Rhys rode through the busy streets with a song in his heart. Lack of breath prevented the song from forming on his lips as he pedalled his way enthusiastically up the hill towards the faculty building he hadn’t seem for some time. It was good to be back home. The familiar sights, the colleagues who would want to hear all about the unusual sabbatical he had indulged in, the bookish smell of his study. And soon term would be starting. Hundreds of students’ minds to be challenged and filled, hearts and personalities to be moulded. His heart skipped a beat at the thought.
But Rhys certainly wasn’t prepared for the sight as he rounded the final bend. Hundreds of people were crowding around the main entrance. Some were carrying banners, others were waving clenched fists. Gradually, the sound of chants and singing from the crowd reached his ears. Angry, bitter songs. Jeering went up as someone tried pushing his way through the crowd. The man soon beat a hasty retreat. What on earth was going on? Rhys pushed his bike into the shed and looked at the spectacle. He read the wording on banners and his song left him. What idiots! They don’t how well off they are.
Inevitably, his thoughts went back to the desert landscape that had been his home for six months. His sabbatical had been given over to teaching at a little known university in one of the world’s poorest countries. Six months of hard work and many memorable experiences. What had impressed him most was the dedication of the students. The poorly stocked library, notebooks that cost the price of a meal, shabby furniture, meagre self-study facilities… Yet he had never seen more eager, willing students. Lectures were lively affairs and often overran due to the many discussions his ideas provoked. What few books existed had been poured over by hundreds of searching eyes. Small wonder that they had been bound and rebound several times already.
Well, Rhys would show them if they tried to prevent him from getting into the building. He crossed the road and started to push his way through the crowd. He wasn’t looking for a confrontation but, if needed, he would show these good-for-nothing heroes with their petty woes. Taken by surprise the crowd seemed to give way and he soon emerged on the other side. He ran up the last few steps and was about to push open the door when he was caught by a flying tackle that lifted him off his feet. His assailant landed on top of him and as their eyes met Rhys’ crimson face deepened further. This was worse than stupidity, it was betrayal. He forced himself to his feet, opened his briefcase and extracted his journal which he threw down upon the prostrate figure before him. “Read this!” he barked out. And charged into the building.
“I hope you’re not carrying more than a few bruises,” began Tom as he took his seat in the bar next to Rhys that evening. “I do wish to apologise for what happened out there today. I really didn’t realise, it was you. I just charged when I saw someone break through the line.”
“And if you had known, it was me…?”
Tom shrugged his shoulders in reply. “You see, I really thought we were fighting a just cause. I wouldn’t have been there otherwise. And maybe it is a just cause. We’re certainly very unhappy with the cutbacks. It’s going to make life tough for some students.”
“And did you read my journal?”
“Yes, that’s why I got in touch with you. It was what made me realise how our own problems are so insignificant. I mean in comparison to some of the things your students in Baccara were up against.”
“And for my part, I hadn’t realised the strength of feeling displayed by you and your friends,” explained Rhys. “Had I done so, I would have been less impetuous.”
“But you still think we were wrong?”
Rhys reflected a while before answering. “Not for speaking out. But for the childish way you let yourselves be taken in by those thugs I saw this morning.”
And so the two friends continued their conversation into the early hours of the morning, happy in each other’s company and happier still that they had both learnt precious lessons that day, lessons which would stand them in good stead for a long time to come.
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