Nowhere Man Chapter 7, a short story by JJ. Date added: 2011-02-26. Times viewed: 3828.
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That evening, Kenneth was distracted in Bible Study Class. His earlier meeting with Bullit kept running through his head. Bullit had been right, the meeting hadn’t gone as Kenneth had imagined it would. He’d assumed Bullit would be grateful for the opportunity to join Kenneth’s church. Instead, Bullit had challenged his lifestyle and questioned his life in ways he couldn’t answer. He tried to imagine the laughter and joy Bullit had described. He’d seen others in his church laugh that hard, he’d seen the joy in some of the parishioners faces but he’d never experienced these things for himself and he didn’t know why. Perhaps Bullit was right, perhaps he wasn’t living his life but he really didn’t know what that meant or how you went about living your life.
He was still deep in thought when the class ended and he only realised it was time to go when one of the older boys asked him to move so he could get his jacket. Embarrassed, Kenneth grabbed his coat and left the pastor’s house in a hurry. ‘Why would Bullit want this life?’ he asked himself, ‘I’m bound by rules everywhere I go, home, school, church, it’s all the same. Bullit’s free, he doesn’t live by any rules and he’s happier than I am’. This revelation hit Kenneth like a lightning bolt. Bullit was happier than he was. He didn’t know Jesus in his life and he was happy. How was that possible? Even more pertinent though was that he’d welcomed Jesus into his heart, so why wasn’t he happy? What did Bullit have that he didn’t?’
He didn’t have any answers then and despite his prayers, he didn’t wake up with a sudden realisation. He resigned himself to having to wait until he saw Bullit again the following Wednesday. For the first time that he could recall, he found school boring that day. There had always been subjects he didn’t particularly like; Technical Drawing, Physical Education but he’d always predominantly enjoyed the school experience. Today however, school was boring. It was as though he’d spent his school years with a veil over his eyes and it had finally been removed. This attitudinal shift was not the only strange thing to happen to Kenneth that day. Ian Marsh kept smiling at him every time they bumped into each other and they were bumping into each other a lot.
Marsh had caught up with Davy and Millar before the school bell went and discovered that Kenneth and his pal had went to the local café and spent the time talking. Marsh could scarcely believe his ears. ‘Like they wur oan a date ur summit?’ Davy and Millar both nodded. ‘Told ye they wur bum chums’. Davy and Millar laughed at that. ‘Wait till Robbie finds oot, he’ll huv a field day’. Every time he saw Kenneth for the rest of the day, he smiled at him. Inside he was thinking, ‘your bodyguards gonnae git his gaynor’.
Kenneth found himself going through the motions for the rest of the week. He skipped the youth club on the Friday by telling his mother that he wasn’t feeling well and spent the evening in his room trying to think up ways to convince Bullit to become a Christian. He believed if he could just get him to attend one church service, Bullit would understand what he’d been trying to tell him and God’s love would do the rest. He tried to write down what his religion meant to him but he sat for half an hour with a blank piece of paper in front of him before he gave up and scrunched the paper up into a ball.
Although he went to the activities session on the Saturday morning, he was feeling too sluggish to run around like he usually did so he sat at one of the tables playing chess with two of the younger children who both beat him. He decided to call it a day and left the session early. Despite leaving early, he dragged his heels on the return home and finally reached his front door at the time he usually got home when he stayed for the full session.
He wasn’t even in the mood for family games night and excused himself by telling his parents that he had to study. Although he stayed in his room for the entire evening, he couldn’t concentrate enough to study. He tried to pull himself together, to focus on all the good things he had in his life but every time he thought about Bible Studies or his mother’s home cooking or even the family games night, they seemed to be covered in a drab shade of grey. ‘Kenneth Hallward’, he thought, ‘the grey man’.
Even Pastor Turnbull’s sermon failed to hold Kenneth’s interest and he yawned as he slouched in his chair. His mother pulled him up half a dozen times about his posture but even though he’d corrected it when asked, he soon slid back into his slouch. His mother had been concerned about him all morning. Mr Hallward had to wake him in the morning to get ready for church which wasn’t like Kenneth at all. She was sure the pressure of the forthcoming exams were getting to him. This put her in a bit of a bind. She wanted to ease the pressure she was convinced her son was under but she also wanted him to do well in his exams so he could take the right Highers to allow him to study law.
When they got back home, Mrs Hallward suggested that Kenneth miss the evening service and relax with a book. She expected him to protest, she knew the young ones preferred the evening service but to her surprise, he agreed. She debated with her husband who should stay at home to keep an eye on him. Kenneth was able to persuade them however, that he’d be fine on his own after all, all he was going to be doing was reading and he didn’t see any potential disaster befalling him from picking up a book. Mrs Hallward reluctantly agreed and when his parents finally left for church that evening, Kenneth was alone for possibly the first time in his life.
The house felt eerie being so empty and the silence deafened him. He tried to read a book but he couldn’t concentrate. Instead he returned his thoughts to the conversation he’d had with Bullit. He kept focussing on Bullit’s accusation that he knew nothing about his life and his analysis of Kenneth’s non-life so far. He felt sure the key to getting through to Bullit lay in learning about Bullit’s life, to understand where he was coming from. If he could do that then maybe Bullit would realise that he had a good life, an attractive life that everyone would want if they had the chance. He felt if he didn’t find a solution soon, his voyage of discovery at Missionary camp would be ruined.
It was the first time in over a week he’d even thought about camp which surprised him. He’d thought about being able to go somewhere like that without his parents almost daily for over two years now so the sudden realisation that it was no longer at the forefront of his mind was breathtaking. He wanted to think about the camp, the sights, the sounds all in the name of praising God. To do that he had to satisfy himself that he could successfully convert Bullit. He thought he could perhaps spend some time with Bullit in his own world but he didn’t know how he could explain that to his mother. She was way over-protective he decided. He knew his father was the more reasonable of his parents but Kenneth didn’t think even he could talk his mother into letting him spend time with Bullit. He considered eliciting the Pastor’s support but the pastor had told him to stay away from Bullit so he didn’t think he could rely on him to talk his mother round. He resigned himself to hiding the truth from his mother but he didn’t know how to go about living in Bullit’s world or even how to broach the subject with him. All he knew was that he had to sort this all out before going to missionary camp.
The school days dragged in as Wednesday slowly approached. Kenneth went through the motions and didn’t even sense the mixture of excitement and nervousness in the air that had been channelled by his fellow pupils. It was the last week of school for the fourth years before they went on exam leave for three weeks. No homework would be handed out that week and every teacher in every lesson handed out past exam papers for the pupils to practise on to ready them for the exams. For some it was a vindication of everything they’d learned for the past two years. For most, it highlighted just how much they didn’t know and how much cramming they’d need to do before the exams started.
Kenneth couldn’t focus on the past papers. He invariably found himself day dreaming, imagining what Bullit’s life was really like. He probably lived at home with his parents and a dog. Bullit looked like the sort of person who grew up with a dog. He could see them sat in their living room talking and laughing with their neighbours while the local children played with a ball or on their trikes in the street. He could understand how such a lifestyle could be seem idyllic and he wasn’t trying to take all that away from him. Rather, he wanted to augment it, improve upon such a happy existence and secure eternal peace and happiness for him and his family. This was what he wanted to relay to Bullit but he knew he’d have to show him how much he understood the life Bullit had.
Ian Marsh wasn’t focusing on the past papers either. This was his last full week in school. His father had secured an apprenticeship for him in his work. His dad had announced the news with great pride. Ian was going to become an apprentice engineer. Eventually he’d become a fully skilled engineer who could walk into a job anywhere demanding ridiculous wages for his expertise. Ian hadn’t exactly been excited at the news but at least he wouldn’t be going back to school, at least he’d have money in his pockets. By the time Wednesday came around however, he’d stopped thinking about the job. Instead he thought about finally getting his revenge on Hallward’s boyfriend.
When the bell went at the end of the day, Kenneth once again rushed out of the class. Once again, he’d told his mother he was going to be studying with classmates. Once again, he leant against the school railings to wait for Bullit’s arrival. Even when his usual routine had changed, Kenneth was a creature of habit. He still didn’t know what he was going to say to Bullit, his mind was a complete blank. At least this time he saw Bullit coming. He smiled as Bullit approached. ‘All right, Kenny-boy’. Kenneth nodded. ‘I hope you brought funds this time cause you’re buying’. Kenneth jangled the coins in his pocket by way of answer. Kenneth had raided his piggy bank to endure he had the money to go to the café. He’d spent almost an hour slipping a butter knife through the bank’s slot to ease out enough coins.
As they walked towards the café, Bullit leaned over hungrily. ‘So did your mother pack anymore goodies in your bag?’ Kenneth opened his bag and produced a Tupperware box filled with rock cakes. ‘Very nice’, Bullit remarked as he took a bite out of one. ‘Your classmates seem to be more excitable than usual’.
‘We’re about to go on exam leave’, Kenneth explained.
‘Three weeks off school and no-one can enjoy it’, Bullit observed. ‘You prepared for your exams?’ Kenneth shrugged. ‘Way too much confidence for my liking’, he joked as they reached the café.
There were three elderly women sat at the table they’d used the week before so they had to move further into the café where the table were like Formica benches with long red plastic pews to sit on. The change in seating position threw Kenneth. Every time he’d tried to imagine how their conversation was going to go, he always imagined them sitting at the same table. He took the change as a bad omen. Bullit sat down while Kenneth ordered, then he joined him at the table while they waited for one of the staff to bring their drinks.
As they waited, Kenneth looked all around the café, the tables, the chairs, the customers and the staff. Everywhere in fact except at Bullit. It was almost as though Bullit wasn’t even there. The waitress appeared and put a mug of coffee in front of Bullit and a lemonade in front of Kenneth. Once she’d gone, Bullit looked directly at Kenneth, ‘Okay, you wanted us to meet up again and for reasons I can’t even begin to explain, here I am so what do you want this time?’
‘I’ve spent the past week trying to imagine what your life is like’.
‘So do you think you’ve got me pegged?’
‘No, I don’t know a thing about you’.
‘Is that what this is, show and tell? You opened up to me last week and I bare my soul this week?’
‘No, I think I realise that even if you told me about your life, I wouldn’t fully understand it. You asked me last week about experiencing laughter and joy and you’re right. I haven’t experienced anything like that, I don’t know why. I’m sort of a serious minded person I guess but there are others in my church who have experienced that level of laughter and joy and I guess I don’t understand them very well either’.
‘You’re not making much sense Kenny-boy’.
‘I’m still trying to make sense of all this myself. I guess what I’m trying to say is, you’re right, I haven’t lived. You seem to think you’re living so I want you to show me your life, help me to understand it’.
‘There’s an old Indian saying, “never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins”’.
‘What does that actually mean?’
‘I guess what it means is that neither of us should be judging the other person, that we need to experience what each other is going through before we can praise or condemn that person’. Kenneth nodded
‘I think that’s what I’ve been trying to say’.
‘Okay’, Bullit said after a short silence between the two, which Kenneth found uncomfortable, ‘let’s do this. Let’s live in each others lives and then…’ Bullit shrugged, ‘…and then we’ll see I guess’.
‘I can’t live in your world Bullit, my mother would never let me’. Bullit smiled.
‘She keeps you on a pretty short lease eh?’ Kenneth nodded. ‘Well if we’re going to do this right, you’ve got to be committed Kenny-boy, no half measures’.
‘I’ve got my exams coming up next week’.
‘After your exams then. Pick a time, anytime’.
Kenneth was flummoxed. His mother would never allow it. Once the exams were over, he wouldn’t even be able to meet Bullit after school because he could no longer use the exam study with friends lie. His mother watched over him all the time apart from when he was at school and even then, he was expected home by a certain time. The only other time his mother wouldn’t be watching him would be when he was at missionary camp. It was part of the attraction of going there in the first place. Then it hit him. ‘On the 2nd July I’m supposed to be going away to camp for the week. Instead of going to camp, I can stay with you and experience your life first hand’.
‘I said spend time in my life not bloody move in!’
‘It’s the only way I can do it. I can stay at your house until the following Saturday and then you have to spend the equivalent time in my life’.
‘What, move in with you and your parents, I don’t think your mother would allow that’.
‘I’m not talking about you moving in. If I stay at your home for a week, you have to attend church for seven consecutive Sundays’.
‘Seven? That’s a bit steep isn’t it Kenny-boy? You’re only proposing to give up a week and I’m supposed to give up seven weeks?’
‘One day a week for seven weeks besides I’ve been looking forward to going to camp for almost a year so I think I’m making quite a sacrifice here’.
Bullit was silent at that. He took a drink of his coffee and thought for a bit. ‘How are you going to pull it off? Missing camp I mean? Won’t you be missed?’
‘I don’t know yet, I’ll think of something. This is something I have to do, I feel it in every fibre of my being, I’ll find a way’. Bullit looked at Kenneth, the surprise evident in his face. He never expected this naïve, nervy kid to be so determined.
‘I’m sure you will Kenny-boy. I guess we’d best stay in touch in the meantime to make sure we really want to go through with this’.
‘Of course you are, just now but it sounds to me that your plan to miss camp was formulated on the hoof. You could go back home, reconsider and decide you’d rather go to camp and I’d be none the wiser’.
‘I won’t do that’.
‘All I’m saying is, if we keep in touch, we can make sure we both still want to go through with this and if either one of us wants to back out, we can, no harm, no foul’.
‘I won’t back out’, Kenneth almost shouted. There was an energy in his eyes that Bullit was sure Kenneth had never had before.
‘I believe you but I might back out. Remember, you’ve had all week to think about this, I’ve only just had it sprung on me’.
Kenneth realised Bullit was right. He’d been so intent on getting him to agree that he hadn’t thought it through properly and he hadn’t given him enough time to digest the offer before accepting it but he wasn’t prepared to let Bullit off that lightly. ‘You’re going to back out aren’t you?’
‘I didn’t say that, I just want to make sure we both know what we’re getting into here’.
‘Okay’, Kenneth acquiesced, ‘for the next three weeks, I’m on exam leave so we can meet at the library, its just down from here’.
‘I’ve seen it’, Bullit interrupted, ‘When?’
‘Next Thursday? One o’clock? The library’s open then and I’ll be in there studying’.
This time when they got up to leave, Kenneth was much more sure of himself. He was proud of how he’d conducted himself and pleased that he was able to take charge of their conversation. He left the café a very different person with a confidence in his stride. As Bullit turned towards him to say goodbye, Kenneth saw a fleeting glimpse of Ian Marsh on the periphery of his vision. He was running towards them with what looked like an iron bar raised over his shoulder like a bat, ready to strike. ‘Bullit look out!’, he cried just as Marsh struck.
Kenneth’s warning gave Bullit the split second he needed to duck his head down and bunch his shoulders, which took the full blow of the iron bar. He let out a grunt of pain, falling to the ground as Davy and Millar both similarly armed, joined the fray. They stayed on the outskirts of the attack to allow Marsh a second strike at Bullit. Before a second blow could land however, Bullit had twisted himself round and using the momentum of rolling onto his back, drove his fist hard into Marsh’s balls. Marsh dropped the iron bar, which clattered, onto the pavement just missing Bullit’s head.
Feeling more confident with weapons in their hands, Davy and Milar rushed forward to help Marsh, swinging their bars wildly. Davy’s bar narrowly missed Marsh’s head and he had to duck to avoid the blow landing. ‘Fur fuck’s sake’, he groaned as he tried to control the pain he felt in his groin. ‘hit him no me’. Both boys tried to refocus their efforts to ensure they struck Bullit but it was too late. Bullit had picked up Marsh’s discarded bar and was swinging it like a majorette. In panic, both boys dropped their bars.
‘That’s better’, he snarled as he threw his bar onto the street, grabbed Davy and hit his nose with the centre of his forehead. Davy’s nose crunched under the force of the blow and he crumpled to the pavement.
‘He’s broke ma fuckin’ nose’, ne wailed but Millar didn’t hear him. Bullit sent a fist into Millar’s solar plexus and he bent double with the force of the blow. Bullit’s knee came up fast to meet Millar’s face, breaking his nose also. Marsh was standing straight by this time and he punched Bullit in the side of his face, catching his cheekbone. Bullit turned and swung a right handed punch at Marsh’s jaw followed by a left to his gut. He followed this up by sweeping his left foot across Marsh’s ankles, taking the feet from under him. Marsh fell heavily to the ground, the side of his face slamming against the pavement, leaving him stunned.
The entire skirmish had taken just over a minute. Kenneth’s jaw was hanging open as he stood there staring at the three youths on the ground. Bullit was grinning at him. ‘Nothing like a bit of exercise to get the heart pumping’. He walked over to Marsh and gave him a gentle kick in the ribs. ‘Alright nutjob, what’s was that all about?’
‘Yer a deid man walkin’ pal, ye jist dinne know it yet’, He groaned, not having the energy to fill his words with the bile he felt.
‘Yeah? How’s that? You coming at me with a machine gun next?’
‘Yu’ll see ya bastard’.
‘Look kid, I’ve beaten the three of you twice already. Give it up before I end up really hurting you’.
‘Fuck aff gay boy’. Bullit smiled again.
‘Ah, the witty repartee is to much for me’. He turned to Kenneth, ‘You’d best be getting yourself home before your parents send out a search party’.
Kenneth gave a slight nod and headed for home. He had to fight the urge to start running and compromising with his panic, he opted to walk as fast as he could. This was the second time he’d seen Bullit involved in a fight and it scared him. Admittedly, he hadn’t started either fight and his main opponent was a violent thug but even so, Bullit seemed to revel in the violence particularly the second time. Not for the first time, Kenneth questioned if he knew what he was doing. Would Bullit turn on him if he caught him in a bad mood?
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