In the following passage, taken from a novel, the narrator, Christopher, has a frightening
It was a sunny, windy morning. I remember watching from the playroom windows
the leaves blowing in the front yard over the carriage track. Uncle Philip had been
downstairs with my mother since shortly after breakfast, and I had been able to relax
for a while, believing as I did that nothing could happen to her while he was with her.
Then midway through the morning I heard Uncle Philip calling me. I went out
on to the landing and, looking down over the balcony rail, saw my mother and Uncle
Philip standing in the hall, gazing up at me. For the first time in weeks I sensed
something cheerful about them, as though they had just been enjoying a joke. The
front door was ajar and a long streak of sunlight was falling across the hall. Uncle
“Look here, Christopher. You’re always saying you want a piano accordion. Well,
I intend to buy you one. I spotted an excellent one in a window in Hankow Road
yesterday. I propose the two of us go and look it over. If it takes your fancy, then it’s
yours. Good plan?”
This brought me down the staircase at great speed. I jumped the last four steps
and circled round the adults, flapping my arms in impersonation of a bird of prey. As
I did so, to my delight, I heard my mother laughing; laughing in a way I had not
heard her laugh for a while. In fact it is possible it was this very atmosphere—this
feeling that things were perhaps starting to return to what they had been—which
played a significant part in causing me to “lower my guard”. I asked Uncle Philip
when we could go, to which he shrugged and said:
“Why not now? If we leave it, someone else might spot it. Perhaps someone’s
buying it at this moment, even as we speak!”
I rushed to the doorway and again my mother laughed. Then she told me I would
have to put on proper shoes and a jacket. I remember thinking of protesting about
the jacket, but then deciding not to in case the adults changed their minds, not only
about the accordion, but also about this whole light-hearted mood we were enjoying.
I waved casually to my mother as Uncle Philip and I set off across the front
courtyard. Then several steps on, as I was hurrying towards the waiting carriage,
Uncle Philip grasped me by the shoulder, saying: “Look! Wave to your mother!”
despite my already having done so. But I thought nothing of it at the time, and
turning as bidden, waved once more to my mother’s figure, elegantly upright in the
For much of the way, the carriage followed the route my mother and I usually took
to the city centre. Uncle Philip was quiet, which surprised me a little, but I assumed
this was perhaps his normal custom on a journey. Whenever I pointed out to him
anything we were passing, he would reply cheerfully enough; but the next moment he
would be staring silently once more out at the view. The leafy boulevards gave way
to the narrow crowded streets, and our driver began to shout at the rickshaws and
pedestrians in our path. As we approached the vegetable market, Uncle Philip
suddenly rapped his cane to make the carriage stop.
“From here, we’ll go on foot,” he said to me. “I know a good short cut. It’ll be
This made perfectly good sense. I knew from experience how the little streets off
Nanking Road could become so clogged with people that a carriage or motor car
would often not move for five, even ten minutes at a time. I thus allowed him to help
me down from the carriage with no argument. But it was then, I recall, that I had my
first presentiment that something was wrong. Perhaps it was something in Uncle
Philip’s manner. But then he smiled and made some remark I did not catch in the
noise around us. He pointed towards a nearby alley and I stayed close behind him as
we pushed our way through the good-humoured throng. We moved from bright sun
to shade, and then he stopped and turned to me, right there in the midst of the
jostling crowd. Placing a hand on my shoulder, he asked:
“Christopher, do you know where we are now? Can you guess?”
I looked around me. Then pointing towards a stone arch under which crowds were
pressing around the vegetable stalls, I replied: “Yes. That’s Kiukiang Road through
“Ah. So you know exactly where we are.” He gave an odd laugh. “You know your
way around here very well.”
I nodded and waited, the feeling rising from the pit of my stomach that something
of great horror was about to unfold. Perhaps Uncle Philip was about to say
something else—perhaps he had planned the whole thing quite differently—but at
that moment, as we stood there jostled on all sides, I believe he saw in my face that
the game was up. A terrible confusion passed across his features, then he said, barely
audibly in the din:
He grasped my shoulder again and let his gaze wander about him. Then he
appeared to come to a decision I had already anticipated.
“Good boy!” he said, this time more loudly, his voice trembling with emotion.
Then he added: “I didn’t want you hurt. You understand that? I didn’t want you
With that he spun round and vanished into the crowd. I made a half-hearted effort
to follow, and after a moment caught sight of his white jacket hurrying through the
people. Then he had passed under the arch and out of my view.
For the next few moments I remained standing there in the crowd, trying not to
pursue the logic of what had just occurred. Then suddenly I began to move, back in
the direction we had just come, to the street in which we had left the carriage.
Abandoning all sense of decorum, I forced my way through the crowds, sometimes
pushing violently, sometimes squeezing myself through gaps, so that people laughed
or called angrily after me. I reached the street to discover of course that the carriage
had long since gone on its way. For a few confused seconds I stood in the middle of
the street, trying to form in my head a map of my route back home. I then began to
run as fast as I could.
I set off at a run down that long road, and even though I soon began to pant
pathetically, even though the heat and exhaustion reduced me at times to little more
than walking pace, I believe I did not stop at all.
I knew as soon as I turned through our gateway—though there was nothing
obvious to tell me so—that I was too late. I found the front door bolted. I ran to the
back door, which opened for me, and ran through the house shouting.
The house appeared to be empty. And I knew, as I had known throughout that
punishing run home, that my mother was gone.
Adapted from the novel
When We Were Orphans
by Kazuo Ishiguro
“I had been able to relax for a while” (Paragraph 1)
) Why was Christopher able to relax?
) What does the expression “for a while” suggest about Christopher’s usual state
Write down an expression from Paragraph 2 which suggests that the family had been
under strain for some time.
Look at Paragraphs 3 to 6.
Uncle Philip seemed at first to be a generous and caring person.
What evidence is there in this section that he was
generous and caring?
Christopher became very excited about Uncle Philip’s plan.
ways in which the writer indicates Christopher’s excitement in
Why do you think Christopher was delighted to hear his mother laugh?
Explain the function of the dashes in “. . . this very atmosphere—this feeling that
things were perhaps starting to return to what they had been—which played . . .”
7. In your own words
, explain what Christopher means by “lower my guard”.
reasons why Christopher did not object to wearing a jacket.
Look at Paragraph 7.
pieces of evidence which might suggest that Uncle Philip was feeling tense.
“But I thought nothing of it at the time” (Paragraph 7)
What does this statement suggest?
Look at Paragraphs 8 and 9.
What explanation does Christopher suggest for his uncle’s silences on their journey?
Use your own words
in your answer.
12. In your own words
, explain how the writer indicates the changing surroundings
along the route towards the city centre.
“From here, we’ll go on foot . . .” (Paragraph 9)
From your reading of the passage as a whole, what was the real reason for Uncle
Philip’s decision to leave the carriage and start walking?
Look at Paragraph 10.
examples of effective word choice used by the writer to describe the
busy streets “off Nanking Road”.
“We moved from bright sun to shade” (Paragraph 10)
Why do you think the writer refers to
at this point in the
Look at Paragraphs 14 to 17.
The writer describes the strong feelings experienced by both Christopher and Uncle
expressions which show Christopher’s strong feelings.
expressions which show Uncle Philip’s strong feelings.
Why did Uncle Philip repeat “I didn’t want you hurt”? (Paragraph 17)
“Then suddenly I began to move . . .” (Paragraph 19)
Comment on the writer’s use of word choice
sentence structure in this
paragraph to describe Christopher’s journey back.
) Word choice:
) Sentence structure:
“all sense of decorum” (Paragraph 19)
) the box beside the best definition of “decorum”.
Look at Paragraph 20 to the end of the passage.
In Paragraph 20, the writer describes Christopher as physically tired but mentally
piece of evidence showing he was tired and
evidence showing his determination.
“I knew as soon as . . .” (Paragraph 21)
“I knew, as I had known . . .” (Paragraph 22)
Why does the writer repeat “I knew” in this way?
Think about the passage as a whole.
Explain what you think happened to Christopher’s mother.
Support your answer by referring to evidence from the passage.
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