There is so much more.
Chapter 10: Emperors and Kingdoms
Since Gabriel had been living in Waldmeer, he had not seen Thomas. They no longer had their styling/shopping sessions as Gabriel was no longer in the city. In Waldmeer, their circles didn’t intersect. Thomas’s world consisted, almost entirely, of school-related people and events. Kathleen, Thomas’s ex-girlfriend, was the only person he saw who did not belong to school. This morning, Gabriel saw Thomas walking out of the supermarket. At least, he thought it was Thomas but he had to do a double-take to be sure. Thomas looked like he had aged five years in six months and had, unfortunately, reverted to his old man’s dress code which aged him a further ten years.
“Hey, buddy,” said Gabriel cheerfully.
Thomas instantly recognised the voice behind him because there were few people who talked to him in that tone. It wasn’t that the tone was special. The point was that it wasn’t. When one lives as emperor of one’s kingdom, one is, generally, seen as a master or enemy. Both engender respect but not the relaxed, open tone one has towards an equal.
Thomas was in a hurry but stopped, “Good to see you, Gabriel. Are you visiting Waldmeer?”
“No, I live here now,” said Gabriel. “With Amira.”
Thomas looked surprised. Somebody, usually, told him the gossip but he guessed that his normal informants must not have been interested in Amira.
“You’re a lucky man,” said Thomas.
Gabriel was about to say something but decided against it. Instead, he asked, “How are you?”
“Fantastic,” said Thomas. “Couldn’t be better.”
Men are stupid, thought Gabriel. “Yeah?” he said.
“Actually,” said Thomas, “I have been sick and I can’t seem to shake it. I’m a little down in the dumps.”
“Sorry to hear that,” said Gabriel.
“Today,” said Thomas, “I am signing a new five-year contract as Principal of Waldmeer State Secondary School. They still must want this old badger.”
“Of course, they do,” said Gabriel. “You are the best thing that has ever happened to that school. That’s what Amira tells me, anyway.”
“Thanks,” said Thomas with a restrained smile. “I hope all my years have counted for something.”
Not one to, normally, drum up business for Amira, Gabriel, nevertheless, said, “Why don’t you go see Amira? She has been looking after a friend’s baby lately but I don’t think she has him this morning.”
Thomas shook his head. He was too busy or, maybe, scared.
Chapter 11: Courage
On the way back to school, Thomas’s car turned left instead of right and he ended up outside Amira’s house. As much as he didn’t like to admit it, he was a little nervous of Amira. She could be harsh.
“How lovely to see you,” said Amira as she opened the door. Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.
“I don’t have long,” said Thomas, “but I thought I would drop in.” Amira knew by the look of him that he wasn’t well. She made him a cup of tea and they sat on the back verandah listening to the forest sounds that were a mere few streets away. The forest was an ever-present backdrop to life in Waldmeer.
“I can’t say that I’m unhappy,” said Thomas, “but I can’t say that I’m happy either.” He listened to one of the laughing kookaburras high in a nearby gum tree. “Maybe, I am unhappy. Or, at least, I am more unhappy than happy.”
“Perhaps, you need a change,” said Amira.
“Nothing will be changing,” said Thomas defensively. “I’m signing another contract today.”
Amira sensed that this was the immediate and precipitating problem. However, she could, also, see that Thomas wasn’t aware of it yet. “Sometimes,” she said, “things need to change and if we don’t listen, we will miss out on what is next.”
“Yes,” replied Thomas without stopping to think, “I always tell my staff and students that brave people are not fear-free but they don’t let their fear stop them from progressing.” He shuffled in his chair. I should shut up, he thought.
Amira let the awkward silence sit for a while and then said, “Remember, Thomas, someone loves you.” She pointed towards to the sky. She could have been pointing anywhere. Perhaps, everywhere.
Chapter 12: So Much More
One of the school’s board members said to Thomas, who had pen in hand, “Several of us have been in this with you since the beginning.” He slapped Thomas on the shoulder in camaraderie and slid the contract towards him. “We will probably be in it together till the day we die.”
Till the day we die, thought Thomas. He looked at the board member. He suddenly saw an old man. A kind-hearted but fumbling, weak, delusional old man. He looked around at the other board members. Some of them were younger and fresher but the bulk were his age and had been there as long. They all looked so old. Thomas barely dared look in the large mirror on the wall of the boardroom. My God, he thought when he got up the courage to look in the mirror. I look as old as them. We are all dying and hanging on as if we have nothing else.
Thomas then remembered, yesterday morning, he had told a group of stressed and anxious final-year students that their identity was not dependent on their exam results or anything else that they may happen to do in life. “You are so much more,” he told the group with the conviction of an evangelist. One thing he never wanted in his school was a suicide from exam-related stress which had happened to a few of the schools in neighbouring towns.
He, also, remembered a twelve-year-old boy he had spoken to that morning. The boy had arrived in Waldmeer a month ago and was struggling with anxiety and some low-level bullying from the local lads who were a bit too full of energy and themselves. Thomas knelt down before the shaking boy and said as quietly as he could so as not to frighten the boy, “Right now, you are scared, aren’t you?” The boy nodded. “I promise you, if you keep going and believe that you have something to give, it will all get better,” said Thomas. The idea made the boy stop thinking about how alone and afraid he was. He started to wonder what he had to give. “Now, don’t you forget,” said Thomas as the boy was leaving, “you can come to me any time you need to. If the ladies in the office tell you that I am too busy, you are to say that you have special authority from me to get a time slot.” The boy, practically, skipped out of the room.
Thomas turned to the board members and slowly but deliberately put the pen down on the large, polished table and pushed the contract back to his colleague. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “it is time. There is more. So much more.”