James Richard-Palmer

Lonely confessions

The 2003 Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize winner.<br>There were more than 100 entries from a total of seven countries. The runners-up were Henry John Elsby Sanderson, Enrico Boerger, Gregory Lourens, Matthew Lawrence Holmes, Simon Rew, Kevin Barry and Joanna Elizabeth Streetly.

The 2003 Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize winner.
There were more than 100 entries from a total of seven countries. The runners-up were Henry John Elsby Sanderson, Enrico Boerger, Gregory Lourens, Matthew Lawrence Holmes, Simon Rew, Kevin Barry and Joanna Elizabeth Streetly.

Harry was eight, and he bore the mark of a victim. It wasn’t that he was especially stupid or clumsy or weak; it was a perpetual feeling of shame. His walk was slow and slightly stuttering, as though he was trespassing somewhere far above his station and expected to be exposed at any minute. He’d chosen his English name in imitation of the wizard hero, and found that every third boy in the class had picked it. Some Korean children — crippled, foreign, illegitimate, those with divorced parents — drew other kids as blood draws sharks, but I never saw Harry at the centre of one of those frenzies of bullying; he was never the centre of anything. He would hang on the edges of little groups, ignored by the others, rarely speaking. Misfortune dogged him, endlessly reinforcing his status as victim: if something was being passed around the class, it would break in his hands; if we were playing a game, he would make some mistake that caused giggling and pointing around the classroom.

I tried to be kind to Harry, to single him out for attention and give especial praise to his efforts, even to pair him with other children who I thought might befriend him, or at least not shun his company. It was difficult not to laugh, though more from shock than from humour, when Harry came in one day with a wooden cross hanging around his neck. This wasn’t a flimsy little crucifix, such as Catholic schoolgirls wear to help fend off their boyfriends’ advances; it was the size of my hand and bent him down like a penitent pilgrim.

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