Excerpt from Never Let Me Go
We were fifteen by then, already into our last year at Hailsham. We’d been in the pavilion getting ready for a game of rounders. The boys were going through a phase of “enjoying” rounders in order to flirt with us, so there were over thirty of us that afternoon. The downpour had started while we were changing, and we found ourselves gathering on the veranda – which was sheltered by the pavilion roof – while we waited for it to stop. But the rain kept going, and when the last of us had emerged, the veranda was pretty crowded, with everyone milling around restlessly. I remember Laura was demonstrating to mean especially disgusting way of blowing your nose for when you really wanted to put off a boy.
Miss Lucy was the only guardian present. She was leaning over the rail at the front, peering into the rain like she was trying to see right across the playing field. I was watching her as carefully as ever in those days, and even as I was laughing at Laura, I was stealing glances at Miss Lucy’s back. I remember wondering if there wasn’t something a bit odd about her posture, the way her head was bent down just a little too far so she looked like a crouching animal waiting to pounce. And the way she was leaning forward over the rail meant drops from the overhanging gutter were only just missing her – but she seemed to show no sign of caring. I remember actually convincing myself there was nothing unusual in all this – that she was simply anxious for the rain to stop – and turning my attention back to what Laura was saying. Then a few minutes later, when I’d forgotten all about Miss Lucy and was laughing my head off at something, I suddenly realised things had gone quiet around us, and that Miss Lucy was speaking.
She was standing at the same spot as before, but she’d turned to face us now, so her back was against the rail, and the rainy sky behind her.
“No, no, I’m sorry, I’m going to have to interrupt you,” she was saying, and I could see she was talking to two boys sitting on the benches immediately in front of her. Her voice wasn’t exactly strange, but she was speaking very loudly, in the sort of voice she’d use to announce something to the lot of us, and that was why we’d all gone quiet. “No, Peter, I’m going to have to stop you. I can’t listen to you any more and keep silent.”
Then she raised her gaze to include the rest of us and took a deep breath. “All right, you can hear this, it’s for all of you. It’s time someone spelt it out.”
We waited while she kept staring at us. Later, some people said they’d thought she was going to give us a big telling-off; others that she was about to announce a new rule on how we played rounders. But I knew before she said another word it would be something more.
“Boys, you must forgive me for listening. But you were right behind me, so l couldn’t help it. Peter, why don’t you tell the others what you were saying to Gordon just now?”
Peter J. looked bewildered and I could see him getting ready his injured innocence face. But then Miss Lucy said again, this time much more gently:
“Peter, go on. Please tell the others what you were just saying.”
Peter shrugged. “We were just talking about what it would feel like if we became actors. What sort of life it would be.”
”Yes,” Miss Lucy said, “and you were saying to Gordon you’d have to go to America to stand the best chance.”
Peter J. shrugged again and muttered quietly: ‘Yes, Miss Lucy.”
But Miss Lucy was now moving her gaze over the lot of us. “I know you don’t mean any harm. But there’s just too much talk like this. I hear it all the time, it’s been allowed to go on, and it’s not right.” I could see more drops coming off the gutter and landing on her shoulder, but she didn’t seem to notice. “If no one else will talk to you,” she continued, “then I will. The problem, as I see it, is that you’ve been told and not told. You’ve been told, but none of you really understand, and I daresay, some people are quite happy to leave it that way. But I’m not. If you ‘re going to have decent lives, then you’ve got to know and know properly. None of you will go to America, none of you will be film stars. And none of you will be working in supermarkets as I heard some of you planning the other day. Your lives are set out for you. You’ll become adults, then before you ‘re old, before you ‘re even middle-aged, you’ll start to donate your vital organs. That’s what each of you was created to do. You’re not like the actors you watch on your videos, you’re not even like me. You were brought into this world for a purpose, and your futures, all of them, have been decided. So you’re not to talk that way any more. You’ll be leaving Hailsham before long, and it’s not so far off, the day you’ll be preparing for your first donations. You need to remember that. If you ‘re to have decent lives, you have to know who you are and what lies ahead of you, every one of you.”
Then she went silent, but my impression was that she was continuing to say things inside her head, because for sometime her gaze kept roving over us, going from face to face just as if she were still speaking to us. We were all pretty relieved when she turned to look out over the playing field again.
“It’s not so bad now,” she said, even though the rain was as steady as ever. “Let’s just go out there. Then maybe the sun will come out too.”
Excerpt from Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Copyright © Faber & Faber.
Reproduced by permission of Faber & Faber Ltd.
Their work and discoveries range from the Earth’s climate and our sense of touch to efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.
See them all presented here.