Little Liar – a short story
Matilda told lies and was burnt to death. A little severe perhaps, but Hillaire Bellock’s heroine would not be told. Her final calls for help were treated by neighbours and passers-by as yet another false alarm.
What so you do with a persistent and troublesome liar, a boy of twelve, a member of the form for which you are responsible, making life difficult for himself and his classmates? Do you punish him then leave him to his parents, do you hope that he will learn a hard lesson somewhere or do you subject him to another bout of ineffective nagging so that you can persuade yourself that you have at least tried to do something?
Another outburst of ill-tempered lying troubled me again, his increasingly frequent resort to the lie as a defence, his growing dependence on lying. I kept him behind after morning registration and explained that I had asked his parents to come to see me to discuss his behaviour.
We sat in an office where the boy faced the three of us uneasily.
I started with his latest outburst and explained that it was intolerable. The boy watched his parents nod their agreement. I moved on. There had been, I explained, several items of other boys’ property found in their son’s locker, he had been caught damaging other boys’ P.E. kit and several other teachers had complained that he had copied other boys’ homework. On a number of occasions money had been stolen and all the evidence pointed to his involvement. Both he and his parents knew that such an accumulation of bad behaviour could result in his being suspended from school, if not expelled.
As I outlined the reasons for the school’s concern the parents sat in silence, shocked perhaps by the extent of my revelations. Like Matilda, however, their son had tried to counter my accusations and had interrupted me time and again, simply protesting his innocence. All the while his parents said nothing, waiting apparently for the next stage, for the judgement, for an outcome that was clearly going to be very serious indeed.
As I continued my litany of accusation the boy’s interruptions became more frantic. Twice he got to his feet and would have fled the room had I not seated him furthest away from the door so that any route to an escape would have brought him close to me or to his parents. He sat down again very reluctantly.
I turned to the parents and asked if they had anything to say. He watched them shake their heads.
Suddenly there were tears. While he bowed his head and looked away from us, I caught his mother’s eye and then his father’s.
“Tony,” I said. “Why do you think I’ve been lying to your parents about you?”
He looked up and his mother passed him a handkerchief. We waited while he blew his nose. Then he looked around at all three of us, an accusation of something, we didn’t know what, a pitiful accusation. His head dropped again. There was no way out.
“Tony, now can you see where lying can lead to?” He nodded.
“You’re upset because your parents wouldn’t believe you.” He nodded again.
“The reason they believed my lies about you was that we were all worried about you lying so I set all this up. They knew that I was going to lie about you”
He was still sniffing into his mother’s handkerchief and we waited again for his sobs to subside.
“We wanted you to realise what it is like to have lies told about you, to see what can happen when you tell lies.” He was nodding now. He stood up and went over to his mother and I left them together. He did not tell lies in school again.
Tony must be in his thirties now. He was lucky to have had two parents prepared to suffer on his behalf. Whether he now has children of his own or not, I hope he appreciates what they did for him.