Inspiration from a King

This story comes from a teacher at school, who chose to share it with the students and teachers one morning in assembly. In our school, each Head of Department has to take at least one assembly each year, if not more. This particular teacher, who was Head of Physics, was a very outspoken man and made no secret of the fact that he disliked many of the restrictive rules at our all-girls' school. Many people, students and teachers alike, disliked him and resented the fact that he was so openly critical of the way our school was run.

"Honestly," he would say to the class during a Physics lesson. "What do they think I'm going to do? Molest you? It's ridiculous … one pat on the head for being a good student and suddenly I'm harassing you?"

Despite that fact that many people in our class didn't like him and found him to be far too direct and forward with his opinions, I liked him. He stayed only a year at our school before choosing to take an early retirement, but he has remained one of the most influential figures in my life and this story inspired me to look beyond the obvious.

The teacher, who I shall call Dr King, had a PhD in Physics, hence the fact that he was called "Doctor" and not "Mr". He was a tall, lean man with white hair and a good sense of humour. Whenever I passed him in the corridor, he would always smile and say "Hello" to me, perhaps even engaging me in a small conversation before continuing on his way. I think a lot of people were slightly intimidated by him, but not me. I enjoyed talking to him and always looked forward to seeing him, even for only a brief conversation.

On the morning that our story takes place, we all filed into the school hall for assembly as per usual. I was already preparing to be bored for the next twenty minutes, faced with the prospect of the headmistress droning on about some Bible passage or other, but when I glanced up to the stage and saw not the headmistress but Dr King all thoughts of boredom went out of my mind. Dr King, with his razor-sharp wit, would surely provide us with an entertaining assembly. Once everyone had settled down on the cold, hard floor, Dr King began talking.

"I have been teaching for many years," he began. "And I would like to share with you today the story of a young boy I taught about six or seven years ago."

He continued his story, telling us that this boy had come from an underprivileged background, with a father who drank heavily and a mother who didn't know what to do with herself. The boy, clearly intelligent, had been accepted into the selective school at which Dr King taught on a scholarship, which was fortunate seeing as his parents could not afford to pay the fees. When the boy, who would have been sixteen at the time of the story, entered into his final year of school he was offered the opportunity to take part in a program offered by the school. This program allowed students taking part to travel abroad in the summer holiday (with the school) and take part in activities such as teaching children English as a foreign language and learning basic survival skills. Dr King told us that he had persuaded the boy to sign up for it and that the boy had somehow managed to save up the £200 needed to pay for the trip. The boy had been very excited over the holiday, as it would have been his first trip abroad in his life. He paid for his passport out of his own money, and arranged all the paperwork himself.

However, one day the boy returned home to find that his father had raided his room, stolen the £200 and taken his friends out to the pub for a drink. The boy was understandably heartbroken and did not return to school the next day, nor the next. Dr King told us that he only heard about what happened from another teacher who had overheard a conversation between the headmistress and a secretary. Dr King had taken it upon himself to go round to the boy's house and try and persuade him to come back to school, but no one answered the door.

"To this day I don't know what happened to him," Dr King told us. "He was clearly very intelligent, but he didn't return to school to do his exams. No one saw him after that day." The school hall had become very quiet and very still. "I think that perhaps it was the straw that broke the camel's back … as I said, I don't know what happened to him –"

Dr King broke off suddenly and cleared his throat.

"All I can say is that there are people like this all over the place and that if you have the opportunity to extend the hand of friendship, that could be all it takes to change someone's life. Who knows what that boy could have achieved if only his father hadn't been so much of a selfish brute …?"

I glanced swiftly at the headmistress, sure that she would be disapproving of Dr King's language, but she seemed either not to notice or not to care of his choice of words. Dr King paused for a moment, decided that there was nothing more to say, and turned away from the podium. He sat down on the chair towards the back of the stage while the tiny Mrs Povall bustled up onto the stage to read out the announcements.

I barely heard the announcements, however, as Dr King's story was still processing in my mind. A thought occurred to me that perhaps the boy in the story was Dr King himself; he certainly seemed quite emotionally attached to the boy in the story, but something told me that this theory was wrong. Perhaps Dr King blamed himself for what happened to the boy; maybe the boy had said something to Dr King and he had refused to acknowledge the cry for help. Or maybe the boy had been a particularly gifted and able student who could have done extremely well for himself if only he had been given the right start in life.

Whatever the reason, the story stuck with me for some time, and I feel that it should be told to as many people as possible. This is a very simplified version of the story that Dr King told us, as I can only remember the basic facts after all this time. But I hope that this story has offered something to those who read it, whether it be hope or an intention to do more good in the world. I also hope that wherever this boy is, though I don't know who he is or even what his name is, that he broke free of his parents and reached his potential.

A/N: To be perfectly honest, I don't think a review would be of any great value to me as regards this piece of writing. I always appreciate reviews, of course, but I don't really want anyone coming to me saying "I don't like the way you said this bit, blah blah blah". I'm always happy for constructive critisism, but on this occasion my main priority was simply getting the story told, not recieving any praise for it ...