Chapter no 7



The family went back to work, and I went back to school, same as I did after every summer holiday.

Back to normal, everyone said cheerily.

From the passenger seat of Pa’s open-topped Aston Martin everything certainly looked the same. Ludgrove School, nestled in the emerald Berkshire countryside,

looked as ever like a country church. (Come to think of it, the school motto was from Ecclesiastes: Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.) Then again, not many country churches could boast two hundred acres of woodland and meadows, sports fields and tennis courts, science labs and chapels. Plus a well-stocked library.

If you wanted to find me in September 1997, the library would’ve been the last place to look. Better to check the woods. Or the sports fields. I was always trying to keep moving, keep busy.

I was also, most often, alone. I liked people, I was gregarious by nature, but just then I didn’t want anyone too close. I needed space.

That was a tall order, however, at Ludgrove, where more than one hundred boys lived in proximity. We ate together, bathed together, slept together, sometimes ten to a room. Everyone knew everyone’s business, down to who was circumcised and who wasn’t. (We called it Roundheads versus Cavaliers.)

And yet I don’t believe one boy so much as mentioned my mother when that new term began. Out of respect?

More likely fear.

I certainly said nothing to anyone.

Days after my return I had a birthday. September 15, 1997. I turned thirteen. By long-standing Ludgrove tradition there would be a cake, sorbet, and I was allowed to choose two flavors. I chose black currant.

And mango.

Mummy’s favorite.

Birthdays were always a huge deal at Ludgrove, because every boy, and most teachers, had a ravenous sweet tooth. There was often a violent struggle for the seat next to the birthday boy: that’s where you’d be assured of the first and biggest slice. I don’t remember who managed to win the seat beside me.

Make a wish, Harry!

You want a wish? All right, I wish my mother was—

Then, out of nowhere— Aunt Sarah?

Holding a box. Open it, Harry.

I tore at the wrapping paper, the ribbon. I peered inside.


Mummy bought it for you. Shortly before… You mean in Paris?

Yes. Paris.

It was an Xbox. I was pleased. I loved video games.

That’s the story, anyway. It’s appeared in many accounts of my life, as gospel, and I have no idea if it’s true. Pa said Mummy hurt her head, but perhaps I was the one with brain damage? As a defense mechanism, most likely, my memory was no longer recording things quite as it once did.

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