It was a little over half a century, but it may as well have been the Dark Ages. Bare knees raw from the wind and knocking together beneath scratchy woollen shorts, the lad of ten years circled the gloomy Georgian square clockwise. His companion was confident, having walked this route many times, but the newcomer’s heart pounded in his chest as loud as a drum beaten for an execution. As he walked to the topmost corner of the square the anonymous Bath stone buildings intimidated, staring impassively but judging this poor specimen of a schoolboy as wanting, inadequate, unprepared. As indeed he was.
Surrounded by stony-faced frontages was a fenced-off garden, its bleakness needing no Keep Out notice to suggest somewhere forbidden to the likes of him. A Victorian copy of a truncated medieval high cross stood in one angle, dominated by the grey pillared tree trunks and overlooked by stripped bare boughs.
As they climbed the few steps to the entrance he gave another shiver. His blue gabardine mac gave no protection against the bitter weather, nor did his black blazer which, as he was to find out, made him as overheated in summer as it failed to safeguard him against winter cold. As the pair entered the lobby through double wooden doors his companion hissed at him to remove his cap. Out of the wind his ears stung with sudden warmth; however, when his gloves – sewn to pieces of elastic – shot up his raincoat sleeves, his fingers remained as bereft of feeling as if he’d never worn them in the first place.
A glance around confirmed what in retrospect he would recognise as a Dickensian scene: the dark panelling of the entrance; the shining shoulder-height paint on corridor walls; and, above all, the crow-like creatures who suddenly loomed into view. These were Irish Christian Brothers, neither necessarily Irish nor very Christian, and rarely brotherly. In the capacious pockets of their black habits they each carried a wicked leather strap which they named Fred or Excalibur or some such companionable name. The youngster would get to know these instruments of chastisement very soon, all too well and always with fear. For this he had left a near idyllic existence, for this he had travelled over ten thousand miles from the other side of the world.
* Another submission for creative writing classes, the theme genre writing, the genre Gothic, the prose overlarded …