Chapters 17 and 18

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Last Updated March 25, 2024.

Chapter 17

November 15th is an important day at Greenslade School, as it is the day of the twice-a-year Students’ Council report. The older students are organizing the events and have been preparing diligently. At 10:00, students are dismissed to an assembly at which Headmaster Florian praises students for their achievements but reminds them there is still much to be accomplished. As he listens, Braithwaite knows Florian is deeply committed to this cause and these children.

When Florian is finished speaking, the two oldest students in the school (Denham and Miss Joseph) take over the proceedings. Each class will have its representatives report on the year thus far, and then a panel of teachers—chosen by the students—will take the stage and be asked questions by the student body about the activities for their classes. The class reports begin with the youngest students and move to the oldest; they all report on what they have actually learned rather than what they were expected to have learned.

When it is time for Braithwaite’s class to report, Denham calls each representative by name and the topic on which they will speak. Braithwaite is proud that Denham addresses each young woman as “Miss” and hopes that will set a tone for the rest of the students to emulate. Miss Joseph reports that their studies in every subject have focused on the interdependence of mankind. Potter tells of learning about the two systems of measurements, one or the other of which is used in every country in the world. Sapiano explains their studies of pests around the world and how shared knowledge between countries is beginning to reduce the threat of harmful insects and bugs. Jackson and Miss Pegg talk about their geography studies. They learned that every country is interdependent on other countries because of their natural resources; they also discussed the many post-war needs around the world and organizations such as U.N.I.C.E.F. which are trying to help on a worldwide basis.

Denham, with dramatic flair, brings in the science skeleton and explains that it is a provable fact that it is a female but no one could know its nationality or its color. This is part of their science studies. The students are mesmerized by his presentation. He finishes with a diatribe against the current physical education curriculum, claiming it is boring and a good game would serve the purpose just as well. It is a popular sentiment and the crowd cheers.

Three teachers’ names are then randomly drawn from the panel discussion. Most of the questions come from the older students, and Braithwaite enjoys watching the proceedings. Denham continues his tirade regarding the form of exercise that students are forced to do for physical activity. Weston is unable to deal effectively with the boy’s reasoning, so Miss Phillips steps in and adroitly uses his own arguments against him. If Denham is strong enough and does not need the exercise, he should be helping others. And if he does not like the activities, doing them anyway is good preparation for a lifetime of having to do things he must do but does not particularly enjoy doing. The headmaster finally draws the meeting to a close, expressing his pride and appreciation for their efforts.

Chapter 18

Thursday is Gillian’s birthday. Braithwaite bought her a book of poetry that he is planning to give to her during lunch on her birthday. On Tuesday, she comes to his classroom and asks to speak to him. As usual, he is surrounded by a group of students, and they whisper and giggle as he excuses himself to go see Gillian. She tells him she has made reservations for a special meal at an elegant restaurant to celebrate her birthday after they go to a movie. When he comes back into the room, his students are full of questions and speculations. Pamela is the only one who remains aloof from the conversation.

On Thursday, the couple leaves the school together. Gillian looks beautiful, and Braithwaite is proud to have her on his arm. They take the bus to see their movie, and they get on another bus to get to the fancy restaurant. They are met by the maître d' who, after a questioning glance at Braithwaite, shows them to their table. The couple is lost in their strong feelings which remain unexpressed as yet. Soon, they begin to notice that the tables around them have waiters hovering over them, but not a single waiter has approached their table.

Finally a waiter comes, hands them a menu, and then quickly leaves. Later, he returns to take their order but is implicitly discourteous. Both diners are annoyed but say nothing until the waiter returns with their soup and spills some on Braithwaite—and simply sneers at him after doing so. Gillian is outraged and they leave the restaurant. Outside, she asks Braithwaite to take her home. In the taxi, Gillian sits as far away from Braithwaite as possible. He wonders if she blames the waiter’s discourtesy on him.

When they arrive at her house, she bolts out of the cab and walks up the steps to her front door. He expects her to disappear inside, but she turns to ask why he is not coming in with her. This Gillian is a stranger to him, but he cares for her too much and means to “see it through.” Her entire apartment is in harmony; the only discord in the room is between them. She walks out of the room, and he takes his gift for her out of his briefcase and places it on the table. Nothing about this evening is going as he had hoped.

When she returns, she opens the gift and begins to cry in despair, asking him why he just sat and took the abuse from the waiter. She is furious at him for not defending himself, reminding him of other times when he refused to defend himself while others championed him. Braithwaite is calm, assuring her that beating up the waiter would not have changed anything. He is tired of this familiar discussion, though he has never had it with Gillian before. She suddenly throws the book of poetry at him and then follows behind it, poised “like a demented creature” to strike him.

Braithwaite grabs her and holds her until her anger turns to moans as she cries against his coat. When he feels it is safe to release her, he simply watches her, knowing their relationship is finished. Finally she asks him what they are going to do, and he tells her he does not know. Incidents like this happen to Braithwaite occasionally, but Gillian had never experienced such blatant prejudice. She asks if this is how it will always be when they are together, and he explains that it would not have happened if she had not been with him. He loves her and does not want to say such things, but it is better that she knows.

Soon, Gillian tells him she loves him, and he tells her the same. He tells her his life story so she will understand how he came to be here and how he is “learning what it means to live with dignity in his black skin.” She is afraid, but she wants to be with him and has even talked to her parents about him. They will go visit them next weekend. Braithwaite is stunned at the unexpectedness of life, reflecting that he has not even kissed Gillian but that their course is now set. She is an innocent who is bravely linking her life to his, and they are both a little afraid. Others have faced this problem before and survived the challenge, and so will they.

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Chapters 15 and 16


Chapters 19 and 20