Непредвиденная вакансия - Часть первая - Понедельник IV
Andrew Price closed the front door of the small white house and followed his younger brother down the steep garden path, crunchy with frost, that led to the icy metal gate in the hedge and the lane beyond. Neither boy spared a glance for the familiar view spread out below them: the tiny town of Pagford cupped in a hollow between three hills, one of which was crested with the remains of the twelfth-century abbey. A thin river snaked around the edge of the hill and through town, straddled by a toy stone bridge. The scene was dull as a flat-painted backdrop to the brothers; Andrew despised the way that, on the rare occasions when the family had guests, his father seemed to take credit for it, as though he had designed and built the whole thing. Andrew had lately decided that he would prefer an outlook of asphalt, broken windows and graffiti; he dreamed of London and of a life that mattered.
The brothers marched to the end of the lane, ambling to a halt on the corner where they met the wider road. Andrew reached into the hedge, groped around for a while, then drew out a half-full packet of Benson & Hedges and a slightly damp box of matches. After several false starts, the heads of the matches crumbling against the strike, he succeeded in lighting up. Two or three deep drags, and then the grumbling engine of the school bus broke the stillness. Andrew carefully knocked out the glowing head of his cigarette and stowed the rest back in the packet.
The bus was always two-thirds full by the time it reached the turning for Hilltop House, because it had already skirted outlying farms and houses. The brothers sat apart as usual, each of them taking a double seat and turning to stare out of the window as the bus rumbled and lurched on down into Pagford.
At the foot of their hill was a house that stood in a wedge-shaped garden. The four Fairbrother children usually waited outside the front gate, but there was nobody there today. The curtains were all closed. Andrew wondered whether you usually sat in the dark when somebody died.
A few weeks previously, Andrew had got off with Niamh Fairbrother, one of Barry’s twin daughters, at a disco in the school drama hall. She had shown a distasteful tendency to shadow his movements for a while afterwards. Andrew’s parents were barely acquainted with the Fairbrothers; Simon and Ruth had hardly any friends, but they seemed to have had a tepid liking for Barry, who had managed the minuscule branch of the only bank still present in Pagford. Fairbrother’s name had cropped up a lot in connection with such things as the Parish Council, town hall theatricals, and the Church Fun Run. These were things in which Andrew had no interest and from which his parents held themselves aloof, excepting the occasional sponsorship form or raffle ticket.
As the bus turned left and trundled down Church Row, past the spacious Victorian houses ranged in descending tiers, Andrew indulged in a little fantasy in which his father dropped dead, gunned down by an invisible sniper. Andrew visualized himself patting his sobbing mother on the back while he telephoned the undertaker. He had a cigarette in his mouth as he ordered the cheapest coffin.
The three Jawandas, Jaswant, Sukhvinder and Rajpal, got on the bus at the bottom of Church Row. Andrew had carefully chosen a seat with an empty place in front of it, and he willed Sukhvinder to sit in front of him, not for her own sake (Andrew’s best friend Fats referred to her as TNT, short for ‘Tits ’N’ Tash’), but because She so often chose to sit beside Sukhvinder. And whether because his telepathic promptings were particularly powerful this morning or not, Sukhvinder did indeed choose the seat in front. Jubilant, Andrew stared, unseeing, at the grimy window, and clutched his school bag more closely to him, to conceal the erection brought on by the heavy vibration of the bus.
Anticipation mounted with every fresh pitch and heave, as the cumbersome vehicle edged its way through the narrow streets, around the tight corner into the village square and towards the corner of Her road.
Andrew had never experienced this intensity of interest in any girl. She was newly arrived; an odd time to change schools, the spring term of the GCSE year. Her name was Gaia, and that was fitting, because he had never heard it before, and she was something entirely new. She had walked onto the bus one morning like a simple statement of the sublime heights to which nature could reach and sat herself down two seats in front of him, while he sat transfixed by the perfection of her shoulders and the back of her head.
She would be here any minute, and if she sat beside square and sulky Sukhvinder, as she so often did, she would be close enough to smell the nicotine on him. He liked to see inanimate objects react to her body; liked to see the bus seat give a little as she dropped her weight into it, and that copper-gold mass of hair curve against the steel bar at the top.
The bus driver slowed, and Andrew turned his face away from the door, pretending to be lost in contemplation; he would look around when she got on, as if he had only just realized that they had stopped; he would make eye contact, possibly nod. He waited to hear the doors open, but the soft throb of the engine was not interrupted by the familiar grind and thump.
Andrew glanced around and saw nothing but short, shabby little Hope Street: two lines of small terraced houses. The bus driver was leaning over to make sure she was not coming. Andrew wanted to tell him to wait, because only the previous week she had burst from one of those little houses and come running up the pavement (it had been acceptable to watch, because everyone had been watching), and the sight of her running had been enough to occupy his thoughts for hours, but the driver hauled at the big wheel and the bus set off again. Andrew returned to his contemplation of the dirty window with an ache in his heart and in his balls.

The Casual Vacancy • Непредвиденная вакансия
Часть: IIIIIIIVVVIVII
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