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Nik now i know, p.1
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       Nik: Now I Know, p.1

           Aidan Chambers
 
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Nik: Now I Know


  Contents

  Cover

  About the Book

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Previews

  Epigraph

  Beginnings

  Eye Dees

  Meetings

  Revelations

  Advances

  Assault

  Retreat

  Engagements

  Parting Shots

  Reports

  Stockshot Sources

  Footnotes

  About the Author

  Also by Aidan Chambers

  Copyright

  ABOUT THE BOOK

  Tom sets out to investigate the bizarre case of a body found hanging from a crane in a scrap-yard – a body which disappears.

  Nik is researching for a film about a contemporary life of Jesus when he meets Julie, and they embark on a love affair which will involve a spiritual experience that will change them both for good.

  Tom and Nik’s investigations finally bring them together in an unexpected climax to a powerful and thought-provoking book.

  NOW I KNOW

  Aidan Chambers

  To Margaret Clark

  PREVIEWS

  Stars spinning

  he points the compass.

  His hands bear the universe.

  A man jogs round the curve of earth,

  white shorts and sweating white sweater.

  He breathes cloud embryos into the dawn,

  seeing only the narrow path.

  Again Nik sees her

  striding behind her antinuke banner,

  grinning, drenched.

  (But not marching, not her, ever.

  Process, yes; belong, protest, yes.

  But never march against marching.)

  No matter all those other hundreds

  Loved on sight

  Of all her.

  The explosion lifts him up

  hurls him down

  a crotch-hold and body-slam.

  Out.

  Conditioning him for death.

  Tom said to the duty officer, ‘I’m on the crucifiction, sarge.’

  ‘Super’s off his head,’ the sergeant said. ‘Set a kid to catch a kid.’

  ‘That your guess?’

  ‘Kids anyway. Take more than one to do a thing like that.’

  ‘What about the one they strung up?’

  The sergeant consulted a report. ‘According to the only witness, he’s about seventeen.’

  ‘Where’s he now?’

  ‘Gone.’

  ‘Gone!’

  ‘Vamoosed.’

  ‘How come?’

  ‘You’re the one playing detective.’

  STOCKSHOT: The best in this kind are but shadows; and the worst are no worse, if imagination amend them.

  NIK’S NOTEBOOK: This by Simone Weil:

  Hitler could die and return to life again fifty times, but I should still not look upon him as the Son of God.

  Good, that. Ms Weil quite someone. Also says we must get rid of our superstition about clock time if we are to find eternity. What does she mean? ETERNITY? Time no more?

  Things happen one after the other, yes? Or do they? But that’s not how we remember them, is it? I don’t. I asked Julie. She doesn’t either. Who does? Life only makes sense when it’s out of order. Ha!

  Also: Things happen simultaneously. Julie says everything is now. Making the connections is what matters.

  Selah.

  ALL WRITING IS DRAWING

  IN THE BEGINNING

  THERE WAS A YOUTH GROUP

  who decided to make a film about

  GOD

  AFTERWORDS

  no one could remember

  how they came to make such a decision.

  None of them could remember being concerned about

  God at the time.

  But for one of them

  what happened is here

  NOW

  BEGINNINGS

  There were three beginnings.

  From the beginning, you see,

  we are to be given our words’ worth.

  The beginning of the beginning

  One evening, Nicholas Christopher Frome was lying idly in his bath when the thought struck him that eventually he would die.

  He had of course thought this before. He is no fool.

  But that evening it penetrated his consciousness with a terrible clarity. A clarity so pure, so undeniable that, despite the pleasant heat of the water, he turned cold inside.

  What made the thought so terrible was not the knowledge of his eventual death, but the realization of the separateness of his being.

  He was not, he understood completely for the first time, merely his parents’ son, nor just any seventeen-and-one-month year old youth, nor simply another member of the multitudinous human race.

  He was him self. A separate, individual, unique and self-knowing person who would one day snuff it.

  I am not, he thought, anyone else. Only me.

  The cold inside froze his body. He stared, amazed, at the bathroom’s perspiring ceiling.

  I am me, he thought, and one day this Me will come to an end. I shall not be.

  His stomach curdled.

  He sat up and spewed into his bathwater.

  There is never one particular moment, one small event, whether in life or in a novel, that is the only beginning. There are always as many beginnings as anyone cares to look for. Or none at all of course. But when Nik was thinking afterwards about what happened, he decided that the moment when he sat up in his bath and spewed his guts out came as near to being the beginning of his story as any.

  The beginning of the end

  Thomas Thrupp. Keen, ambitious, a would-be chief constable and yet only nineteen. Naturally suspicious, he trusts nobody, not even his granny, possesses a certain dangerous charm, and is said to be at his best in tight corners. Tom would never throw up at the thought of his own death.

  One morning Tom was summoned to his superintendent’s office. Earlier that day a young man had been found crucified on a rusty metal cross. The cross was not stuck in the ground, after the manner of ancient custom, but was dangling from a crane in a scrap yard across the railway tracks from the centre of town.

  The super believed a gang of yobs had perpetrated the crime and that a young copper might sus them out more quickly than an older man. So despite Tom’s lack of qualifications he ordered him to investigate. Besides, the super reckoned him a likely lad, attractively hungry for success. What Tom lacked in experience he’d make up for in ruthlessness. The super admired ruthlessness as much as he admired desk-top efficiency. (There were no papers cluttering his desk, just a closed file, a calendar and a photo of his wife.) He had Tom marked out as good at both. Tom also reminded him of himself when he was a young plod. (The super could be very sentimental on occasion. Sentimentality is, of course, the flip side of ruthlessness.)

  Afterwards, in the briefing room, Tom said to the duty officer, a man of years, ‘I’m on the crucifiction, sarge.’

  ‘Super’s off his head,’ the sergeant said, entering up the duty book.

  ‘Thanks for the vote of confidence.’

  ‘Got all the confidence you need.’ The sergeant sniffed. ‘Set a kid to catch a kid.’

  ‘That your guess?’

  ‘Kids anyway. Take more than one, a thing like that.’

  ‘What about the one they strung up?’

  The sergeant consulted a report. ‘According to the only witness, he’s about seventeen. Five-eightish. Short brown hair. Thin face. Pale, but who wouldn’t be under the circs. Slim build. Bony. Attired only in his underpants. Dark blue y-fronts with white edging. Very natty.’

  ‘Marks and Sparks,’ Tom said, scrupulously jott
ing the details into his notebook. ‘Could be anybody.’

  ‘Not quite,’ the sergeant said.

  ‘Where’s he now?’

  ‘There you have me.’

  ‘Sorry?’

  ‘Gone.’

  ‘Gone!’

  ‘Vamoosed.’

  ‘How come?’

  ‘You’re the one playing detective.’

  ‘This kid was hanging there and we lost him?’

  ‘Quick on the uptake, I’ll grant you that.’

  ‘Jeez!’

  ‘Could be him you’re after.’

  ‘Very funny, sarge. What else is news?’

  ‘Wouldn’t hang about if I was you.’

  ‘Another good one. On form today.’

  ‘Crack this, could make a name for yourself.’

  ‘That’s what the super said.’

  The sergeant grinned. ‘No slouch, our super. You fail though, and it’ll be all your fault. Know that, don’t you? Incompetent trainee officer ballses up, etcetera. You win, and the super takes the prize for daring use of bright young man. ‘Course, he’ll let you bask in the reflected. Get your pic in the Police Gazette.’

  ‘You’re a real encouragement, sarge.’

  ‘As I say, I don’t think you need any. So long, lad. Givem hell.’

  The end of the beginning

  JULIE: Hello . . . hello? . . . one two three . . . Is it working?

  [Pause.]

  Dear Nik, this is a Julie tape-letter. It’s all Nurse Simpson’s idea. Blame her. She’s hung a microphone from my bedhead. She says all I have to do is talk quietly and the microphone will hear me. Which is just as well because I can’t do much else but talk quietly.

  So now, though I can’t write to you, Nik, I can talk to you. And if you want to reply in the same way, Simmo says she’ll put headphones on me so that only I can hear what you say. But it’ll be a slow-motion conversation because of the post. And you won’t be able to interrupt and answer back.

  [Pause. Tape surf.]

  I still can’t see. My eyes are still bandaged. Most of me is still bandaged. I feel like a shrink-wrapped jelly-baby. The consultant says I’ll be like this for a few days yet. In doctor’s language I think ‘a few days yet’ means ‘for a long time yet’. But she sounds nice. She has a gentle middle-aged voice and is sometimes with a squad of young students who go very quiet when they reach me. Simmo says that’s because I’m such a knockout, but I know the sort of knockout I must be, and so must you.

  Which reminds me: thanks for coming to see me. All that way! Why couldn’t it have happened nearer home? There can’t be much to see of me either, wrapped up the way I am. And wires and tubes and gear hanging off me as if I were one of Frankenstein’s monsters in the making.

  In fact, I don’t feel I have a body any more. I feel more like a mind inside a carcass. Just now, all I am is a mouth saying words because I’ve just guzzled the dope they give me to kill the pain and keep me docile. I can’t even feel my body. It might as well not exist. So I’m having an identity crisis. How do you know who you are if you’ve no body to speak of? I’m working on the answer. I’m nothing but words in my head all day. And dreams all night. Sometimes harsh words and usually horrible dreams. They say the dreams will go away, but what about the words?

  [Long pause.]

  Other people are only voices too of course. You can tell a lot from people’s voices when that’s all you’ve got to go on. Their voices give them away and they don’t know it. You can hear when they’re being genuine and when they aren’t, and whether they’re naturally kind or cruel, or thoughtless or strong or weak, and if they’re being brave. And if they’re hiding something. If you listen very carefully, you can hear the lies hiding behind the words.

  That’s how I know I’m not the knockout that Simmo pretends. And that the consultant doesn’t mean a few days when she says about the bandages coming off my eyes. I can hear the lie in their voices.

  I don’t ask whether I’ll be able to see again when the bandages do come off. I couldn’t bear it if they lied about that. And they would lie, wouldn’t they, if the answer was no?

  [Long pause. Sound of deep breaths being taken in and slowly exhaled.]

  Sorry. Didn’t mean to say any of that. Promised myself I wouldn’t. Doesn’t mean anything. Just came tumbling out. Haven’t talked to you for so long. Seems years. Lost track of time and days. Seems like I’ve been here for ever and won’t ever leave.

  So nice to talk to you . . . Nice . . . Silly word. I mean . . . such a relief . . . to be able to talk to you and say some of the things churning in my head, even if they have to be recorded and take two days to reach you, knowing the post, even if sent first class, and that’ll cost the earth.

  Sorry . . . there I go again . . . I’ve tried talking this letter twice today already but made Simmo wipe the tape. Neither time was right, because I went off all over the place, saying things I didn’t mean . . . The drugs, I expect . . . And not actually having you here . . . Seems ridiculous, talking blind into thin air. Well, this time I’m making myself see your face, as though you really were here, and not letting myself think of anything but your face and what I want to say. But even so I . . .

  [Pause.]

  Where was I? . . . Oh, yes—your visit. I knew you were here. I felt the touch of your hand. But I couldn’t say anything. I tried very hard but nothing happened. Like one of those dreams when you strain to move but your body won’t budge.

  Well, what I want to tell you is this. Your touch, the touch of your hand, made me believe I could live again. Till then I hadn’t believed and was praying for the end to come quickly. But your touch, and knowing it was you, made me believe I could make it. And made me want to. Thank you for that gift, dear Nik.

  [Pause.]

  Being ill, I mean being very ill, makes you feel useless. Makes you feel you’re a burden to everyone. You feel all of life is passing you by. Your own life becomes meaningless. There’s no sense in it any more.

  [Pause.]

  What you believe matters. I’m learning that the hard way. I believe everybody matters. Being ill or being well shouldn’t have anything to do with it. Everybody has a part to play in building the world God has given us. I’m a Christian because I believe that, and I believe it because I’m a Christian. But how do you play your part when you’re trapped by illness?

  If you were here, Nik, you’d be interrupting like mad by now!

  What I’m trying to say is that I’ve decided that perhaps it’s my job while I’m like this to work out what illness . . . means. And why not? There’s nothing else I can do.

  [Pause.]

  I can’t talk for long at a time because even talking tires me. I must stop soon. But I wanted to ask if you’d do something for me. Simmo has brought me some Talking Book tapes of the Bible. She says there are other books—novels and poetry—she can get for me but she doesn’t know what I’d like. If she sends you the list, would you choose something? I’d like you to because then it will be like you giving me a book you want me to read, the way you’ve done before, and I can imagine you’re listening with me. Then we can talk about it in our tape-letters. If you’d like to, I mean. Only if you’d like to.

  [Pause. Deep breaths, in and out.]

  I know that must sound pretty silly. Such a little thing. But you’ve no idea how such pitiful little things mean most when you’re in my predicament.

  Something else, while I’m on silly things. I quite often burst into tears. Into sobs, I mean, because my eyes can’t cry. Reaction, I suppose. ‘Just your nerves, love,’ Mum says. She says it so dolefully that I can’t help laughing. Between crying and laughing for no reason, I’m sure Mum thinks I’ve gone off my head.

  Anyway, I’m making such a big production out of it because if I start howling when I’m recording you’ll hear. And it’ll sound ghastly. I hate the idea of you hearing it. I don’t mean to cry. I’m not looking for sympathy. There’s just nothing I can do about it.
Simmo says, ‘Forget it, he’ll understand.’ And I know you will. But I wanted you to be prepared. I can’t edit out or press the pause button or anything like that. A case of ‘look, no hands’. It’s just that suddenly everything comes over me in a great overwhelming wave . . . and the wave breaks . . . and . . . nurse! . . . quick!. . .

  †

  The day after Nik threw up into his bath he was asked by his history teacher, Leonard Stanley, if he would like to help a youth group who were making a film. The group needed a researcher.

  They were making a film about what would happen if Jesus Christ returned today. They weren’t a church group—far from it. But one evening they had had a long discussion about the politics of the Middle East and the arguments for and against the state of Israel, and they had arrived at the conclusion that the world was no better now than it was at the time of Christ’s first visitation in Palestine two thousand years ago. They had agreed that if Christ returned today, and lived in their own West of England town, never mind in Palestine, he would be treated no better, and possibly even worse, than he was treated then.

  The group’s idea was to use their film of Christ’s second coming to make strong criticisms of life today. They supposed that staid old fogies could hardly get upset if Christ was the person who showed up the bad things that go on and the old fogies responsible for them. (They considered anyone over the age of thirty to be an old fogey. One of them wore a sweatshirt that said so.)

  Truth to tell, though, only a small minority of the group were in the slightest interested either in the life of Christ (now or two thousand years ago) or in politics. They would have been hard put to say which they found more boring. What interested the majority was being together and having some fun. Within the group there was another minority who were not interested in politics but were interested in film-making, and wanted to use cameras and sound equipment and create spectacular special effects, and generally wanted to carry on as if they were big names in Hollywood. So as usual in human affairs, as well as in youth groups, the decisions were thrashed out between the few vocal members of each minority while the rest waited with as much patience and as little attention as necessary till the most determined ones got their way.

 
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