Boy on the Towpath
by Andrew Foote
Over the next two days we concentrated on amassing all the kit Tom would need for his first term at Rugby School. Fortunately the bursar had sent a detailed list of everything that would be required together with suggestions as to which shops were the best to visit. With the prices they were charging I wondered if the old devil was on commission but it had to be done and eventually with everything procured we set about sorting space to store it all.
"Firstly we can dump all your old school uniform. You don't need it and in any case it undoubtedly wouldn't fit you now. We'll launder and press most of your summer stuff and stick them in storage for next year and I want you to go through all your shoes and sort out which ones still fit you and we'll take those that don't down to the shoe bank for recycling."
"It's weird chucking out my old uniform? Kind of an end of an era."
"Try and see it as a beginning of a new one if it makes it easier! Are you looking forward to Monday or are you a bit nervous?"
"A bit of both I suppose. I'm excited about actually being a pupil there but a bit scared that I won't fit in."
"Well it's Rugby School, a private school where posh kids go and posh I am not!"
"Yeah maybe but look at it like this. You got there by your own merits, not because you've come from a privileged background. You're academically smart, very personable and you can hold down a conversation with the best of them and I've no doubt that you'll be fine."
"Thanks but they'll talk about stuff I know nothing about like 'Daddy took us up to the hunting lodge last week' or some such shit."
"I think that's taking it to an extreme but I take your point. The thing to do is not to bullshit them. If you don't understand, tell them as much and I'm sure they will take great delight in explaining things to you and besides, I wonder how many of them can skipper a 72 foot vintage narrow boat?"
Tom grinned. "Okay I get it!"
"Good. We're all different and come to a place with very diverse life experiences and the trick is to learn from each other."
"Like I learned boat handling from you?"
"You've learned nothing from me though have you?"
"You are so very wrong! I have learned something very special from you or should I say because of you."
"I've learned to love again, Tom."
"Well? How did it go then?"
"Good! Yes very good in fact! Okay it wasn't a normal day just being shown around, getting to know the layout of the place and being introduced to the teachers and things. It will be interesting tomorrow when lessons actually start. Hey! Did you know the school isn't just the one campus? We have to walk through the town to different sites for different subjects? Oh and one of the school rules is that we mustn't run anywhere if we're in school uniform! That's just too bizarre for words!"
"I think that's a very good rule! I can think of nothing worse than hoards of school kids chasing about the streets knocking little old ladies over like so many skittles! What did you think of the other boys?"
"Okay I suppose. Pretty much all of them were younger than me, like eleven or twelve except for this one lad who's about my age."
"So what's he like?"
"Nice actually. Yes really nice if a bit difficult to understand!"
"What do you mean difficult to understand?"
"He's Japanese. He's only lived here since August. I don't think he had much of a summer holiday 'cos he was saying that his Dad insisted that he went to a language school six days a week."
"Poor kid! That couldn't have been a bundle of fun!"
"Well he told me that in Japan they're taught to read English but they don't teach them how to speak it."
"Sounds to me that he's pretty bright then. I wonder how you'd shape up if we went to Japan and had to get a grip on the language in what, five weeks?"
"Yeah but he's got a head start. At least he could read it first!"
"Okay smart arse! You win. Anyway you liked him. That's the main thing."
"Mm. He's rather cute actually!"
"I see! I've got competition then!"
Tom blushed furiously! "It's not like that you idiot!"
"So that's not why you're blushing then?"
"You can be a real bastard sometimes Stu. Did you know that?"
"Sorry! Anyhow I'm pleased for you, for both of you really. It's good to have a friend this early on cute or otherwise!"
Tom thumped me hard on the arm. "Anyway I'm getting my own back."
Tom held up a pair of flip-flops and a pair of trainers. "You told me to sort out what fitted and what didn't so there you go!"
"That's not too bad? Just the two pairs to chuck out?"
"Wrong!! These are the only two that fit!"
In the weeks that followed Tom settled in to the school routine with relative ease and seemed to be making friends and enjoying the discipline that's part of public school life. As I knew he would, he excelled with his ability on the sports field, not just soccer but also rugby and field hockey.
"I always thought that hockey was a girl's game and I really didn't want to do it but do you know something? It's bloody awesome! It's fast and furious and almost as good as football!"
"Well in some respects its better. Its way faster and also it's got kind of a vicious element to it!"
"And that's a good thing?"
"Oh yes! I mean if there's somebody you don't like much on the opposing team, it's very easy to take him out and it's almost like not fouling!"
"You've someone in mind I don't doubt!"
"Oh God! There's this one boy. He's really posh and keeps on calling me 'bursary-boy'. I wouldn't mind but Stu, he's as thick as pig shit and he's got his head so far up his own arse you wouldn't believe!"
"Met a few of those in my time mate! Spoilt little rich kid is all I can say."
"That's not what I say! I think he's a…….."
"A cunt if you really must know!"
"Works for me Tom! Just be sure you don't call him that in earshot of a teacher or you'll be for the highjump!"
"I know it Stu. Anyway I was wondering if I could ask Maeori over sometime?"
"Oh is this the Japanese boy?"
"Yep! I really like him, he's perhaps my best friend."
"Sure you can. When were you thinking of?"
"Well we've got rugby training for a couple of hours on Saturday morning and so I was wondering if it would be okay to bring him back here afterwards."
"That's fine and by the way, you really don't have to ask permission you know?"
"Just being polite?"
"Dear God! Public school has a lot going for it and no mistake!"
"Bollocks to you!"
"Well perhaps not!"
I could hear them coming a mile off. How is it kids have this ability to raise the dead just by 'being there'? Tom also tended to jump onto the boat rather than step onto it causing it to lurch from side to side!
"Steady on Tom?"
"Sorry Stu! Anyway I'd like you to meet my friend Maeori. Maeori this is Stu, my step dad."
Shit! Tom had taste! Cute didn't come close! This boy was a real stunner!
Jet black hair, eyes so deep and black you wanted to swim in them and then his complexion. Flawless olive-coloured skin and full red lips! By his mannerisms he was quite obviously fourteen or so but he looked like a well deported twelve year-old.
He held out his hand to me which I took in mine. "It's really nice to meet you Maeori."
Little sod never lost eye contact with me and my gaydar went into overdrive! "I'm very happy to meet you Mr…….."
"Stu. Just call me Stu!"
"Stoo. Very unusual name I think."
Tom chipped in at this point. "Well you'll find he's a very unusual man! Nice but very unusual!"
"Actually Maeori you say my name like 'Stew'!"
"So-des! Stew! I understand!
Oh fuck I was still holding his hand! Tom, of course, had noticed this and said under his breath, "Down boy. Down!"
Suitably chastened I released Maeori from my grasp and tried to make conversation as if nothing very unusual had happened.
"So how do you like living here in England?"
"Yes I like it much. Very different from Japan! Very reraxed!"
"That's 'relaxed' Mae!"
"Ah Tom is very good. He tell me when I make mistake! He lovely friend! I like your ship Stew! Nothing like this in Japan!"
"Actually we call it a boat, not a ship but thank you anyway. I'm pleased you like it. Tom must show you around."
"What is the difference? Ship? Boat?"
"To be honest, I don't know! Weight maybe? You know like tonnage perhaps?
I'll have to find out and let you know. That's a very good question!"
I turned my attention to Tom. "I'm going into town this afternoon. Do you need anything?"
"Er no but I was rather hoping that we could, you know take her out?"
"That's okay, you don't need me for that do you?"
"Well if you really don't mind?"
"Don't be daft! All I ask is that the two of you wear life jackets, okay? Oh and one other thing. Call me when you get back as you'll probably be gone longer than me. I'll be around the place either over with Craig if he shows up or in the pub."
"Or with Craig in the pub most like!"
"Whatever! Enjoy yourselves!"
I was with Craig when Tom called and yes, we were in the pub. I walked back to the boat and saw Tom and Maeori kicking a ball around on the quay-side.
"Have a good time you two?"
"Brilliant! That was good fun wasn't it Mae!"
"Very good fun. Tom is very clever boy! He very fine drive the boat I think. Me not so clever!"
"I let him take the tiller for a bit Stu but he kept getting his left and right all muddled up!"
"Well we both of us know how common that is!"
"Mae's father will be here to pick him up soon. I offered to walk him home but his Dad insisted."
"Look! My father come here now!"
A rather large black Lexus pulled onto the marina car park and a rather portly, bald gentleman got out from behind the wheel.
"No no! That only driver Tom!"
Said fat bloke opened the rear door and a guy, probably around my age got out and stretched himself. Maeori took off like a bullet towards the car but stopped some four or five paces from where his father was standing. He bowed to his father who gave a slight bow in return. This was just a tad too formal for my tastes but I had to smile when after a few moments conversation between them, his father smiled and ruffled Maeori's hair.
Maeori's father was himself a little alternative as unlike a lot of Japanese business men who seem only to be comfortable in a business suit, he was wearing a very loud-coloured short sleeved shirt and a pair of light khaki trousers.
"Mr Mailing I presume!"
"Yes I'm Stuart Mailing. I can only assume you're Maeori's father but here I must apologise as I didn't ask him what his family name was."
"It's of no matter. I'm Akimoto, Hiro Akimoto. It is very good to meet you finally!"
"Yes. I will explain. Why don't you boys run along and play. Mr Mailing and I will talk a while."
"Won't you come aboard Akimoto-san?"
"Thank you but I think the formalities are unnecessary here. Please call me Hiro if I may address you as Stuart?"
"By all means. Can I offer you a drink?"
"Very generous, thank you. Do you have whiskey?"
Yeah I had whiskey however instead of pulling out a bottle of the throwing down stuff I pulled out a bottle Johnny Walker Gold Label.
"You have expensive tastes Stuart! Thank you!"
"I think this is arguably the finest blended whiskey in the world."
"I agree and with a price tag to match I think! Do you drink malt whiskey?"
"No never. It doesn't like me unfortunately! I get very bad headaches even after just one glass."
"Such a shame. There is a whole world of fine malts out there!"
"You're very knowledgeable when it comes to whiskey?"
"I should be! I own the company in Japan that produces amongst other things, Suntory whiskey! I will admit that it doesn't come close to Scotch whiskey or even a good Irish whiskey but we hope to get close eventually."
"I don't think I've ever tried Japanese whiskey?"
"Then you must. I will have my driver bring some samples for you to try!"
"Thanks! I'll look forward to that. You wanted to talk to me about something other than whiskey I assume?"
"Yes. This is Maeori's first time out of Japan if you discount vacations of course and I am concerned about how he will settle down. You see life for a child of his age is very different here. Unlike Japan there is much more freedom, so many ways for him to discover who he really is and what he wants from life. In Japan everything is ordered, regimented if you will. The education system provides us with very accomplished and highly qualified people but there is one fundamental flaw."
"And that is?"
"In a word, creativity. Our system stifles the freedom to question and the desire to explore new ideas. This is why we are very good at improving on other people's ideas but we have none of our own."
"So am I right in thinking that this is the reason for you wanting Maeori to receive an English education?"
"Precisely so! And I hope a university education as well! You see I want my son to be the kind of man to innovate, to, how do you say? Think outside of the box! I believe that his education here will deliver this but there is something else."
I topped up our glasses and did a swift mental calculation. We'd just drank around £80 worth of whiskey and were only on our second glass!
"I am worried that he will not settle. I can only stay for a relatively short time and I need to know that he will be well looked after. You see ever since that first day at Rugby School it has been Tom this and Tom that. I am very pleased about this as he doesn't make many friends and this was a sign of hope for me so I need to ask you for something please."
"If you think I can be of assistance, ask away."
"It is a very big thing I ask of you. I want you to act hmm, how do you say, 'in loco parentis'. In place of the parents if you like. I would be happy for you to make judgements regarding his wellbeing, life experiences and development in my absence and with your boys friendship as well, I think I shall be well pleased."
"You honour me Hiro but I'm hardly qualified to…….."
"Nonsense! Understand this Stuart. In Japan I'm a very powerful man. I have great influence and resources I can call on. Ever since Maeori started to talk about Tom and his obvious attraction to him, I had you checked out and you must believe me when I say, there is very little I do not know about you and your life. You have done what I can only describe as an outstanding job. The compassion you showed towards your late wife, and yes I know the situation regarding that, the way you took the boy under your wing and showed him love and commitment acts only as a testament to your character and it is for those very reasons I ask this very big task of you. Will you do ME the honour of taking on this mantle? To nurture and help my only son develop?"
"If you believe I'm up to the task, then yes, I will."
"Very good!! Have you some time on Monday? I would like to talk to you further if I may."
"My time is my own Hiro. I can be available whenever is good for you."
"I will call you tomorrow if I may and we can make arrangements."
We walked out onto the quayside. Tom and Maeori intently playing one of those games that only kids know the rules to.
"It seems such a pity to break up their fun, don't you think Stuart?"
"Yes it does rather! Since his mother died and he came to live with me, I think that this is the first time I've really seen him playing. You know, like a real kid should. Listen. It isn't a problem for us if he stays here tonight? I mean unless you want him to be with you?"
"I think that is a very good plan! I will collect him tomorrow afternoon say around four?"
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