There are bit of the story that I don't know. I don't know what you were doing that night that compelled you to storm into my room at three o'clock in the morning, your arms full of textbooks. It's hard enough to get sleep at a boarding school at the best of times – being friends with Martin the nocturnal only made matters worse.
"This," you hissed, dropping the books on the foot of my bed. "What is the point of this?" It was a rude awakening.
"They're books," I mumbled, rubbing my eyes. "They have words in them that you have to remember so you don't fail your exams and die. Don't you listen in lessons?"
"I do. Carefully. And what's the point? Imagine what we could be doing with our time, Oliver." The moonlight glinted in your eyes. Groggy as I was, I noticed it.
"I could be sleeping," I snapped. "Now get back to bed, leave me alone, and take your textbooks with you."
A simple exchange – I doubt you remember it. There were so many whispered conversations at midnight to come, some of a much more serious nature. But that was the first about time. Precious time, wasted time, time that could be spent on building an ideal world. It became our infatuation, but at first, it was a passing whim.
In the morning, I stormed down to breakfast in a foul mood, scowling at you across my cereal. You just laughed and started talking about a physics test you hadn't revised for.
"You can borrow my notes," Douglas said, frowning at his coffee. He had added too much sugar.
You replied with that boyish, pure laugh and said: "I was planning to."
Adrian was late again, a wreck with a hopeless knot of a tie, his shirt buttons done up wonkily and his blonde curls tossed about in a mess. Before he even sat down, he was ranting about the breakfast bell, speaking so quickly that none of us could understand a single word.
"Mate," you said, that honest smile on your face. "The rest of us can get here on time; you can hardly blame the bell."
"But then the only thing left to blame would be me," Adrian said, "and I'm hardly going to do that."
We all laughed, and relished our dry breakfast a bit more for it. Those were good days, because they were little days. If the rituals were there, we could cling on quite comfortably: Adrian would be late, you wouldn't have revised for a test, and Douglas would put too much or little sugar in his coffee. And me? I was always just grumpy.
The day ambled by. You complained profusely about the physics test, declaring the questions to be absurd and unfair. Douglas' silence was telling – if he had felt the same, he'd have backed you up. Instead he remained impartial, which was the closest he usually came to disagreeing with you.
After school we scurried back to the boarding house, hurriedly changed into more presentable clothes, and sprinted to the minibus. Our trip into town every Tuesday was the beacon in our week. Instead of doing nothing at school, we would do nothing in the streets instead, often accompanied by Pauline. It was another little ritual.
Despite the fact we were a few minutes early, she snapped at us for being late. Pauline was a relatively small girl, with dark, wavy hair that almost reached her waist. She always looked incredibly neat – not necessarily fashionable, but tidy, flawless. Her confidence was exceptional. She always walked with her shoulders square and her head held at a calculated angle.
"We're not late," I disputed. "We said we'd meet at half four; it's twenty seven minutes past."
"Don't mind him," you said. "He's in a mood because he didn't get his beauty sleep last night."
"And why was that, Martin? It couldn't possibly have anything to do with you storming into my room at some absurd time yelling about your philosophical awakening or some rubbish like that."
"I wasn't yelling! And it's not rubbish. It's important. Don't you care that we only have a certain amount of time, and we're spending it being fed what they think we should we ought to know?"
You hopped up onto a low wall, brown shirt and faded jeans sharp against the dirty white sky. Hands in pockets, you made yourself a caricature of the image you always tried to present: the working class warrior. But we all knew how much you spent on your school fees. We all did the same.
"From the moment we're born –"
"Is this going to turn into the Lion King?" I said with a smirk.
"No. Shush, Oliver. From the moment we're born, we're put into tick boxes and factory made to their specifications. We study these subjects, and these topics within them. These people do these jobs, those people do those jobs. This is good. That is bad. Does that not bother you? Every time you write another essay on iambic pentameter or whatever, does it not concern you that you're spending however much time and energy on something that'll be forgotten in a year, a month, a week?"
No-one responded. How could we? I glanced in bafflement at Adrian, who had an expression of dilute awe and terror. Douglas looked quite proud – you looked very proud. It was Pauline who spoke first.
"But Martin," she said, slowly and carefully. "You're the one writing the essay."
You were lost for a reply. Wide-eyed, I saw the panic grow on you as you lost your glory.
"It's easy enough to point out problems," Pauline continued. "What are you going to do about them?"
"Me?" you said, scratching the back of your neck and looking away. "I'll do something. You'll see. I'll do something."
You were quieter than usual for the rest of the day. I didn't care at all – all the more attention for me, and I certainly never found that an issue. Douglas was more troubled by your withdrawal. He asked you quietly if you were alright a few times. I didn't catch the answer.
A lot of young people make demands and insistences that they don't really mean. It happens every day, and it was what I expected of you. Remember that day you said you were going to go on hunger strike unless they improved the quality of our school food? You were stuffing yourself at supper only an hour later. So why should this be any different?