Непредвиденная вакансия - Часть первая - Понедельник VI
The school bus had reached the Fields, the sprawling estate that lay on the outskirts of the city of Yarvil. Dirty grey houses, some of them spray-painted with initials and obscenities; the occasional boarded window; satellite dishes and overgrown grass – none of it was any more worthy of Andrew’s sustained attention than the ruined abbey of Pagford, glittering with frost. Andrew had once been intrigued and intimidated by the Fields, but familiarity had long since rendered it all commonplace.
The pavements swarmed with children and teenagers walking towards school, many of them in T-shirts, despite the cold. Andrew spotted Krystal Weedon, byword and dirty joke. She was bouncing along, laughing uproariously, in the middle of a mixed group of teenagers. Multiple earrings swung from each ear, and the string of her thong was clearly visible above her low-slung tracksuit bottoms. Andrew had known her since primary school, and she featured in many of the most highly coloured memories of his extreme youth. They had jeered at her name, but instead of crying, as most of the little girls would have done, five-year-old Krystal had caught on, cackled and shrieked, ‘Weed-on! Krystal weed-on!’ And she had pulled down her pants in the middle of class and pretended to do it. He retained a vivid memory of her bare pink vulva; it was as though Father Christmas had popped up in their midst; and he remembered Miss Oates, bright red in the face, marching Krystal from the room.
By the age of twelve, transposed to the comprehensive, Krystal had become the most well-developed girl in their year and had lingered at the back of the class, where they were supposed to take their maths worksheets when they had finished and swap them for the next in the series. How it had been initiated, Andrew (among the last to finish his maths, as ever) had no idea, but he had reached the plastic boxes of worksheets, neatly lined up on top of the cupboards at the back, to find Rob Calder and Mark Richards taking it in turns to cup and squeeze Krystal’s breasts. Most of the other boys were looking on, electrified, their faces hidden from the teacher by their upstanding textbooks, while the girls, many of them flushed scarlet, were pretending not to have seen. Andrew had realized that half the boys had already had their turn, and that he was expected to take his. He had both wanted and not wanted to. It was not her breasts he feared, but the bold challenging look on her face; he had been frightened of doing it wrong. When the oblivious and ineffectual Mr Simmonds had looked up at last and said, ‘You’ve been up there for ever, Krystal, get a worksheet and sit down,’ Andrew had been almost entirely relieved.
Though they had long since been separated into different sets, they were still in the same registration class, so Andrew knew that Krystal was sometimes present, often not, and that she was in almost constant trouble. She knew no fear, like the boys who came to school with tattoos they had inked themselves, with split lips and cigarettes, and stories of clashes with the police, of drug taking and easy sex.
Winterdown Comprehensive lay just inside Yarvil, a large, ugly triple-storeyed building whose outer shell consisted of windows interspersed with turquoise-painted panels. When the bus doors creaked open, Andrew joined the swelling masses, black-blazered and sweatered, that were milling across the car park towards the school’s two front entrances. As he was about to join the bottleneck cramming itself through the double doors, he noticed a Nissan Micra pulling up, and detached himself to wait for his best friend.
Tubby, Tubs, Tubster, Flubber, Wally, Wallah, Fatboy, Fats: Stuart Wall was the most nicknamed boy in school. His loping walk, his skinniness, his thin sallow face, overlarge ears and permanently pained expression were distinctive enough, but it was his trenchant humour, his detachment and poise that set him apart. Somehow he managed to disassociate himself from everything that might have defined a less resilient character, shrugging off the embarrassment of being the son of a ridiculed and unpopular deputy head; of having a frumpy, overweight guidance teacher as a mother. He was pre-eminently and uniquely himself: Fats, school notable and landmark, and even the Fielders laughed at his jokes, and rarely bothered – so coolly and cruelly did he return jibes – to laugh at his unfortunate connections.
Fats’ self-possession remained total this morning when, in full view of the parent-free hordes streaming past, he had to struggle out of the Nissan alongside not only his mother but his father too, who usually travelled to school separately. Andrew thought again of Krystal Weedon and her exposed thong, as Fats loped towards him.
‘All right, Arf?’ said Fats.
They moved together into the crowd, their school bags slung over their shoulders, buffeting the shorter kids in the face, creating a small space in their slipstream.
‘Cubby’s been crying,’ said Fats, as they walked up the teeming stairs.
‘Say what?’
‘Barry Fairbrother dropped dead last night.’
‘Oh yeah, I heard,’ said Andrew.
Fats gave Andrew the sly, quizzical look he used when others over-reached themselves, pretended to know more than they did, pretended to be more than they were.
‘My mum was at the hospital when they brought him in,’ said Andrew, nettled. ‘She works there, remember?’
‘Oh, yeah,’ said Fats, and the slyness was gone. ‘Well, you know how him and Cubby were bum chums. And Cubby’s going to announce it. Not good, Arf.’
They parted at the top of the stairs for their respective registration rooms. Most of Andrew’s class was already in their room, sitting on desks, swinging their legs, leaning up against the cupboards at the sides. Bags lay under chairs. Talk was always louder and freer than usual on Monday mornings, because assembly meant an open-air walk to the sports hall. Their registration teacher sat at her desk, marking people present as they came in. She never bothered to call the register formally; it was one of the many small ways in which she attempted to ingratiate herself with them, and the class despised her for it.
Krystal arrived as the bell rang for assembly. She shouted, ‘I’m here, miss!’ from the doorway, and swung herself back out again. Everyone else followed her, still talking. Andrew and Fats were reunited at the top of the stairs and were borne by the general flow out of the back doors and across the wide grey tarmacked yard.
The sports hall smelt of sweat and trainers; the din of twelve hundred voraciously talking teenagers echoed off its bleak, whitewashed walls. A hard industrial-grey and much-stained carpet covered the floor, inset with different coloured lines marking out badminton and tennis courts, hockey and football pitches; the stuff gave vicious burns if you fell on it bare-legged, but was easier on the backside than bare wood for those who had to sit on it for the duration of whole-school assembly. Andrew and Fats had attained the dignity of tubular-legged, plastic-backed chairs, ranged at the rear of the hall for the fifth and sixth years.
An old wooden lectern stood at the front, facing the pupils, and beside it sat the headmistress, Mrs Shawcross. Fats’ father, Colin ‘Cubby’ Wall, walked over to take his place beside her. Very tall, he had a high, balding forehead, and an immensely imitable walk, his arms held rigid by his side, bobbing up and down more than was necessary for forward locomotion. Everyone called him Cubby, because of his infamous obsession with keeping the cubbyholes on the wall outside his school office in good order. The registers went into some of them after they had been marked, while others were assigned to specific departments. ‘Be sure and put it in the right cubbyhole, Ailsa!’ ‘Don’t leave it hanging out like that, it’ll fall out of the cubbyhole, Kevin!’ ‘Don’t walk over it, girl! Pick it up, give it here, it’s meant to be in a cubbyhole!’
All the other teachers called them pigeonholes. It was widely assumed that they did this to set themselves apart from Cubby.
‘Move along, move along,’ said Mr Meacher, the woodwork teacher, to Andrew and Fats, who had left an empty seat between themselves and Kevin Cooper.
Cubby took his place behind the lectern. The pupils did not settle as quickly as they would have done for the headmistress. At the precise moment that the last voice died away, one of the double doors in the middle of the right-hand wall opened and Gaia walked in.
She glanced around the hall (Andrew permitted himself to watch, because half the hall was watching her; she was late, and unfamiliar, and beautiful, and it was only Cubby talking) and walked quickly, but not unduly so (because she had Fats’ gift of self-possession) around the back of the students. Andrew’s head could not revolve to keep watching her, but it struck him with a force that made his ears ring, that in moving along with Fats he had left an empty seat beside him.
He heard light, rapid footsteps coming closer, and then she was there; she had sat down right next to him. She nudged his chair, her body moving his. His nostrils caught a whisper of perfume. The whole of the left side of his body was burning with awareness of her, and he was grateful that the cheek nearest her was much less acne-ridden than the right. He had never been this close to her and wondered whether he dared look at her, make some sign of recognition; but immediately decided he had been paralysed too long, and that it was too late to do so naturally.
Scratching his left temple to screen his face, he swivelled his eyeballs to glance down at her hands, clasped loosely on her lap. The nails were short, clean and unvarnished. There was a plain silver ring on one little finger.
Fats moved his elbow discreetly to put pressure on Andrew’s side.
‘Lastly,’ Cubby said, and Andrew realized that he had already heard Cubby say the word twice, and that the quietness in the hall had solidified into silence, as all fidgeting ceased and the air became stiff with curiosity, glee and unease.
‘Lastly,’ said Cubby again, and his voice wobbled out of control, ‘I have a very … I have a very sad announcement to make. Mr Barry Fairbrother, who has coached our extremely socksess … success … successful girls’ rowing team for the past two years, has …’
He choked and passed a hand in front of his eyes.
‘… died …’
Cubby Wall was crying in front of everybody; his knobbly bald head drooped onto his chest. A simultaneous gasp and giggle rolled across the watching crowd, and many faces turned towards Fats, who sat looking sublimely unconcerned; a little quizzical, but otherwise unmoved.
‘… died …’ sobbed Cubby, and the headmistress stood up, looking cross.
‘… died … last night.’
A loud squawk rose from somewhere in the middle of the lines of chairs at the back of the hall.
‘Who laughed?’ roared Cubby, and the air crackled with delicious tension. ‘HOW DARE YOU! What girl laughed, who was it?’
Mr Meacher was already on his feet, gesticulating furiously at somebody in the middle of the row just behind Andrew and Fats; Andrew’s chair was buffeted again, because Gaia had twisted in her seat to watch, like everyone else. Andrew’s entire body seemed to have become super-sensory; he could feel the way Gaia’s body was arched towards his. If he turned in the opposite direction, they would be breast to chest.
‘Who laughed?’ repeated Cubby, raising himself absurdly on tiptoe, as if he might be able to make out the culprit from where he was standing. Meacher was mouthing and beckoning feverishly at the person he had singled out for blame.
‘Who is it, Mr Meacher?’ shouted Cubby.
Meacher appeared unwilling to say; he was still having difficulty in persuading the guilty party to leave her seat, but as Cubby began to show alarming signs of leaving the lectern to investigate personally, Krystal Weedon shot to her feet, scarlet in the face, and started pushing her way along the row.
‘You will see me in my office immediately after assembly!’ shouted Cubby. ‘Absolutely disgraceful – total lack of respect! Get out of my sight!’
But Krystal stopped at the end of the row, stuck up her middle finger at Cubby and screamed, ‘I DI’N’ DO NOTHIN’, YOU PRICK!’
There was an eruption of excited chatter and laughter; the teachers made ineffectual attempts to quell the noise, and one or two left their chairs to try and intimidate their own registration classes back into order.
The double doors swung shut behind Krystal and Mr Meacher.
‘Settle down!’ shouted the headmistress, and a precarious quiet, rife with fidgeting and whispers, spread over the hall again. Fats was staring straight ahead, and there was for once a forced air to his indifference and a darker tinge to his skin.
Andrew felt Gaia fall back into her chair. He screwed up his courage, glanced left and grinned. She smiled right back.

The Casual Vacancy • Непредвиденная вакансия
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