The annual Old Boys Reunion took place in the sixteenth-century cellar of a world famous winery that also ran a restaurant and banquet service for pecunious customers. A man in a penguin suit, with a foreign accent, and a suspicious looking bulge under his left armpit, ushered the recalcitrant towards a set of well-worn of steps.
“You are arriving slightly on the late side, sir,” the penguin whispered, staring mockingly at the checkered, American-style sports jacket worn by the man he escorted. “And not dressed like the others. But not to be troubled, I myself will escort you down to the place of the guests.”
As he descended the steps that led down to the former wine cellars, the recalcitrant heard the well-remembered, high nasal bray as his former headmaster’s brass voice pierced the ruminations of the penguin-suited herd that, having sniffed the glorious nature of the gregarious watering-hole, was intent on reminiscing, drinking, and feeding.
“Wonderful place … so fortunate … to be here … thank you … ” the old man neighed.
It was indeed a wondrous place, a semi-whitewashed room, warm in the center where bees wax candles in gold candlesticks blazed on antique tables and cool by the one wall left untouched since that same sixteenth century. Here the damp gathered in great grey clots and the spider webs, also untouched, sparkled and glistened, like “the mythical lights of fairyland” as the winery brochure announced to the limited circle of the wealthy to whom it was circulated.
Empty kettle … the recalcitrant thought as he remembered his old headmaster and then they were, face to face, the head and his obstinately defiant and anti-authoritarian pupil, staring each other down.
“You!” It was an authoritarian call to battle. “I remember you. The boy who denied all authority.”
“Yes, me,” the recalcitrant, eyeball to eyeball with the old enemy rejoiced in his newfound glory. And here he was, back in the old country on a lecture tour of six major universities, one of them being in this city, a full professor now, with international honors, multiple publications, department chair in a well-known university, a household name in his subject, and all of this at forty-two years old. “Yes, me,” he repeated.
“You have done well for yourself,” the ageing donkey brayed.
The gunman in the penguin suit, sensing the tension, placed himself in the gunslinger’s position from which he could survey the whole room. He lovingly stroked the armpit bulge, eyes gleaming with hope.
“Tell me,” the head drew a handkerchief from his pocket and honked his nose into it like a storm-bound goose. “How did your career take off?”
“Well, in two stages,” the recalcitrant paused, partly for effect, partly to gather his thoughts. “Just like a rocket: stage one was when I left your school and stage two was when I left your country.”
The old donkey, blinked, threw back his head, trumpeted down his nose with intense nasal wrath, and turned away with a wave of his hand towards another latecomer who had just descended the stairs. “Ah, there you are Smithers,”the fog horn blared. “At last. Saved me you have. This man was just about to …”
The rest of the sentence was lost in the rush and a hubbub as a new series of delights arrived, tapas, hors d’oeuvres, little sticky creations on fiddly little sticks, they all circulated from hand to hand along with the exquisitely chilled champagne, the single malt whiskies, and the ultimate in estate wines.
Not a penguin spoke to the sports-coated recalcitrant. Nobody offered him a hand. Nobody shared a memory with him. As he arrived at each little group, the penguins gathered in a tight circle, turned their black backs to him, and shut him out. Throughout the feasting, he sensed the gimlet eyes of the gunman glued to a spot mid-way between his shoulder blades.
The recalcitrant didn’t partake of the food or the drink, he just watched. Then, after an hour or so, he turned and climbed the sixteenth-century stairs, the gunman in the penguin suit right behind him, and walked away into the freedom of starlight and the cool night air.
He never returned for another reunion.
He never received another invitation.