Four years on...
Last month we saw how a small Belfast boy orphaned and threatened by 'The
Troubles' is to be taken to England by Grannie Mac, there to grow up with
his well-off auntie and uncle Thornton and his two cousins.
(Interval 4 years: Monday Sept 4th, 1974)
Now they've arrived he's a bit scared. Actually quite a lot scared. He
really doesn't want to get out of Uncle Christopher's Mercedes. Nearly all
the scurry of boys with caps and jackets in the colours of Aberford School
are bigger than him and nobody's taking any notice, as if he and the rest of
the Thorntons and their shiny new car are invisible or that other 'in' word;
insignificant. But Auntie Ellie's smiling and so is Uncle Christopher. It's
all right for them. Grannie Mac isn't smiling.
On the way here Uncle Christopher had asked him if he would like to call him
'father'. 'You know, after being part of the family here in England for
almost four years? But only if you want to, my boy,' he'd added. Thomas knew
he'd meant it. 'Yes, I'd like to call you father, uncle,' he'd said. Uncle
Christopher had always been very kind. It would make him happy.
'That's good. From now on you'll have two homes, one in this wonderful old
school where I went to when I was your age and one in the holidays, back
His new father has parked in the middle of a line of smart looking cars
underneath these massive trees right in front of the great big, grey-stone
boarding school. On the other side of the trees are the sports fields. A few
bigger boys in muddied-up rugby kit are running with a ball, practicing
tackling each other. His uncle Christopher who is now his father gets out
the trunk; black metal with 'Thomas Thornton' painted on it in neat white
capitals and '1st Form' in smaller ones, the '1st' being on a stick-on
label. But even after all this time he's still not really used to his name
being Thomas Thornton, not John MacRae. When he'd asked uncle Christopher,
were there any Catholics at Aberford School, he'd coughed a bit then said he
didn't know but it didn't matter anyway. He could tell he was making that
He doesn't want to be a boarder away from home but he hasn't said so and he
isn't going to show them he's frightened. As he gets out of the car he says,
'When will they let me join the army cadets you told me about, please,
father?' Trying out the 'father, it didn't seem too bad.
Auntie Ellie shakes her head, says, 'You'd think he'd have had just about
enough of guns, wouldn't you?' But she wasn't being unkind.
Uncle Christopher laughs and pats him on the top of his cap. 'Soon enough,
my boy, soon enough.'
He leans back in to ask Auntie Ellie and Grannie Mac if they're sure they
remembered to pack his daddy's poems. Of course he means his real, dead
father's poems. Grannie is doing her best not to let him see the extra shine
in her eyes so he tells her it's all right. She says, 'Oh, take no notice of
me, little man. It is just some dust, so it is.' Then she says, 'Yes, of
course we packed your daddy's poems for you.' Embarrassing him now, she
leans across to hug him, goes on, 'Your daddy would be proud of you if he
was alive still, so he would. And your grandfather too and all those others
beneath the ground in the name of the Union; the damned Union. Union between
the devil and the grave, more like.' She's always saying that. She always
cries when she says it and her voice goes all funny.
He's lying in bed in the new boys' dormitory in the dark listening to the
sounds of some of the others trying not to let anyone hear them. There seems
to be a good bit of crying going on but he won't cry. He thinks about that
time before he and Grannie Mac came to live in England, soon after he had
the big fight and everything was still hurting. He remembered the taste of
blood and Miss Hunter saying, 'Oh yes, you may be but eight years old but
you are a good man, Thomas.'
But it's all right, living here in England. Hardly anybody ever gets killed
and people, even people who don't know each other, sometimes smile to each
other. No, he doesn't miss Belfast. Not too much. Not any more.
Lying there in the dark on his first night at Aberford School, feeling sorry
for himself, he does miss Grannie Mac and Uncle Christopher and Auntie Ellie
but most of all he misses Sheila, his cousin and his very best friend; and
her sister Flic, short for Felicity. He misses her as well. Lying there
quite still he thinks about that, not comfortable with the thought that
Sheila and Flic must be his sisters now that their father is his father as
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Above extract from 'More Deaths Than One'
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Copyright © Bryan H Islip