Perhaps feeling normal makes Ishmael drop his guard. But in any case, he’s soon going to feel “the full effects” of Ishmael Leseur’s Syndrome. It starts on the night of the final preliminary debate against the Lourdes Girls School, when Ishmael gets a call from Scobie. Since Ignatius is busy playing the triangle in the band, the team for the night is Bill, Razza, and Scobie, with Ishmael as timekeeper. But Scobie says that Bill has laryngitis and Ishmael needs to take his place. Feeling suddenly chilled, Ishmael suggests they forfeit. Scobie says they can’t; if they do, they can’t compete in the finals.
Once again, Ishmael is trying to make sense of this turn of events by blaming things on Ishmael Leseur’s Syndrome. The syndrome, of course, didn’t actually give Bill laryngitis and necessitate Ishmael having to step in, but it’s easier for Ishmael to accept this made-up explanation than accept that sometimes he’s just unlucky. Scobie, for his part, is trying to make it seem to Ishmael like Ishmael needs to debate for everyone. This isn’t about Ishmael, in other words; it’s about the entire Year Nine team.
Ishmael suggests they get a Year Eight to step in and do it, but Scobie says they can’t. Ishmael’s name is on the registration form. Scobie says he won’t make Ishmael debate—it’s Ishmael’s choice—but they’ll have to forfeit if Ishmael doesn’t debate. Ishmael knows the choice should be easy—he should refuse to debate. But Scobie points out that Ishmael wrote Bill’s speech for him and knows the topic better than Bill, and also that they can lose and still go to the finals.
The fact that Ishmael doesn’t outright refuse suggests that something is changing for him. Recall that speaking in public makes Ishmael feel ill; now, he seems to be seriously considering it. This reflects both Ishmael’s trust in Scobie and Ishmael’s strengthening relationships with the other boys on the team. In other words, this choice isn’t just about Ishmael—it’s also about his friends.
Ishmael thinks of all the times Scobie has been brave: standing up to Barry, reciting his poem at the football game, and whipping the debate team into shape. Hesitantly, Ishmael asks if it’s true that Scobie’s surgery got rid of his ability to feel fear. Scobie is silent for a minute. He finally says that the tumor is gone. But maybe having someone cut into your brain and knowing you might not survive makes you decide that it’s not worth it to be afraid of anything else. Ishmael asks about the bugs and spiders, but Scobie cuts him off—his father studies bugs, so he has never been afraid of bugs. He tricked Barry.
In this passage, Ishmael again establishes Scobie as an inspiration. Ishmael wants to be like Scobie, because Scobie seems fearless. But Scobie’s explanation of what the surgery did makes him seem more human. He insists that he can still feel fear—but after facing a cancer that could’ve killed him, being afraid of anything else seemed silly. So what Scobie really suggests is that fear can paralyze people and make it impossible for someone to live their life.
Ishmael wants to ask Scobie to clarify, but Scobie says Ishmael has to be there in 15 minutes or they forfeit. Ishmael answers that he’ll be there and hangs up. He has no time to ask a more pressing question: whether Scobie is really fine, and if the tumor is really gone.
While in the previous passage Ishmael framed Scobie as an idol, here he thinks of Scobie more as a friend. Ishmael is concerned: is his friend actually okay, or is Scobie just saying he is to protect Ishmael? The novel leaves this ambiguous.