I discovered that most of St. Oswald's was screened from public view; the main building by a long avenue of linden trees -- now bare -- which bordered the drive, and the land surrounded on all sides by walls and hedges. But through the gates I could see those lawns -- mowed to banded perfection by my father -- the cricket grounds with their neat hedges; the chapel with its weather vane and its inscriptions in Latin. Beyond that lay a world as strange and remote in my eyes as Narnia or Oz; a world to which I could never belong.
My own school was called Abbey Road Juniors; a squat little building on the council estate, with a bumpy playground built on a slant and two entrance gates with boys and girls written above them in sooty stone. I'd never liked it; but even so I dreaded my arrival at Sunnybank Park, the sprawling comprehensive that I was destined by postcode to attend.
Since my first day at Abbey Road I'd watched the Sunnybankers -- cheap green sweatshirts with the school logo on the breast, nylon rucksacks, fag ends, hair spray -- with growing dismay. They would hate me, I knew it. They would take one look at me and they would hate me. I sensed it immediately. I was skinny; undersized; a natural hander-in of homework. Sunnybank Park would swallow me whole.
I pestered my father. "Why? Why the Park? Why there?"
"Don't be a sissy. There's nothing wrong with the Park, kid. It's just a school. They're all the bloody same."
Well, that was a lie. Even I knew that. It made me curious; it made me resentful. And now, as spring began to quicken over the bare land and white buds burst from the blackthorn hedges, I looked once more at that no trespassers sign, painstakingly lettered in my father's hand, and asked myself: Whose ORDER? Why this point and not another? And, with an increasing sense of urgency and impatience: What would happen if I crossed that line?
The foregoing is excerpted from Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
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