HIS SECRET – from my ebook Queen of the City

Posted: February 24, 2019 in Chat
Tags: , , , ,

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Queen-City-Michael-Murray-ebook/dp

 

Tipitia was standing in deep thought by a window on the sixth floor of the university tower, it was by the Archeology Department elevator. She did not notice a shadow behind her, then a gentle voice said,

‘I do believe you have discovered one of my little secrets.’ It was Professor Farnum. The view from the window was across the city, and from their position on the university campus to the south of the centre the view was stunning, especially in sunlight: the white buildings shone in the light. Smoke rose from last night’s fires around the city centre.

‘The queen of the city.’ she murmured.

‘I always come here when I need reminding why we are doing this.’

‘Why? Professor?’

‘All the sacrifices. I have a theory,’ he said as they walked into the department, ‘that there are seven challenges in our profession.’

‘Challenges? Professor?’ she was gradually tuning into the conversation, and away from her private thoughts.

‘Some are just simple, basic things, like just getting through the undergraduate course. It isn’t the workload, not the intellectual struggle, No, that comes later; at undergraduate level it is just the challenge of sticking at it. Of not giving in and… well, you know the drop-out rate at this university as well as I.’

‘You always have seemed so…’ she looked for the word with the right shadings,

‘Committed?’ he offered. No, that was not quite the one.

‘Have you wondered why I do not do field work any more? Surely there have been rumours?’

‘I had thought it was the volume of administration, running a department in these times.’

‘And you have indeed shouldered your part of that,’ he said. ‘I call that challenge number five. No, it isn’t all because of that.’ He was ushering her into his office; the view was into the university quadrangle and the anonymous concrete admin section over the way.

‘You must have heard of the Sudan debacle?’

‘Yes, sir; well, as much as was needed.’

‘It was the tenth day, and we were struggling to fulfill our obligations; findings were few, and low quality. I had co-opted local children who were hanging around, getting in our way, you know the sort of thing. They were carrying baskets of diggings away from the sorting table, when one little girl, she must only have been nine or ten, suddenly collapsed. She died on the spot.’

He was silent for a good while; Tipitia sat quietly.

‘Apparently,’ he continued, ‘she had been up from before dawn, traipsing three miles, with a big… plastic container, to the spring, and then returned with it full and strapped to her back. Another three miles. Every morning. The boys, of course… it was the girl’s job. And our transport standing idle. Our own water supplies….’

He was silent again. ‘Tim Johnson was with us… you’ve heard me talk of Tim, our best field worker. He quit. Didn’t finish the dig, I… don’t know if he blamed me….. I heard about him some years later, he had been working with an Aid company. He had been kidnapped by rebels. They found him, what was left, a month or so later. That was my last dig, too.

They sat for a while avoiding each other’s eyes.

 

‘You never married, sir.’ she said. The tension eased a little.

‘Ah, no. Came near it once; very near. Anthropology research student at St Columb’s. Ah yes.’ He opened a drawer in his desk, brought out a framed photograph. Tipitia caught the colours of an academic gown with Masters cap and collar. Black hair… she peered closer.

‘That’s Professor Hernandez!’ she said. ‘She has always been my role model.’

‘Janis, yes,’ he said, and a surprisingly intimate light came into his face.

‘Challenge number four.’ he said.

‘Why a challenge, sir?’

‘Who knows if either of us would be where we are now, if…’

‘You gave up your marriage.’

‘It may not have come to that.’

‘But she is married now, sir.’

‘I know,’ he said quietly. ‘But her husband is not an academic; there is no… conflict.’

 

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