Sunday, 3 September 2017
Breaking the wall
It was bad enough that Nigel was not only called Nigel, he also looked like a complete Nigel. He was also the new pupil in school. He was odd and no one could really put their finger on exactly what it was that made him so.
In an adult his behaviour might have been called eccentric but in a child it was just plain odd. It was the way he held himself; almost as if he wasn’t quite connected to the Earth and that, if he didn’t concentrate, he would float off it into the ether.
It was the way his hairstyle changed. If you were watching minute by minute then you would never notice any discernible alteration but if you visited him again later then it looked somehow different.
It was the way he looked at you with an almost pained expression; but you knew that he wasn’t feeling any pain himself. It was as though he pitied all those who he came into contact with, whoever they were; as if there was something he alone knew about you.
It was the way he talked; a soft, deep voice; barely audible but the meaning was always clear. He only spoke when spoken to and only used as many words that were necessary.
It was all of those things that made Nigel odd to everyone else; but mostly it was because he spoke to himself.
He kept his own company and at first people thought he was shy and reclusive. He bothered no one and no one bothered him; not even those who were classed as the school bullies (and, despite the schools insistence that such behaviour would not be tolerated, there were several). Nigel was seen as an enigma; even by those who couldn’t even pronounce the word, let alone spell it.
It was after the first week had elapsed that Nigel was seen in the corner of the playing field talking. His deep voice carried strangely, and people wondered who it was that had actually befriended him. Upon closer inspection they realised that he was, in fact, talking to himself; or rather actively engaging in a conversation with someone… or something. There was no school play on and he was not thought to be the type to be into amateur dramatics, but if he was acting a part then it was a marvellously nuanced performance; there was no artifice in it.
If he noticed anyone staring then he didn’t pay any attention to it, he simply got up and walked away.
In class, with everyone now starting at him, he showed no signs of embarrassment about the incident. He still maintained his odd composure. And then he started doing the same thing in the lesson itself. When he was asked a question by the teacher he would behave as if the answer had been given to him by a third party; and his answer was always correct, even to the point where he actually corrected the teacher on a question regarding “A Tale of Two Cities”.
“Who wrote ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of foolishness, it was the age of wisdom?’” Mr Jupp asked.
“That was Charles Dickens.” Nigel replied, and then after another pause said, “And I believe that the quote was ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.’ Not the other way around.”
Mr Jupp was not amused and asked Nigel to stay after class.
Mr Jupp held a copy of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ in his hands and looked at Nigel. “You were right, after all. I apologise.”
“I should be the one to apologise, Mr Jupp. It was remiss of me to call you up like that.”
“What is it that I hear about you talking to yourself? I wouldn’t have believed it myself, but I saw it happen in class. I think most children have an imaginary friend at one time or other, but they grow out of it. I’ve seen the way the other children look at you; they may not have done anything to you yet, but the more you draw attention to yourself…”
“I’m not sure that I follow you what you’re alluding to, Sir.”
“Nigel.. people fear what they don’t understand, and what’s more some people lash out at what they fear. You seem like a nice chap and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“What is it that people fear?”
“They see you talking to yourself.”
“But I’m not talking to myself, Sir.” Nigel replied.
“I don’t understand.”
Nigel thought to himself for a minute and then said: “You know in the movies when the characters stop what they’re doing and talk to the camera.. and to the audience?”
“Yes, it’s called breaking the fourth wall.”
“It’s a bit like that.”
“Why? Have you tried it yourself, Sir? Is that because you fear getting an answer, or not getting an answer?”
The next day in school everyone knew what had been talked about due to the power of gossip. Nigel was now looked upon with derision and scorn. Being odd was one thing, but being a loony was something altogether far different.
It started as a whisper as he walked into the playground. “Loony… loony… loony;” before rising to a cacophony. Nothing had ever ignited such a feeling before; all the pent up fear and frustration could now be released.
Nigel displayed no outward emotion and just walked from one end of the playground to the other and into the school itself. It wasn’t a tall building, scarcely two stories high and there was no way a pupil could access the roof. Despite that, everyone was horrified to see Nigel walk calmly to the edge of the roof and stop with the toes of his shoes overhanging the edge.
He spoke loud enough for people to hear: “I came here hoping that people would be ready to hear what you have to say, but their ears and minds are closed. Even their young are hard set in their ignorance, and I know what will happen if I stay any longer. I do not wish to be such a victim again. I respectfully ask to come back into the presence once more.”
Then a voice that seemed to encompass everything and everyone spoke briefly; and although all heard something different all understood.
And then Nigel stepped off the roof to screams and cries of anguish. Everyone felt the step as if it was themselves taking it; walking into the unknown. Nigel stepped off the roof and across to the other side of the wall.