So I have managed to confuse everybody by missing out Part 10, only in title though so you have not missed any of the story. Well done, Dave in Indonesia, for spotting that. To rectify the situation, I have changed what was Part 11 to Part 10, and changed Part 12 to Part 11 and now this one is Part 12. OK? All hunky dory. (Don’t get yer knickers in a twist, it don’t make no difference to the story, says Shardie.)
It is blizzarding away outside. Got in trouble for imagining a snow day (SNOWDAY! Yay! Yay! You can picture us leaping about in delight) when there was none, oops (our school is quite hard-line on this) a couple of weeks ago, so we have to get up and go any minute now.
News of Tabby: she went up to Glasgow for a recall at Royal Scottish. Stayed with my cousin Phoebe Meg and went out on the town with Lucy and Max. Had a real ball. News of Chloe: she is snowed in in Boston and had to cancel her gig. News of Alfie: he has been writing his Japanese speech. News of Bashi: she enjoyed meeting Ed Drewett at a rehearsal for The Boyfriend and got to try on some stunning costumes for the show including a twenties spotty swimsuit with bloomers and matching feathered head-band.
I know some of my readers like a bit of Shardie with their morning coffee so I must not delay. Here we are. The real Part 12.
Chapter 23. Are We Meant to Know What’s Goin On Though?
So I were alone at home, with me mum. We just ate pizza and watched that screen. Then one night, I were not sleepin well, must be said, I had a well strange dream. I saw Sebastian, very still, very clear, in front of me. His eyes looked me right in my eyes and he said, ‘I forgive you.’ I felt a wave of peace wash over me. ‘You knew not what you were doing,’ he said, calmly. ‘And if it weren’t for you, I would never have lived.’
I watched him as he stood there. He had a robe on, which were billowin in the wind. He held out his arms and I saw Nicholas comin towards him, and they embraced. The Heavenly Host were behind them, singin. The song made me flesh creep. It were not from this world. It were of new harmony things what people have not discovered yet. I can’t explain, but it made me shiver, not with horror but with excitement.
I spoke to Nicholas on the phone the next day. ‘Nick,’ I says, ‘I saw Sebastian in a dream. He were givin you a hug. The Heavenly Host were singin new stuff.’
‘Oh, thank you Mother,’ he replied. ‘Yes, he’s looking after me. And I know what the new material is. I’m formulating it as I go. Sebastian’s teaching me from the other side. It’s coming to me, I can feel it.’
‘Oh, well, good lad,’ I replied, faintly.
On the telly you could see him singin. His companions was singin too. Sometimes, walkin along, he would turn to them and instruct them, tell them what to sing. Then you would see them tryin again, and Nicholas would be noddin away. It were amazin. There was whole teams of commentators takin over from each other all day. There were a whole channel devoted to me son. I just din’t know what to make of it. I were well and truly flummoxed. Me mum she said, ‘Shardie,’ she said, ‘We’re not meant to know what’s goin on, really. Sometimes you just don’t know, and we’re just not meant to know.’
Day after day, Nicholas walked. He covered about twenty to thirty miles a day. We just din’t know what to make of it, but we settled into a routine with our cups of tea in front of the telly. One day the Social came round to talk about Nicholas. The lady were a bit of a scream with her grey hair and bobbly jumper. She started tryin to tell me that it would be better for Nick to come home and do his studies, ‘You must remember, he’s only twelve, Mrs Stern,’ she said, but she ended up just sittin on the settee and watchin him walk with us. She even dipped into the popcorn! It weren’t really helping her case that in the twenty minutes we sat there we saw him talkin French to a bloke on a bike and Italian to an old lady what gave him a bun and he taught a whole new song to his gaggle of followers. ‘This kid don’t need no studyin!’ I said to her. ‘He already knows everythin!’
In the end she sighed, the lady, and said, ‘What do we know anyway? He seems to know more than us about life. Maybe we shouldn’t interfere.’ She could see full well that he were bein looked after. The older Lost Boys was runnin along beside him, and the managers and producers of their songs had cars tailin him. The teams of cameramen was kind to him, you could see. He chose little back roads and lanes, so it weren’t like he were gonna get run over by a lorry. He weren’t lackin for food, neither. The roads was lined with people offering him home-cooked goodies and lemonade. He would accept them but he never stopped walkin.
Eventually, after about a month of this, seemed like for ever, but we din’t miss a minute of it, Nicholas reached a wood in the North of Italy. He stopped for the night. Everyone saw him go into his tent. In the mornin he came out, stretched, and smiled, I think, for the first time since Sebastian died. He looked around at the pines, the banks, the meadow and the gurgling stream. ‘I’m staying here,’ he said. ‘The spirit is here. There is no more need to move onwards.’
He spent the rest of the day creating a shelter out of bendy twigs. Someone bought him along a tarpaulin which he stretched over his construct. A local huddle of women bought him a carpet which he laid out on the pine needles. One of his companions made him a little table out of logs. His dad, who had been part of the band of followers for a few weeks by then, handed him a little camping chair. Nicholas put it at the entrance to his shelter, and sat in it, baton in hand and closed his eyes. The camera just stayed on him. The birdsong came over, the creakin of the forest, the hootin of an owl. You could see bats start to flit about, and glow-worms shinin their little lights. And Nicholas just sat there, mediatin like what them gurus do.
It were the most peaceful TV ever. And Honest to God, it weren’t borin. I could sit there for hours with me mum just watchin him. It grew darker and darker on the screen. Nicholas’ friends gathered twigs and branches and lit a fire. We could see their faces reflectin orange in the firelight. You couldn’t hear what they was sayin, just hear a muffled conversation goin on.
The next morning, mum and me we stumbled towards the telly in our dressin gowns. Turned it on. There was about seven tents now. Lucky it were already April. The dew had fallen on them tents and were glistenin in the mornin sun. It looked magical to me. Like a fairy glade. Nicholas were sleepin still. One of his friends had fallen asleep by the fire, wrapped in a blanket. Oh, no, not a friend, when he turned his head, I saw it were his dad. Aaaah, bleess. I guess he forgot his tent. The sun were still red, and castin a reddish glow over everythin. The pines was dark green, almost black and still.
A soft humming started coming from Nicholas’ tent. It were gentle, so soft and lush it were I can’t tell you. The blokes with the cameras, the commentators, the friends, all was lookin at the tent, listenin hard. They all looked a bit like bedazzled, like they was hypnotised or somethin. People settled down on the pine needles, and waited all solemn like, for Nicholas to appear.
One of his friends made him a cuppa tea on the fire and passed it in to him. I were glad about that. I might not have been the best mum but I always liked to feed the boy and keep his little tummy happy. Some Italian woman turned up with a brioche thing, like a plaited loaf, and that were handed in to him as well.
Then, after about an hour, out he came. He only had shorts on. He looked refreshed, his eyes was gleamin, he looked fantastic. He looked at the people sitting there, and smiled. More people was comin all the time. Italian women, men, children, all gathered silently and sat down amongst the trees. Nicholas opened his arms and started to sing. It were a low song, calm and assured. He told a story in his song, a story of a boy who did not know where he had come from nor where he were goin. It were beautiful. Me and me mum cried buckets. The audience there were all cryin buckets too. People had begun to realise that Nicholas did not speak much any more, he only sang.
I began to feel more and more like I had played a part in this story. I hadn’t thought it were an important part but I were beginning to see maybe it were more important than what I had thought.
Chapter 24. Sittin on the Settee with our Popcorn
So the next day there were a steady stream of people coming up the hill to see the boy. A right weepy lady in a beautiful purple coat (I wondered if it were from Prada cos that’s Italian innit?) surrounded by weakly wailing relatives and a priest carried her ill child to him straight from the hospital. OMG were that baby ever sick! Horrible yellow colour. Yellow and bloodshot whites of the eyes. One mass of floppy limbs. Yuk, not good. I weren’t holdin out much hope for it, really. I mean, there weren’t much you could do. It were on the way out. Bit of a no-brainer. Sorry, but some situations, you just gotta say, there ain’t no comin out of this one, matey.
Nicholas took the baby in his arms. He stood very still, took a deep breath, shut his eyes. There were an odd silence in the woods. Weird. Almost like time had stood still for a little minute. He passed the child back to the mother. She babbled thanks, wrapped the child in her purple coat and scurried off down the rocky path.
A family bought their grandmother what were coughing her guts up. Nicholas placed his hands on her achin shoulders. He shut his eyes and again you could see that strange concentration about him. Other worldly it were.
That grumpy boy Finn had set up camp over on some rocks. He had some of the edgier chaps and a bunch of girls from the Heavenly Host with him, they was singin, and drummin, and some of em was laughin and smokin.
People turned up all day all that week. On the Thursday we was sitting on the sofa with our popcorn, like wondering how Nicholas were gonna cope, there were such a queue building up to see him. People were sat in huddled groups all around. Nick spoke with hundreds of people in turn. It got later and later. Dusk started to fall. I felt worried for Nick, cos he’d been working so hard for hours and hours.
Matt and some of the Lost Boys was cooking a vegetable soup in a big pot over the fire. Nick finally finished workin with a little girl who seemed to have some awful thing like Leukaemia or somethin. He came over to the fire. He looked absolutely knackered. Matt passed him a bowl of soup. Nick looked at it, then he looked around him. He walked over to a miserable lookin tramp what were sittin against a tree. ‘Here,’ he said, ‘Eat.’
The Lost Boys started handing out food to all the people. ‘Oh, no,’ groaned me mum, ‘We ain’t gotta start feedin the bloody tramps now, ave we?’
I were scared they wouldn’t have enough for everyone and me boy wouldn’t get nothing, but people started rummagin around in their bags. The Italian families started gettin out some bread and pots of olives, ugh don’t see what people see in olives meself, someone had bags of tomatoes and peaches. The cameramen pulled a massive cheese out of their huge black bag and carved it all up and took pieces around. The groups of kids what had come trudgin up the hill got out big slabs of chocolate what their mums had given em. Mmm. The feast, apart from the olives that is, looked good even from here! Even better than our popcorn and ice-cream to tell you the truth.
The people ate and ate and laughed and drank. The atmosphere were like infectious! I phoned Debs and Shelley and got them to come over and have some Margaritas with us. I say some, I mean quite a few! We only had about seven each! Debs hadn’t been to work for a whole two weeks she’d got so addicted to watchin Nicholas. Shelley’s OK, cos at her work, she’s a hairdresser, they have the TV on all the time so she don’t miss any.
We watched telly together till all the people had gone off or settled down in the firelight.
The next day, the first people to come up the hill was only that lady in purple – maybe it were Dolcie and Gabbana that coat? just by the way it were hangin you could tell it were expensive – with the priest and all her family with the yellow dyin baby. ‘Oh, no, ere we go,’ said me mum. We all watched them approach in a scared silence. OMG, I thought to meself, they’re going to have brung the body for Nicholas to do a blessing. I don’t like bodies of little babies. It’s just not right, is it? I hid me head in the cushions and just peeked out a tiny bit I were that scared. Me mum held me hand. The lady looked Nicholas in the eye. She looked very serious. She opened up her coat. Ooh, you could see the mauvey satin lining, lush. The baby looked out. She weren’t dyin no more. She were bright and sparkly, bouncin on her mother’s hip, wavin a squeaky giraffe.
Then the priest and the family and the lady all bowed down before Nick, like kneelin there in the damp pine-needles with their heads down. He held their hands. The granny were like strokin his feet! I thought how odd it were, I mean, he were only my little lad what liked to make a mess with his paints and what used to ask for soldiers with his boiled egg, know what I mean?