Hiraeth

by Huw Jones

Chapter 14

Valerie arrived home promptly at 4 o'clock and a quarter of an hour later the front doorbell rang. She answered the door and was surprised to see two people there, one of whom she had not met before.

"Hello Valerie. Thanks for agreeing to see me. This is Dave Brown, Chairman of Governors of the school. Dave, this is Miss Valerie Young, Huw's guardian," said Gwyn.

They shook hands. "Pleased to meet you, Mr Brown. Please, do come in," said Valerie opening the door wide.

They came into the living room where an anxious Huw was pacing up and down the room. "Would you like to get us all a cup of tea please, Huw," asked Valerie.

The three adults made small talk while he made the tea and sat down with them.

Gwyn asked Valerie, "Is there anything you want to know about this morning before I tell you what has happened since?"

"No," said Valerie "Huw has told me all that went on and I have no reason to think he would have distorted the truth in any way."

"I'm sure you're right," said Gwyn. "What he did this morning could never be described as wise but it certainly can be described as brave. Just like the previous day when he waded in against four big lads to defend Gareth. I'm going to ask Dave to tell you what's been happening since that time."

Dave Brown was a softly spoken man, dressed in a dark suit and looking thoroughly professional. "First of all, Huw," he said, "I want to congratulate you for taking such a courageous stand against the bullying at school. I had no idea it was so widespread and I have spoken to a number of other teachers and some pupils who have confirmed that bullying goes completely unchecked. I had already spoken with Mr Evans last night so I was up to speed with what had happened, although Dr Grey had not thought it necessary to tell me about such a serious incident.

"I met with Dr Grey after meeting with Mr Evans at lunchtime and we had a very difficult and heated meeting. He disagrees with our views in every respect and considers the behaviour that is taking place at school to be nothing more than routine roughhousing that goes on in any school. As we were unable to reach any sort of agreement on how to proceed, I have exercised my prerogative as Chairman of the Governors and I have suspended Dr Grey from duty pending a full disciplinary hearing of the Governors next week. I have also cancelled your expulsion and you may return to school tomorrow morning. We owe you a lot, Huw, and I am hopeful that your brave action will be the cause of a complete culture change at school and the creation of a safe setting for learning for all pupils."

Huw was overwhelmed at the developments but was not totally convinced. "That sounds okay, but what will happen after the disciplinary hearing and Dr Grey comes back? He will make my life hell."

Dave Brown looked uncomfortable and looked at Gwyn before turning to Huw. "What I am going to say now you may not repeat under any circumstances. Dr Grey will not be coming back to the school. I have told him that he failed to take care of a pupil and if Gareth's parents decide to sue the school, the Governors will be holding him responsible. He is only a year away from retirement and so we are taking the time between now and the Governors' meeting next week to work out a retirement package for him. The Deputy Head will be taking over and he will be establishing very strong policies that will ensure that bullying will become a thing of the past at Bath Road School. The penalty for bullying will be expulsion and I have instructed him to make sure there are good mechanisms in place which will allow people to report any bullying."

Huw could not decide whether to be happy, relieved or just exhausted. It made no difference because he experienced all three at the same time. After another 10 minutes of chatting together, Gwyn and Mr Brown left two very relieved people to talk about the future.

"I think I need to find out how Gareth is. I'm going to call Mrs Williams," said Huw who was sitting and fretting. He walked into the hall to phone the Williams' house and waited anxiously while it rang several times. The phone was eventually answered by Mrs Williams. "Hello Mrs Williams, Huw Jones here, what's the news of Gareth?"

Mrs Williams responded in a voice that was clearly tired and emotionally drained, "Well, Huw bach, he's in a great deal of pain and what worries me even more is that he has become very depressed. I don't know what to do."

Huw was immediately very worried and asked, "Is it all right if I go down and see him tonight in hospital?"

"Of course you can, bach. He's in Elm Park Ward which is the children's ward in Battle Hospital and you can go any time. If you go along after you've had your meal, we'll follow on at about 7:30. That'll give you some time to talk together on your own."

"Thank you so much, Mrs Williams. I really do want to see him," said Huw. "I also need to tell you what has happened today at school as there have been some major changes."

"Actually, Huw, the Chairman of Governors came to see me this morning and brought me up to date. He said he would support me if we wanted to bring a police prosecution but I said Gareth was adamant that he did not want to report the matter to the police and he wanted to leave it behind him." She hesitated for a minute and then continued, "He's also adamant that he won't go back to that school under any circumstances and my husband and I support him. We've decided that when Gareth comes out of hospital we are going to move back to North Wales."

Huw felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. The rollercoaster on which his life was travelling had gone from a low point in the attack and its aftermath; to a high with the speedy solution; back to a low when he heard that his only real friend was about to leave him. Was there ever going to be an end to loss in his life? The phone conversation ended with Mrs Williams saying she looked forward to seeing him later that evening. He put the phone down, walked back into the living room and slumped into an armchair.

After eating only a light meal, Huw left the house at 6:30 to take the 15 minute trolleybus to Battle Hospital. He quickly found his way to Elm Park Ward and as soon as he walked into the ward, he saw Gareth in a bed at the far end of the room. It was a large ward, with 10 beds on each side and the walls decorated with children's pictures. Huw thought to himself that Gareth must be about the oldest one there and must really hate being among all these kids' pictures and toys. He walked up to his bed only to see that he was dozing. He touched Gareth gently on the arm, "Hi Gareth bach, how are you feeling?"

Gareth opened his eyes and in a flat monotone said, "I feel like shit. I've got bruises in places I didn't even know I had places, my nose is broken, I've two broken ribs, my balls are the size of oranges and they hurt like hell and they've shoved a tube up my willy so I can pee. How do you think I feel?" His face crumpled and his eyes filled with tears. "I'm sorry Huw bach, I shouldn't take it out on you, I'm so grateful for what you did for me yesterday."

Huw took Gareth's hand. "It's all right, Gareth. I know you're not angry with me but some good has come out of yesterday's nightmare." Gareth turned towards him expectantly. "I shouldn't be telling you this so please don't repeat it to anyone else but Dr Grey has effectively been sacked, the Deputy Head is taking over and he has been instructed to not allow bullying under any circumstances. If anyone is caught bullying there is only one punishment -- being expelled from the school. He's also putting things in place so it's easy for people to report bullying."

"I'm not going back there, you know," said Gareth quietly.

"Your mother said that on the phone earlier. She also told me that you're moving back to North Wales. I hear that you don't want to prosecute those four bastards that did this to you. It's your decision but I think they deserve to face the courts for what they've done to you."

Gareth sighed. "I don't have any more fight in me and I never want to see them again even in a courtroom. I never want to see anybody else from Bath Road School ever again except for you. I just want to go home, back home to Wales. To the mountains, the sea, the castles, the little railways, the little villages, where everybody knows everybody else's business… back to people who care." His voice faltered. "But I am going to miss you so much."

Huw smiled, "I can't disagree with anything you say about North Wales. I'd like to be back with my Nain and Taid and be part of all those things you said. I'm going to miss you so much as well. You and Gwyn Evans' family are the only people that have kept me sane." The boys smiled at one another and were lost in their thoughts for a few moments when Huw hesitantly said, "Gareth, when we were in the nurse's office, you were very warm to me. You even called me 'my love'".

Gareth immediately turned scarlet and looked away. "Please don't turn away, Gareth. Is that really what you feel?" he asked.

Gareth turned slowly and looked Huw in the eyes. "Yes, that's exactly what I feel. I'm in love with you."

Huw was lost for words. "I don't know what to say. I know that I am closer to you than to anybody else and the thought of you moving away rips me apart. I've never got so close to anybody before. But… even the idea of loving someone frightens me. Everyone I've ever loved has been taken away from me: my dad, my brother and sister, my grandparents and my mam. Now you're going."

"I'm sorry Huw bach, but I can't stay here any longer. Dad has been able to get a transfer back to North Wales very quickly and we've a house in Caernarfon we've rented out and the lease is almost up. We're only renting a house here so we can move quite quickly. I've already asked mam and dad and they're happy for you to come and stay with us during the holidays."

Huw looked sadly at Gareth, "Although I love to see North Wales again, it would be hard for me. I would be near Taid and Nain and I couldn't go and see them because they've cut themselves off from mam and me."

The two boys sat quietly in their misery and Huw found he couldn't bear to be with Gareth any longer at that moment. "If you don't mind," he said, "I think I'll be getting back home now. It's been a very difficult couple of days and I am exhausted. I'll try and get in tomorrow sometime."

The boys took an embarrassed and sorrowful leave from one another and Huw walked out of the hospital ward to catch the trolleybus home. He realised that he had been neglecting Valerie so he decided to sit down with her and spend the evening together. He would bring her up to date with the devastating news about Gareth.

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