Chapter no 32


I DONT REMEMBER how we got the stuff. One of my mates, I expect. Or maybe several. Whenever we found ourselves in possession, we’d commandeer a tiny upstairs bathroom, wherein we’d implement a surprisingly thoughtful, orderly assembly line. Smoker straddled the loo beside the window, second boy leaned against the basin, third and fourth boys sat in the empty bath, legs dangling over, waiting their turns. You’d take a hit or two, blow the smoke out of the window, then move on to the next station, in rotation, until the spliff was gone. Then we’d all head to one of our rooms and giggle ourselves sick over an episode or two of a

new show. Family Guy. I felt an inexplicable bond with Stewie, prophet without honor.

I knew this was bad behavior. I knew it was wrong. My mates knew too. We talked about it often, while stoned, how stupid we were to be wasting an Eton education. Once, we even made a pact. At the start of exam period, called Trials, we vowed to quit cold turkey, until after the final Trial. But the very next night, lying in bed, I heard my mates in the hall, cackling, whispering. Headed to the loo. Bloody hell, they’re already breaking the pact! I got out of bed, joined them. As the assembly line cranked up, bath to basin to loo, as the weed began to take effect, we shook our heads.

What idiots we were, thinking we could change. Pass the spliff, mate.

One night, straddling the loo, I took a big hit and gazed up at the moon, then down at the school grounds. I watched several Thames Valley police officers marching back and forth. They were stationed out there because of me. But they didn’t make me feel safe. They made me feel caged.

Beyond them, however, that was where safety lay. All was peaceful and still out there. I thought: How beautiful. So much peace in the wider world…for some. For those free to search for it.

Just then I saw something dart across the quad. It froze under one of the orange streetlights. I froze too, and leaned out of the window.

A fox! Staring straight at me! Look! What, mate?


I whispered to the fox: Hello, mate. How’s it going? What are you on about?

Nothing, nothing.

Maybe it was the weed—undoubtedly it was the weed—but I felt a piercing and powerful kinship with that fox. I felt more connected to that fox than I did to the boys in the bathroom, the other boys at Eton—even the Windsors in the distant castle. In fact, this little fox, like the leopard in Botswana, seemed like a messenger, sent to me from some other realm. Or perhaps from the future.

If only I knew who sent it. And what the message was.

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