Copyright © 2021 Robert Loney
Homeward
All Rights Reserved



Homeward

An excerpt

    

At noontime, while Adam attended classes, three upper-class students from his college undertook an unusual mission. The trio drove into the city stockyards in a pickup truck carrying empty garbage cans and some scoop shovels. They unloaded the containers at a large stall, recently the quarters of several head of livestock but now empty, except for a thick layer of manure covering the floor. This refuse occupied the students' attention. Protected by gloves and rubber boots, they began shovelling the foul slop into the trash cans. The odor soon overpowered them, forcing a retreat some distance to fresher air. After a few minutes' respite, they resumed their labor. Not far away sat two elderly stockyard workmen. While eating their lunch, they observed the activity of the students, two of whom wore university jackets. Between munches on their sandwiches, the workmen conversed. "I wonder what those fellows are up to, Norbert - university types out here shovelling manure into trash cans. 'Tis a queer occupation for such scholarly gents." "Their ways are above me, Lester. I'm a humble man myself and can't rise up to the great sort of thoughts that go on in such educated noggins as theirs. But 'tis hardly the kind of work I'd do if I had any university learning in me." "Perhaps they're undertaking a great scholarly study of some kind. I understand there are scientific reasons for investigating such stuff. They're likely taking specimens." "Could be, but a dozen trash cans of it does seem an uncommonly large amount for such work." "True; but 'tis not for us to question the ways of scholars, humble men that we are. Up with you, Norbert. Let's see if we can assist them. We may never have a chance to help in something like this again." The workmen picked themselves up and made their obsequious way over to the students. "A good afternoon to you, gents," was Lester's hearty greeting. "We don't often see scholars from the university out here. 'Tis a rare privilege, indeed." "Yeah, well it's only a once a year sorta thing - every September," replied one student as he helped load a filled trash can onto the truck. "You've been at it every year, eh? You scholars are a persistent lot and I'm sure it will pay off. Especially as you're taking so much. Perhaps you'd be interested in some different varieties though." Lester thought for a few moments. "Now, we had bologna bulls in this stall you're collecting from here. And over in that stall we had Angus steers. And over there we had Holstein heifers. How be if Norbert and myself fill a few cans with the other types?" "That'd be great," replied a student. "Much obliged." "'Tis no obligation at all. We consider it an honor to be of service. Come along, Norbert; scholarship will not wait on us." After the two men filled each can, Lester attached a label with the name of the appropriate animal. Together, they managed to lift each specimen onto the truck. With five people working on the project, the load was soon complete. One of the students double-checked on the number of filled cans. "Let's see. Three cans wide by four cans deep - that's all twelve." "Such a clever technique!" remarked Lester. "I'd never have thought of it myself. I'd have counted each of them separately. But, that's why you are where you are and I am where I am, I guess." Lester shook hands with each of the three students as they climbed into the truck's cab. "'Tis a pleasure to meet such fine, up-and-coming young men as you gents. I never had the opportunity to go so far myself. I did have a second cousin, on my mother's side, who went to university - that was back in the Old Country. His talk was full of '-isms,' '-ists,' and '-ologies.' I needed a dictionary with me just to carry on a conversation with him. But most of us are lowly folk and not ambitious enough to better our lot." "Yeah, well... them's the breaks," replied one of the scholars. "I won't keep you with any more of my idle chatter," said Lester. "You have much greater things to think about than my humble brain can entertain. I wish you well in your pursuits." The truck's engine started and the three students headed back to the university with their cargo. Five o'clock came and Adam, dressed in clothing he would not mind getting wet, left his room to assemble with his classmates outside the tower. The sophomores were gathering in the passageway. Adam was surprised to see what a prestigious occasion the college made of the event. Hundreds of students lined the terrace around the perimeter of the quadrangle. Faculty members were among them. Adam picked out the provost, the chaplain, and a number of college deans and professors. Another large group of spectators was gathered on the lawns outside the tower. The onlookers were all well-dressed. Many young men were paired off with young ladies. Some upper-class students wore their academic gowns. The crowd, as a whole, looked more like the audience at a convocation ceremony than merely spectators at an initiation event. Inside the quadrangle a prissy-looking fellow dressed in a tuxedo strutted back and forth on the other side of the pedestal. He would declare the official winner. The sophomores set up their defensive position by locking themselves tightly together in several rows, every other person grasping wrists behind the back of the next person in the row. Packed together like restless sardines in a Gothic can, second-year filled the passageway from side to side and thoughout its entire length. Adam could see no possible way through them. The sophomores chanted an obscene class slogan with enthusiasm. They taunted and belittled the freshmen, who started chanting their own even more obscene slogan, trying to drown out the sophomores. First-year gathered themselves close to second-year's front line, ready for the press. An official outside the tower called for everyone's attention and explained the rules of the event. The freshmen would have exactly one minute to force their way through the resisting mass of sophomores and knock over a bucket of water sitting on the pedestal in the center of the quadrangle. Adam had decided that he would try to stay near the outside of the body of freshmen to avoid the ensuing crush. The whole matter sickened him and he wanted to take part as little as possible. As he watched the sophomores and freshmen packed together in their, as yet, separate groups, the words of the provost at the freshman banquet came to mind: "You are here to rub shoulders with scholars." The official had his arm in the air. He dropped it suddenly, a shout went up, and the freshmen threw themselves at the sophomores. Adam stood back a few moments, hesitating to get involved. Water came pouring down from a tower window onto his classmates. He hesitated a few moments longer. Some people in the crowd taunted him to get in and push. Adam was just about to do so when he was drenched by a heavy stream of manure from another tower window. The crowd roared with laughter. He reeled back further, hardly believing what had hit him. The terrible stench made him nauseous and he vomited. Another canful of manure was thrown. It hit the pavement at Adam's feet and splashed up onto his trousers and shirt, already soiled from the first drenching. Desperately he joined in the push, hoping to break through as quickly as possible into the shelter of the passageway and quadrangle. In the frantic turmoil, scholars' shoulders rubbed, sure enough. And scholars' elbows rubbed with scholars' faces, scholars' backs rubbed with scholars' chests, scholars' heads rubbed with scholars' arms. Scholars rubbed indiscriminately with respect to body parts, shoulders or otherwise. Arms, legs, and torsos were all jumbled in the seething melee. Adam pushed harder. All of the freshmen were pushing hysterically as now canful after canful of the manure came raining down upon them. For Adam, the idea of rubbing shoulders with scholars was quickly losing its aesthetic appeal. The minute seemed an hour. Adam was in a stupor. The world had gone insane and nothing could relieve his distress. He just pushed harder, barely sensible anymore to what was happening. The freshmen grew more desperate. They were making no progress against the thick wall of sophomores. The only open space in the passageway was that above the heads of its occupants. To this space some of the freshmen now turned their frantic efforts. One of them drew himself up onto some of his classmates' shoulders and started scrambling across the top of the mass of sophomores. Hands reached up to grab him and pulled him down onto the cobblestones where he remained pinned in the crush of students. Another freshman tried the same tactic. He was pulled down and pinned against the wall. A third tried. He made it over the main body of students but one of the sophomores in the back row tackled him and held him down. More and more freshmen were now scrambling over the top. As more sophomores unlocked their arms to reach up to stop them, they were unable to maintain their resistance to the heavy push still coming from the mass of freshmen outside. The sophomores were slowly losing their ground. First a foot was lost. Half a foot was regained. Two feet were lost. One foot was regained. Two more feet were lost. Then all the sophomore lines broke at once. The freshmen gushed through like a loosened plug shooting from a clogged sewer pipe. One of them outran the pursuing sophomores and knocked over the bucket of water. He became an immediate hero as the official in the tuxedo declared that first year had won with only three seconds remaining in the minute. Top

Story link:

Next excerpt