Summary of “On the Face of It” by Susan Hill
A fourteen-year-old boy named Derry slowly enters Mr Lamb’s garden without having any knowledge of his presence. Mr Lamb figures out that someone is in his garden and cautions Derry about the apples lying on the ground for he could trip on them. Startled by this, Derry confesses that he entered the garden only because he thought that nobody lived there. Mr Lamb welcomes him to his garden and assures him that the door is always open for people who want to come in.
Derry further adds that he had not come to steal anything. He only entered because he liked the garden. Derry turns to leave but Mr Lamb welcomes him and tells him not to be afraid. To this Derry replies that he is not afraid of other people but the people are afraid of him. People think his face is ugly and they pretend to be sympathetic. But underneath, they are afraid of him. When Derry says that even he is afraid of his face, Mr Lamb diverts from the topic of discussion and says that when the weather is a bit cooler, he would get the ladder, pull down crab apples and make jellies. He asked Derry to give him a hand in doing so.
Derry figures that Mr Lamb is changing the topic and tells him that people are afraid to ask him about his ugly burned face because they are afraid. Derry doesn’t like to be around people for this reason. He tells Mr Lamb that acid burnt half of his face away forever. But Mr Lamb didn’t make a big deal out of it. When Derry asked him if he was interested in knowing more about him, he answered that there is nothing God made that doesn’t interest him. He even loves the weed garden that others condemn as rubbish. He finds no difference between Derry and him. Just as Derry had a burned face, Mr Lamb had a tin leg in place of the real one that got blown off in the war. Kids call him names but it doesn’t bother him. Derry feels that he could cover his tin leg with his trousers and no one could notice them and that’s why it did not trouble him. On the other hand, Mr Lamb tells him that people get tired of seeing it. There are a lot of other things in the world to stare at. Mr Lamb’s concept of beauty is relative and it reminds Derry of the story of the Beauty and the Beast. The Beauty loved the dreadful Beast for what he was inside and when she kissed him he transformed into a handsome prince. But Derry feels that no matter what, nobody would ever kiss him and he will always remain the same. Only his mother kissed him that too on the other side of the face. He felt that she does so just because she has to. He did not care if anybody ever kissed him. He knew that he is always going to have half a face. Mr Lamb assures him that the world had a whole face to be looked at. Derry asks him if he feels that the old garden is the whole world. Mr Lamb replies that the world has been the same for him anywhere else.
When Derry asked Mr Lamb if his leg hurt, Mr Lamb replied that it doesn’t hurt anymore. Derry knew that all the sufferers preached that there are people who are in a much worse condition than them. Mr Lamb points out that it is the truth but Derry felt that the truth won’t make his face change. Derry recalls the day when a commented after seeing his face that his face was a terrible thing and it was a face “only a mother could love”. He has heard a lot of cruel things and Mr Lamb asks him not to pay attention to it anymore.
Derry is convinced that Mr Lamb asks weird questions that are not comprehensible by him. Mr Lamb says that he likes to talk but Derry doesn’t have to reciprocate. Mr Lamb then gives Derry a new perspective on life by telling him that people say bees buzz but when he listens to them for a while, hears them singing. Derry does not like to be near people. His encounter with Mr Lamb is nothing more than a coincidence for him. He says that he would not have entered the garden if he had known that Mr Lamb was inside. Mr Lamb attempts to ease his feeling of discomfort by telling him a story about a fan who was afraid of everything. As a result, he locked himself in his room and stayed there. Even though he felt safe, one day a picture fell off the wall on his death and killed him. This story made Derry laugh hard.
Derry asks Mr Lamb what he does the whole day. Mr Lamb says that he sits in the sun and reads books. He doesn’t like curtains because he likes the light and darkness and he doesn’t prefer shutting things in or out. It is the first time Derry says something positive to Mr Lamb. He said that he likes the sound of the rain which made Mr Lamb very happy as now he knew that Derry could hear things as well.
Derry then tells Mr Lamb that his parents are always concerned about how he will cope up with the world with a face like that. Mr Lamb assures him that he has still got perfect arms, legs, ears, eyes, tongue and brain. He says that if he genuinely wished to do something then he could even get on better than the rest. Derry wished to know if Mr Lamb has any friends. Mr Lamb feels that he had hundreds of friends. He keeps the gate open and everybody knows him. The kids come for the apples, pears and toffees. Derry declares that he is not Mr Lamb’s friend even though he entered his garden. But Mr. lamb still considers him as his friend as Derry has not done anything that would suggest otherwise.
Derry is sceptical and he says to Mr Lamb that he doesn’t even know his name. Mr Lamb believes that one does not need to know someone’s particulars to call him his friend. He adds that Derry could tell him his name only if he wished to. Derry expresses that even though Mr Lamb considers him to be his friend, he does not want his friendship because he might never see Mr Lamb again and then he wouldn’t still be his friend. He feels that we pass people in the streets and we do not talk or see them again. That doesn’t make two people friends. But to Mr Lamb, it does not make them enemies either. People are never just “nothing” to Mr Lamb. When Derry says that there are some people he hates, Mr.
Lamb tries to make him understand that hatred would cause him more harm than any bottle of acid as it would burn his soul. Both of them have suffered a lot but according to Mr Lamb, worse things could happen. Derry recalls the time one person said that he would have been better off with others like himself in the hospital. Derry feels that in that kind of a world there would be nobody to stare at him as everyone would be the same and he would be no different. Mr Lamb then suggests that he shouldn’t judge himself just by the way he looks. Even if everything appears to be the same, everything is different. Derry is amused by the philosophical thoughts that Mr Lamb possesses and asks him how he makes everything out. Mr Lamb says that it all comes from watching, listening and thinking.
Derry expresses his desire to have a house with a garden and no curtains. Mr Lamb tells him that what’s his is anybody’s and that he is welcome even when he is not there. He tells Derry that he might find others there but it shouldn’t stop him. Derry believes that if others see him then they would run away and Mr Lamb would lose all his friends as nobody would want to stay around him. Mr Lamb says that kids shout “Lamey Lamb” when they see him but still they come into his garden. He says that the kids are not afraid of him because he is not afraid of them.
Derry is curious to know how Mr Lamb climbs on a ladder with his leg blown off. He is worried that someday he might fall down and die and nobody would come to save him. When Derry says that he has to go home and inform his mother where he is, Mr Lamb thinks that it is an excuse for him to not come back again. Derry refuses to believe that Mr Lamb has friends but he is determined to come back to him. Mr Lamb, however, does not expect him to come back.
When Derry’s mother comes to know that he went to visit Mr Lamb, she attempts to forbid him from going back. She says that she has heard things about him but Derry is determined to go back to him and listen to him talking about things that nobody else has ever told him. He wants to go there, sit and listen to bees singing. When his mother takes his determination for his agony, Derry says that he doesntý care about his face. He only wants to go back to Mr Lamb.
Derry enters Mr Lamb’s garden and shouts out to Mr Lamb that he finally came back. But before that, a ladder falls back and a branch is heard shifting. Derry, he notices that Mr Lamb was on the ground. He goes to him but there is no response. Derry begins to weep.