Rumor said Professor R. Ulysses Dunn, the foremost authority on eradicating stereotypes from within society, would be attending tonight’s lecture at my university. I’d struck the jackpot. If only I could corner the good professor for a few minutes, I was sure I could get the insight needed to finish my master’s thesis. I tucked my dog-eared copy of Stranger No More into my bag, hoping he’d sign it for me, and walked to the lecture hall.
Only a scattering of seats remained when I arrived. I snared one on the end of a row, thankful that the seat beside it was also empty. I scanned the crowd, looking for the professor. The problem was I had no idea what he looked like. I’d searched the internet trying to find a photo of the man but came up empty. No matter, I was sure I could identify him based on his bearing and speech. I’d read his books so many times, I knew his voice by heart.
I glanced at the round man standing too close to my chair. His tent of a coat needed patching and a good wash – as did the rest of him.
“Is that seat taken?” He pointed to the seat next to me and then pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. They still made glasses that thick?
With that much girth, he’d never squeeze by me. I stood and stepped aside.
“Thank you.” He waddled into the aisle and collapsed into the chair. It groaned, and I worried for a moment it might not support his weight. But it held.
I eased back into my place, trying to keep from touching the man as he spilled over the edges of his chair onto mine. The body odor assaulted me next. I tried breathing through my mouth, but I could almost taste the stench.
He turned to me and smiled, holding out his dirty hand. “Name’s Rupert.” He was as revolting as his name.
“Annelise.” I shook his hand quickly and turned to the front. Gross. I didn’t want to talk to this fat, ignorant man. Why couldn’t someone interesting sit beside me, if someone must sit there at all? I hugged my bag to my chest and checked my watch. Only five more minutes until the lecture started.
Strangers No More peeked out of the top of my bag, reminding me of Professor Dunn’s favorite axiom – “Every person is worth of basic respect.” Even fat, dirty, old men. Would it kill me to be kind to him? Probably not. I’d better follow the voice of the authority.
I turned back to the stranger and smiled a real smile. “Are you from around here?”
“Not hardly.” The corners of his eyes turned up jollily, much like I imagined Santa Clause’s would. He regaled me with tales of his travels and I marveled at the sense of humor trapped in that enormous body. I actually laughed at his stories and realized that Professor Dunn was correct; you can’t judge a man by his size. Everyone deserves a chance to be heard and understood.
With only a minute before the lecture was to begin, my supervisor interrupted our conversation. Rupert stood and they embraced as if old friends.
“Rupert, I’ve been saving you a place in the front. There are so many people I’d like you to meet.”
He gave his apologies and I moved my legs aside so he could exit.
“Thank you for taking such good care of Professor Dunn.” My supervisor squeezed my shoulder before following the man down to the front of the lecture hall. He barely had a chance to sit down before my supervisor took the podium.
Professor Rupert Ulysses Dunn. He really knew what he was talking about.
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