The following night, we all sat around one of the dining tables, hungry and tired from the journey.
The professor agreed to roast a turkey, which he had stored in his makeshift cooler. While Amalia and Bartholomew set the table, Rahil took his turn steering the house, until dinner was completed.
I decided to begin talking to Amalia, Bartholomew and Rahil more inclusively, my purpose being to reinforce the professor’s peculiar story, the reason for its creation still unclear in my mind.
“The turkey is almost finished. Could one of you please call the Indian fellow?” The professor requested as he donned his mittens.
“His name is Rahil.” Amalia uttered as she head out to call Rahil.
“Tell me, Bartholomew, about this Rahil fellow.”-The professor asked, as he removed the turkey from the fire.
“He’s a fine fellow, indeed.”
Bartholomew leaned on the cupboard and took a sip of tea.
“A little rough around the edges, but I believe he will in time, mature. I see true potential in him.”
Bartholomew then pointed in the direction of the chair in which I sat.
“What about your friend there?” Bartholomew jested.
“Oh, you mean Augustine?”
The professor quickly gazed back at the direction in which I sat.
“He’s, ok. His predicament is a bit annoying. Since the incident he has used it to his benefit, but other than that he’s ok.”
I was a bit deflated by that comment but was quick to attribute it as part of his make believe story.
Rahil and Amalia entered and sat at the dining table, with Rahil sitting next to me.
Bartholomew replaced his cup of tea and then sat down next to Amalia. At last the professor presented the turkey after examining it one last time.
“Now, here we have the infamous ‘Land of the Forgotten’ turkey dish, with a side of… nothing.”
The professor sarcastically smirked, as he put the turkey in the middle of the table, and took his place at its head, tossing his mittens across the room.
There was a moment of silence as everyone began to eat. I did not feel the urge to eat. I haven’t since birth, but I ate in order to appear polite.
“So, Griffin, when did you meet your accomplice?” Amalia inquired.
The professor looked down at his food, continuing to eat, refusing to make eye contact.
It took a few moments, but he finally replied, “Well, he stumbled across me, one day, and told me…”
The professor looked up at the celling as if he were reminiscing. “…That he was the nephew of the son whose father was the brother which had ancestral ties to the founders.”
The professor returned his gaze upon his meal continuing to eat, while everyone started at him in confusion.
“Founder of what?” Bartholomew asked.
“Why the founders of the Athenaeum,” the professor exclaimed.
“The family?” Rahil intervened.
“You did your research I see.” The professor smugly replied to Rahil.
“Ok, then what?” Amalia continued to question.
“Well,” the professor stopped for a moment, then turned his gaze in my direction. “Why don’t you tell them, young Augustine?”
The professor held eye contact with me, whilst drinking his cup of liquor.
I put down my fork and knife and tried concentrating so everyone could hear me.
“Um, the professor and I, met not so long ago, a few months has past I’d say. He came to me, after my mother was driven insane by an entity. I was lost and didn’t know where I was going. So, I stumbled onto him, in the library. He saw me, seeing perhaps, what others did not.”
I gazed back at the professor, hoping to find a sense of confirmation on his face. Squinting his eyes he was trying to determine where I was going with my story.
“He saw me as someone broken, someone who was searching for truth, so he approached me with open arms and took me in, no questions asked”
Once again, I searched the professor’s face but I found it impossible to deduce what was going through his mind.
It was as if there was a brick wall behind his face, with only a few windows through which emotions could prevail, those windows being his eyes, which seemed to search, for something, but what? This I could never uncover, for the windows in the wall were too cramped for me to discern what was on the other side.
“Something like that, yes.” The professor moved his gaze at the crew with a false smile.
“You know, you are a lucky boy Augustine. I would never think for a million seasons that Griffin ‘the alchemist’ would ever agree to teach an apprentice. Especially a lad! Bartholomew replied in mirth.
I was entirely weary with their diminutive view of me.
“I am no lad, kind sir. For I am 17 years of age. Thank you very much.” I arrogantly countered. As Amalia and Bartholomew trying in vain to hold back their laughter, Rahil began to chuckle.
“Have you taught him pride too?” -Rahil jested.
“No, he already had that one by the time we met”
The professor grinned at me as Bartholomew and Amalia joined in with Rahil laughing profusely.
“He really has changed.” Amalia uttered with a sigh, referring to the professor.
“Surprisingly yes. Oh, you should have seen him the first time we met.”
Bartholomew turned to me and uttered. “You remember Amalia, when they sent us out to get him!”
“That was quite the sight.” Amalia verified, as she took a sip of water.
“Amalia and I, had known each other since the halls of ivy. Our families also worked together, oh, for the longest time, so, after we finished our education, we were teamed together, but since we needed someone to lead the crew, we had much to learn. The council recommended us to this alchemist, which had an incredible reputation. The problem, according to them, he insisted on working alone, and getting him to guide us would be an utter nightmare, which of course, they were right.”
The crew laughed as Bartholomew rambled on and rose to put his plate in the sink. Even the professor had a faint smile which he so desperately tried to suppress.
“Well, they didn’t give us an exact location as to where he could be found. They could only give us an approximate whereabouts, which was the last place he had checked in with them. It took us six days to find his house. When we did, it was well… “
Amalia jumped in and continued. “Baffling. It was quite baffling. It wasn’t as drastic as it is now, but it did have a few houses growing on top it. I turned to Bartholomew attempting to persuade him not to pursue this, but he insisted we at least try. So, I gave in and we knocked on the door. The first thing we heard…”
Amalia burst out in laughter and was joined by Bartholomew who leaned against the cupboard, finishing his, now cold, tea.
“Why don’t you tell him?”
Amalia turned to the professor and nagged him to repeat his words.
“No, no…” The professor negated, as he cracked into a smile.
“Oh, c’mon Griffin! Tell the lad what you said!”
As Amalia persisted, the professor finally gave into her tenacity.
“Fine, but the only reason I am repeating these words is to rid myself of your annoyance. The professor said, irritation clearly lacing his words.
“But you have to say it the same way you said it!”
Amalia then turned my direction and attempted to draw me into the conversation.
“Ok, so imagine this, you are in search of a leader who will guide you through the mystical realms, teach you of entities and the many cryptic artifacts, and this is what you hear when you knock on his door”.
Amalia nodded to the professor.
The professor exhaled and then answered.
“Piss off vazeys.”
The entire crew was rolling in laughter, including me.
The professor barely smirked and crossed his arms, as everyone laughed.
“It’s not in the slightest humorous.”
“That was the first time I had truly ‘died of laughter.’
As I looked around, and saw Rahil, Amalia, Bartholomew, even the professor desperately attempting not to smile. I felt warm inside.
I remember watching a family as they sat by a fireplace, all laughing and telling jokes on Christmas Eve. I tried desperately to act as if I was a part of their family. I laughed at their jokes even adding a few jokes of my own, except no one replied. I could never fill that gaping hole which had been mine since birth, but now it was different. It was as if an empty place inside my soul was filled. I could finally smile a genuine smile. I could even go as far as to say, I felt happy. I felt embraced and wanted this feeling to last for forever.
“In short, it was a battle, but a battle which we had won. We got him to guide us through many journeys and adventures which we shall truly never forget.”
As soon as Bartholomew had said this the smiles and laughter dissipated. I gazed back at the professor, and it seemed as though he, at last, had suppressed a smile. There was a dreading silence that had filled the old and musty dining room. A silence which I had truly regretted.
At last Rahil broke the silence and said, “Well, I don’t know about you all, but I am as tired as I can be.”
Rahil then stood up, put his dish in the sink, and exited the dining room. –
“Good night folks,” he uttered.
Behind him followed Bartholomew, who put his empty cup into the sink, and also headed out.
“Good night Amalia, Griffin.”
Bartholomew nodded to the professor and headed towards the exit. “Oh, Augustine, I didn’t see you there. Goodnight.” He snickered and winked in my direction, then headed to his room.
Amalia was the last to get up and put her dish in the sink. She was dispirited, her mood completely altered from what it was a moment ago. Her face registered sadness and regret.
Opening the wooden barrel, which had rested next to the cupboards, she filled a bucket with water then poured it into the sink.
“I will clean the dishes, Amalia. You go ahead and rest,” the professor offered.
“It’s ok, I’ll do it,” Amalia responded flatly.
The professor, quite irritated, exhaled and rose up from his seat to confront her.
“First things first.”
The professor slammed his staff onto the sink. “In ‘my’ house, we do it ‘my’ way. That means when I say, do not wash the dishes, you do not wash the bloody dishes.”
Amalia sighed in exhaustion, as she began to jabber.
“I just didn’t want to elude…”
The professor once more exhaled and he interrupted her.
“Goodnight Amalia. Sweat dreams,” the professor commanded, sardonically.
Amalia looked up at him, irritated, but too tired to retaliate. She made her way out of the dining room, with her head held low.
The professor returned his staff into a minuscule twig and stuffed it in his long black coat. He then gazed in my direction and sat in the chair across me.
Drained and depleted of any joy, he began to adjust his black marble button, which was holding his dirt-brown vest tight.
“You know, young Augustine. I sometimes do admire your predicament.”
He had lifted his gaze in my direction, as if he were searching for something. It was something which I could never deduce.
After some time, he took a deep breath and uttered,
“Goodnight,” the professor rose from his chair and exited the dining room.
I was all alone, sitting in the dining room with half eaten turkey on my plate. A grave feeling of loneliness had overtaken me, as if flames of oblivion were threatening to engulf me.
While I felt a great deal of pain and loneliness, I tried to focus on the positive side. I had felt joy this day, joy which I would hold dear for the rest of my life. I told myself “Hold joy the closest. You never know when you might run out.”