* * *
The room was large and expensive, with a high ceiling, but was stuffy with the heat of a hundred bodies. The people in question had gathered from all over the world to this conference and had been arguing for hours. In their strict suits and impeccable dresses, it was no wonder that they were getting hot under the collar. Diplomats, presidents, members of parliament… if you were important, you were there. And if you had something to say, you weren’t just saying it… you were yelling over the din, trying to get everyone else to hear you.
“We cannot go to war: it would ruin us and ruin the world! Just think of the damage that nuclear missiles could do: the damage, destruction, loss of life… not to mention the terrible after-effects of radiation sickness, which could continue for centuries!”
“So what do you propose, then? We continue letting that tyrant control his country, encouraging terrorism and supporting the already thriving export of arms to other fiends? He needs to be stopped! For the good of the world!”
“And you think that launching nuclear weapons into Libya is good for the world…?”
Richard Bates was sweating in his pinstripe suit. His eyes were unfocused, gazing out across the sea of angry men and women without seeing a soul. Stress and exhaustion were taking their toll. When the tall lady next to him abruptly stood up and began shrieking, joining the furious debate, Richard came to. He wiped his sticky brow with a handkerchief and stood up too, quietly but quickly making his way out of the room. I simply cannot think. I’ve got to get out of here.
No-one noticed him leave.
In the men’s room, he splashed cold water on his face. He hung for a couple of seconds over the sink, pulling himself together, preparing himself. He looked in the mirror, at his haggard face. The last ten years in parliament had aged him, carved lines in his skin that hadn’t been there before. He felt like an old man and he was only in his forties.
Movement in the mirror rescued him from his pessimistic thoughts. His eyes caught sight of a young boy, standing in the shadows behind him. He straightened slowly, turned to face the boy. The boy stared back, a small smile pulling his lips. He seemed quite undeterred by the wariness in Richard’s eyes. Suspicious thoughts rolled around the man’s head – a child, at this debate? How did he get in the building? This is a high security event!
“Hello,” said the boy, very calmly. Richard felt himself relax. The fevered thoughts began to fade, like a dream he had woken from. But a stubborn part of him clung to his suspicion. “You shouldn’t be here,” He stumbled, unable to say more. Even to himself, his voice sounded weak.
“I know I shouldn’t be here. But that’s okay,” the boy smiled confidently. Richard noticed what a lovely voice he had. It was so soothing, like a mothers caress. Richard wanted nothing more than to curl up in the boy’s calming voice and sleep. “Because I am not here. And you will forget me when I’m gone.” Richard nodded obediently, his mind a blank sheet just waiting to be written on.
Dania grinned. Everything was going to plan. Stop smiling and get the job done, or Macrim will be mad! He straightened his face and began speaking in a sombre voice. “You are Richard Bates, and you will one day be known as the greatest debater in England. But at the moment you are nothing. If you died tomorrow, no-one would remember you. You would be forgotten.”
Richard frowned. “I want to be remembered.” He said simply, his mind reduced to a five-year olds. Simple concepts were all he could fathom now.
Dania leaned forwards, as if confiding a great secret. “Then this is what you must do.” Richard smiled. Anything this boy told him, he would do. And so, in an urgent whisper, Dania explained his plan.
* * *
Richard suddenly woke up. For a brief moment his head felt empty, like a child’s. But the peculiar sensation passed. He looked around, surprised to see he was in a bathroom. Of course. I left the debating room to use the toilet. That’s all. He smiled, feeling happy, and exited the room.
Back in the stuffy debating room, arguments were still going on. Richard sat back down in his seat, still feeling happy. What reason do I have to feel happy? He asked himself. He racked his brain, but found no answer inside. His mind was as blank as paper. As he sat and listened to the raging discussions, a funny little voice spoke up in his head.
Why don’t you suggest an alterative to war: a compromise?
Richard frowned. That’s a stupid idea. Gaddafi is not a man who would accept a compromise. Even through his dismissal, the voice seemed faintly familiar. He found himself waiting for it to speak again.
A compromise would save thousands of lives. It would benefit both sides of the argument. Forgiveness and communication are far better than bloodshed and hatred.
Richard nodded. He couldn’t help agreeing with the voice. It seemed so wise; and it was a lovely voice, anyway, soothing and calming.
I might just do that.
And so, in front of the hundreds of important men and women, he put across his idea. He spoke passionately, with honesty and a fiery hunger for peace that stopped everyone in their tracks. The people in that room turned to his new prospect like flowers to the sun. They asked difficult questions, poking at the weakest pieces of his argument. But Richard Bates answered every counter-argument so brilliantly that even the most stubborn were soon convinced.
Dania stood outside the room, waiting, and watched as everyone filed out of the hot debate room. Had his idea taken root? Had it worked? Soon his questions were answered. The people that came out of that room were decided. Their faces were alight, and they talked together excitedly about the many ways of proposing their compromise. Dania smiled, waiting. Richard was the last one to leave. He shut the door, his back to the sixteen-year old boy. For Dania, it seemed to take forever for the man to turn around.
Richard didn’t look old any longer. Fire burned in his eyes and a newly-found confidence straightened his spine, lifted his chin. A smile was stretched across his face, taking years off his age. He looked like the man he would become – the face Dania had seen in ancient archives. All those old newspapers, emblazoned with the titles, “Bates Has the Solution!” and “Saving the World Again: All in a Day of Richard’s Life”. He would be famous. He would be loved. It was all in his future.
And Dania might’ve just put him on the first step to fame, as well as preventing the war that was to come.
Dania brushed hair out of his eyes and smiled.