see. I stayed like that, too, while all of
the buildings were getting less, all the way out until it was only fields that were lefi
on both sides of the road, and the city was far away and behind us. And only then, very
slowly, did I begin to raise myself up in the seat at last, feeling a little bit safer.
And feeling gratetul, too, through my shaking, that I had gained some more time to await
the thing which I await.
* * *
It wasn't until the bus had been going on for over an hour, although, that I first
began to wonder if I hadn't maybe just panicked some back in the park before. And then
Before that there hadn't been any doubts in my
thoughts at all. I was absolutely sure about what I thought had almost happened. But while
I'd been sitting watching the sky getting darker above the fields, with my cloth bag
pressed away in tight against my chest, I'd slowly began to wonder just how the boy with
the pictures on his arms could possibly have known about me. I hadn't never hardly even
spoken to him during all the times he'd tried to speak to me, so I was certain that I'd
never let anything slip to him that I shouldn't have. And then, too, as the bus kept
moving, I also began to remember about a few kindnesses he had shown to me in the past,
and there was one in particular which I kept on by thinking of which really made me think
he wasn't that kind of a one at all, and which made me think that maybe the knife really
had been something he'd just found and wanted to show me. To try and even make a friend of
me. And so that was when I first began to think that perhaps I had just panicked.
It wasn't long after I'd first arrived in that city, and before I'd been working in
those gardens for very long at all, that the boy with the pictures on his arms did the
kindness for me that I kept thinking of while the bus rolled.
To begin with, I'd worked mostly in the rose gardens
there, over where the gardens joined onto the main part of the park, where lots of young
people always came to kick footballs around, or to throw those things like disks to each
So the thing that happened was, there was one group of
older children who never did used to kick any football around, or throw any disk or
anything much at all. Always they just used to drift about mostly and maybe smoke some
cigarettes, and maybe push each other around sometimes. And spit and stuff. So, one day
they were all quite close to where I was working, and a few were looking at me, and then
one of them shouted out a name at me. I don't remember what name now but I became quite
tight and quite shy And I got quite awkward about what I was doing and I even blushed
some, though I don't know if they could see that. But I didn't shout anything back to them
although. And I think that was what turned out to be the wrong thing.
They all came kind of closer then, and they started to
all shout the name at me, and then all different things. And I just concentrated hard upon
a rose, and pretended to work very absorbed until they went away.
But after that, they kept on by coming back a few days
more, and I would get nervous and things as soon as I saw them. And they always stopped to
shout for a while. Sometimes they even came closer, and maybe flicked my sleeve or
something, or flicked my hair. But always I pretended just to be absorbed by my work,
while all of them giggled and shouted, or just made a strange noise. And then one of them
curled a fist around the head of a rose once, and said, "What would happen if I
pulled this, mister? What would? Would it bleed?"
But still I kept on by staring at what I was doing,
and then another one tugged at my sleeve and said, "What would happen if he did that,
mister? Would it bleed?"
Then another one, a girl, she said, "Don't you
think I look like a rose, mister?" to a lot of shouting and laughing. "I do
though," she insisted. "Don't I, mister?"
And she touched my cheek with her fingers, and all of
"Would you flick her, mister?" a boy asked
then. "Would you want to?"
And then another girl.
"He would too! Look at him blush..."
I still kept on just by seeming like I was absorbed in
my work although. Not looking. Mostly I didn't even know what they were saying about, and
younger people always make me even more confused than older ones, some of them. So I had
no idea at all about what to do.
But that was when the boy with the pictures on his
arms came along. Just then. And he grabbed one of them by the arm and he shouted some. And
I looked up just quickly and I saw that they all looked pretty scared. Very scared really
And the boy said about what he would do to them if they came around that part again, and
he said to them about how I would let him know if they worried me ever any time again, and
about how he would get them all one by one if I said that.
One at a time.
I tried to do him a smile just then, but I think it
failed quite a lot, and I heard one of the children start to laugh. But the boy with the
pictures shouted pretty loudly at him, and he stopped right then, and no one else laughed.
Then, in time, he let go of the one he had grabbed,
and they all ran away together then. And I never did see them again.
So it was thinking all over that, which really got me
to thinking that I'd maybe just panicked today, along with, of course, wondering about how
he could possibly have known about me, in the first place.
What Nalda used to say you see - about people, I mean
- was that all but the very few would rip and tear at even the most precious of things to
get to that part which would bring them profit and gain. And not just nasty people, she
said. But just about all of everyone, almost every person you could ever meet, all except
for the very most gentle and kind, and also the most very pure. It wasn't
really that they were bad, she said most times, but only really that they were lazy and
tired. Or else ignorant of any other way. But whichever, that's what makes up the main
reason of why I must keep a distance really, and be careful never to get so close as to
let anything slip which could put me into danger from their ways.
But the thing is although, the main thing, I got to
wondering for a while on the bus if the boy with the pictures on his arms maybe might even
have been just one of the very few that she sometimes said of. Just because of the
kindnesses he had shown to me sometimes. And that made me a bit upset in case he had just
been trying to make a friend from me, because one of the things I would very much like to
have is a friend. And mostly I sometimes think that a girl for a friend would be best. But
And that made me wish a bit that I could go back, even
although I couldn't.
Just in case.
* * *
When the bus finally got to where it was going tonight, I waited until all the other
people inside had got off and wandered away, before I got down too. Then, with my bag
still pressed in tight against my chest, I looked around at where I had got to, and then I
looked around for a place to stay for tonight.
I continued being a bit cautious outside to begin
with, looking a few times behind me while I walked, despite all of what I'd thought on the
bus. Just to make sure that the boy hadn't followed me there. But I soon got to be
convinced it was alright, and I soon found a hotel place that looked okay, so I came
Always, in the pocket of whatever shirt I'm wearing, I
keep a supply of emergency money ready. Just enough to take me away from wherever I am, on
a bus or a train, and to pay for a room for the night wherever I end up, in case something
should happen which makes me have to leave. Like it always does.
The room I'm in now looks almost exactly like all the
other rooms I've stayed in at times like this. And once I'd been shown in, and I'd locked
the door up behind me, I did what I always do first, after up and running. I unfastened my
cloth bag and sat down on the bed with it, to see what things I'd brought with me, and
what things I'd left behind.
I had the tin with my pins inside, of course. And most
of my clothes too, which aren't really many anyway Then, besides that, I had my can and my
utensils, the book with some pages pasted inside that I've saved from newspapers, a couple
of special things to eat, and that was all. I'd left a lot behind again, like I always do.
I'd left a lot of trinklets and ornaments I'd collected, and some photograph pictures I
liked to have on my wall. But what was most important of all was I'd left my jeweller's
eyeglass behind, and that will make things a lot more difficult for me.
I found that, one day just when I was digging up a
flower-bed in a park, and I didn't even know what it was at first. But once I'd worked it
out, and cleaned it up, I was very pleased at my find. And I started using it the very
I've been using it every day too, from then. And I
even know exactly where I've left it. I can picture it sitting exactly on my bed, back in
my last room.
And I could even kick myself.
Usually I always left that lying with my utensils
together, but this morning I just brought that through by accident, and laid it down
I suppose that's what happens when you leave in a
hurry. You sometimes always leave something behind that you'd rather not have forgotten.
The trinklets and the photograph pictures don't bother me really so much, but...
I'll have to buy an old kind of stupid magnifying
glass tomorrow again now.
Anyway although. It feels like as if it's been a long
day today. My terror in the park even seems like it could have been a week. And leaving my
other room this morning, to walk through the people to the gardens, that seems like it
could have been a year.
So what I'm going to do now I'm going to wash. And
then I'll get my can set up, just sos as it's ready. And after I eat some
stuff, I'm going to lie down in my bed. And hopefully I'm going to go to sleep.