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So we're still inside that flashback about Tommy's tantrum at the sports pavilion. It's now a few days later, and Kathy is waiting in line for a visit with the nurse.
This seems to be a routine thing, because Kathy tells us that they had "some form of medical almost every week" (2.2). It also doesn't sound super pleasant since they call the nurse Crow Face.
Tommy sees Kathy in line and delivers a genuine, heartfelt apology for accidentally hitting her, so that's cool. Kathy tells Tommy that all is forgiven and forgotten.
(We also learn that Kathy and Tommy are thirteen at this point in the storyline. Kind of puts that whole tantrum thing in perspective.)
Speaking of tantrums, Tommy can't seem to keep his cool. Some of the tantrums reach near-epic proportions (your typical student toppling desks while the other students barricade him in the classroom to save themselves kind of scenario). Kathy only sees some of these incidents herself; the rest she learns through the hallway rumor mill.
Alongside the tantrums, all the kids are picking on Tommy with pretty nasty pranks. Here's the worst one: "the time someone cleaned a toilet with his toothbrush" (2.15). That is so gross. And get this: no one gets in trouble. Where are the so-called guardians who run this Hailsham place?
When Kathy talks to her girlfriends about these pranks, Ruth says Tommy needs an attitude adjustment. Tommy doesn't seem to put effort into being creative and creativity is really highly valued at Hailsham.
In fact, creativity is so important that every three months they have these Exchanges. Before an Exchange, Hailsham students submit all the creative work they've made over the past three months and the guardians give them Exchange Tokens for each item. Then, at the big exhibition, students can trade in their tokens for work done by fellow classmates.
Ruth and Kathy reminisce about the Exchanges years later. When they have this chitchat, Ruth is at a donor center in Dover, and Kathy is her carer. She's just given her first donation.
The two friends chat about how the Exchanges produced a kind of community among the Hailsham students. By purchasing and cherishing each others' creations, the Exchanges got students to value one other's artwork. And that's pretty cool.
By the way, if trying to keep the order of events in this novel straight has your brain spinning, that's because Kathy likes to intermix her flashbacks. She randomly jumps between years and between stories. And then in the middle of a flashback she likes to interrupt herself to give you an explanation of the way things were done at Hailsham. Or sometimes she'll dish on her thoughts about the past now that she's older and wiser. So it can be disorienting to piece together Kathy's story…but maybe it's supposed to be. Check out "Writing Style" for some thoughts on this narrative rollercoaster.
But back to Tommy (see what we mean about all this flashback hopping?). The adult versions of Kathy and Tommy recently talked about his troubles at Hailsham. And Kathy recounts Tommy's thoughts about how his long rough patch of tantrums started one day in art class.
And so we venture to a specific day in a Tommy flashback where Tommy paints a childish picture of an elephant. Miss Geraldine, the nicest guardian at Hailsham, praises Tommy's work in front of the class, which makes the other students resent Tommy for his special treatment.
After the elephant incident, teasing Tommy becomes the new favorite sport at Hailsham. And the teasing eventually leads to Tommy's tantrums. You know how it goes. Vicious cycle and all.
But then all of a sudden the tantrums stop. And, over time, so does the teasing. Kathy is "mystified" at this newfound calm in Tommy (2.40). So one day she asks him what has changed.
The answer: Tommy had a conversation with the newer guardian, Miss Lucy. And Miss Lucy told Tommy that it was a-okay if he didn't want to be creative.
This bit of information makes Tommy feel loads better, but it really pushes Kathy's buttons. She thinks Tommy is lying because everyone knows that it's super important to be creative.
So Tommy convinces Kathy to meet him down by the pond to learn the rest of the story.