School, Flash Fiction.
The applause swelled as I walked slowly toward the podium, my progress halted by the throng around me. As I passed every row, the people on the end, and those further in, stood up and reached across to shake my hand, pat me on the back, touching me almost reverently. The Chairman of the Award Committee continued speaking above the din of applause, I could make out a word here and there……….. “Youngest ever Nobel Prize-winner”…….. “Important breakthrough”………….. “Real end in sight for this disease”…….
Now I had climbed the steps and crossed to the dais, more handshaking, turning to face the sea of faces with the applause slowly dying away, the chairman again, now that he could be heard was saying my name and repeating my achievements….. “Winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, for his work on the synthesis of a genetically engineered treatment for Cancers……. Doctor Daniel Chimba”
The hall was hushed, I cleared my throat,
“Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues…………….Thank you for the honour you do me today, I would like with your permission to take you back to where this all started. To Davis Lane Technology College in Deptford, This was where I first developed an interest in Human Biology, where I first realised that I wanted to be a doctor.”
As I spoke the words I could still see it in my mind, my first day at secondary school. Autumn had come early that year, and all summer the builders had been busy at the Davis Lane School. It had been decided by the council, with the aid of a large Government grant, that the old secondary modern was to be upgraded to a technology college, new classrooms had been built, a new science block equipped, and new teachers employed. Not without local problems, the project had been seen as a source of free building materials and a private security company had to be based on site to stop the steady stream of pilfering that had threatened to stall the work. I had spent a large part of the summer holidays borrowing tools and equipment, good sellers around the estate.
But now the place was open, and this was my first day, at 13 I hadn’t really decided what to do with my life, as with most thirteen-year-olds, Football was the only important thing in my life, coming from Woolwich it was Charlton Athletic and I was one of the most ardent supporters, never afraid to fight for my teams honour.
My first Human Biology lesson was a real eye-opener, the teacher, Mr Weston, was so enthusiastic about his subject, and made it so interesting that I found it impossible not to be swept up and soon found myself top of the class in the subject. It was funny but until now I had never been academic at school, in fact, I preferred to play around, and was always in trouble for disruptive behaviour. But now, with my interest developing, I found myself moving away from my old cronies, as my knowledge increased I needed more mental stimulation, as if a dam to learning had been removed, even joining the group of students that last year I would have despised as Geeks.
In turn, my old friends lost interest in me and I even stopped going to football. I certainly stopped fighting about it. In most of my classes was Sally, a Ghanaian like me, I had known her for years, she lived in the next street, but I had never really paid her much attention. But now I sat next to her at as many lessons as possible, and although I didn’t realise it yet she would be my wife and colleague through all that was to follow. She told me that I had always seemed crude and slightly frightening; I had never considered that others thought of me in that way.
And after not knowing what I wanted to do, I was going to be a Doctor. It was not a question of maybe, I was straight A material and medical schools fought over my application.
My parents noticed the change in me and initially viewed it with some suspicion, my mother was a cleaner and my father worked in a local factory, unskilled immigrants they may have been but they encouraged me to stay on for Sixth form and University, somehow I managed to survive financially, and after the hell of being a junior doctor, I knew that I wanted to spend my career in research.
All these thoughts were in my head as I continued to speak………….. “Mr Brian Weston, who awoke my interest in Human Biology, if it hadn’t have been for him I would not be standing here today. Also all the staff at my research laboratory in Cambridge, they deserve this as much as I do.”
Cambridge, where I ended up working as a research doctor for a large multi-national drug company was such a change from my home in Woolwich, I had chosen to train in London, and had been a junior doctor in city hospitals, so moving to the county had been a real eye opener, had thought that the air smelt “Funny” for ages, not immediately realising that it was the lack of pollution that made it seem so fresh. The relaxed atmosphere in our lab and the team of young, enthusiastic researchers had made progress easy, we were trying to augment plant compounds that were thought to help reduce tumour development, many of them were based on African Tribal remedies and my family background helped in my field trips, it gave me an affinity with tribal healers and leaders. Our Big breakthrough came with a combination of herbal medicines from several West African tribes and the cellular structure of the HIV virus, we used its ability to enter and corrupt healthy cells to deliver the herbal extracts, and destroy the cells ability for a disorganised division. In effect, stopping any mutation in its tracks.
I had just about finished my speech, “So once again thank you, and I feel proud to have been able to help in the fight against disease” I turned to leave the stage.
I could hear my mother’s voice above all the renewed applause “Daniel….. Daniel…. Are you going to stay in bed all day? Have you forgotten, school starts today?
As I walked along Davis Lane toward the school, talking with my mates about football on Saturday, my dream was almost forgotten, by tomorrow it would be replaced with one that had me scoring for Charlton at Wembley. I idly kicked at an old newspaper blowing in the autumn breeze; the headline looked up at me
“SCHOOL DEVELOPMENT PLAN ABANDONED AS CASH RUNS OUT”
I was feeling very political when I wrote this, and I’m still appalled by the waste of potential caused by the education policies of governments and the intransigence of trade unions. The future should be above all that petty squabbling and posturing. For all we know, the answers to everything lie unknown, in the mind of a person failed by the system.