By Andrew Hamilton
I know this because I saw him. I saw him jump the wall on the town side of the monastery. He landing with a sickening squelch, one foot in Brother Liam’s drill of carrots, the other in a pile of dog plop left behind by Vianney.
I saw him get down on his knees and cleverly shovel fistfuls of dirt into the large, shoe-shaped hole in the vegetable patch. He patted the dirt, got up quickly and trotted off to the side gate - scuffing his shoes on the long grass as he went.
I watched him as checked to make sure that the coast was clear and as he walked slowly up the hill towards the old school building. He stayed close to the hill-side of the path – the low bushes partially obscuring him from anyone who might decide to wander down.
He was no more than a quarter of the way up the hill when I witnessed his right hand reach inside the pocket of his muddied blazer. Again and again he delved, each expedition revealing some fresh and tasty wonder.
Applejacks, fruits salads, lemon bonbons - he crammed fistfuls of them into his ready mouth. By the time he reached Brother Gregory’s old wooden bench, his cheeks were bulging with juice - green and sticky.
There he became suddenly brave, and, crouching before the bench, I saw him remove the whole bag of sweets from his pocket. I watched as he counted and divided his fortune and, after evening-up the number by quickly eating a single white chocolate mouse, he divided his hoard into two equal bags. One for later, and the other for later still.
When the bell rang, I saw him join a group of boys who had been playing football out in Tierney’s good meadow and return with them to his classroom, unmarked and unmissed. Clever little Jimmy Morris.
I saw him again at lunchtime. He walked with the rest of the first years to the pitch for the big match between the fifth and sixth years. He looked so lost in their company, lagging behind alone, his hands planted firmly in the pockets of his blazer.
When they reached the pitch wall, I watched him as he stopped to tie a shoelace, and then – as his classmates jostled each other for a position along the cold, stone wall – I saw him steal away unnoticed, running quickly into the ash tree glen.
There, in a little cove among the briars and the undergrowth, I watched as he sat on a mound of damp brown leaves and laid out his full fortune before him. He began with the skittles, eating the red first, then the green and yellow together, and then the remaining colours all on one go.
As the shouts from the match filtered down to his hiding place, Jimmy Morris’ heart beat faster and faster. Sugar coursed through every inch of his body - he was suddenly exhilarated – alive and master of all he surveyed.
I watched him closely as he closed his eyes and placed a singe chocolate mouse between his teeth. I saw the first beam of a grin appear and watched carefully as a smile took hold of his entire face.
After a moment, he continued on a diet of marshmallows, éclairs and thick liquorish coated with pink sugar. His hands circled his booty, picking off treasures from here and from there - eating them with a mixture of excited haste and slow relish.
At half time in the match, the fifth years had taken a most unexpected lead. The rabble on the sideline – who had spent much of the first half making animal noises and slyly punching each other – became suddenly silent as Brother John screamed violent instructions at the sixth years. Nothing could be heard but the screams of the Brother – he admonished the team for how it played, the supporters for how they cheered, the wind for how it blew and the grass for how it grew. When he had finished, all was silent.
Down in the ash glen, I watched as little Jimmy Morris studied the remainder of his once great hoard, now reduced to a mischief of just six chocolate mice. He hesitated, searching his pockets again and again – there must have been more. Finally admitting defeat, I watched him as he studied his last six sweets. For a time all were quiet.
When the noise of the match restarted, I saw Jimmy Morris lay his soft brown head back on a tuft of moss-covered grass and search for fragments of the sky between the thorns and the broken trees. Then, one-by-one, I watched as he ate the mice.
He took the first, laid it carefully on his tongue, and allowed it to dissolve right there in his mouth. I saw his right leg twitch with delight as the warmth of his mouth gave life to the sweet – making it dance on each of his tastebuds. Sheer, incorruptible delight.
Above at the pitch, the older of the Murphy brothers gathered a high ball deep in the fifth years half, and, after hopping it once, fired it deep into the back of the net. A goal, a goal, a goal.
The shouts from the sixth years were brutish. Jimmy heard them and so did I. He finished the last chocolate mouse but it was no good, the taste was somehow wrong. He got to his feet and slowly made his way out of the bushes.
I watched him as he left. I saw the thorn branch slash at his calves as he pushed his way out of the briars. I saw his red face, flushed with effort and delight. I saw his eyes squint as he returned to the full glare of the sunshine before returning sheepishly to the match.
I saw him leave.
I see him still.