D’arby left his supervisor’s office feeling more deflated than he thought was possible. He’d felt so well prepared before the meeting. He thought he’d been getting somewhere with his work. Now he felt like a complete loser, someone stuck in a hole that he was making deeper every time he tried to climb out. D’arby couldn’t believe he would ever finish his PhD. Why did he keep trying? There were many good reasons to keep trying – because of what people would say if he gave up, because of what his mother would say, because of what his father would think but not say, because it would be his first big failure, because he didn’t want to have to explain in job interviews what he’d wasted the last couple of years doing. But the real reason was more complicated. It was a mixture of things. D’arby felt he had never been good at finishing things. He had guilty memories of promising projects he’d started but never finished. D’arby didn’t realize it yet, but he was finally learning real perseverance. He also didn’t quite realize that he actually found pleasure in having found a problem that had (so far) out-witted him. He also probably enjoyed the challenge of having a supervisor who he didn’t get along with. It would be a while before D’arby could articulate these reasons though. At that moment he was too busy despairing that there seemed no way out. The older D’arby got, the more he found that life was like that. The things he would most like to change were the hardest – if not impossible – to change.
Before the meeting with his supervisor D’arby was feeling the happiest he’d been for a long time. At last he thought he’d worked out how to get some answers. He thought his work was almost finished. He thought he’d done something good. Then his supervisor told D’arby what he thought about it all. He told D’arby that he’d been wasting time trying to do things that everyone else knew would never work. What D’arby had written was rubbish. He’d proved nothing. D’arby had been wasting time, and he didn’t have much left. Didn’t he know he’d never complete his PhD before his scholarship ran out? What was he doing with his time anyway? D’arby’s supervisor told him to report to him every day and tell him what he wanted to do before he did it, because that was the only way D’arby would ever finish. D’arby had to have some meaningful results to show by that time next week. Then his supervisor finished the meeting with a smile and D’arby tried to give one back.
After the wave of disappointment came the anger, but D’arby didn’t know if he was angry with himself or his supervisor or just the world in general. He realized he needed to ask himself some important questions but was scared of what his answers would be. Was his work crap? Was what he had done wrong? Was it bad supervision or D’arby’s stupidity that had got him into this situation? How could someone with as much potential as D’arby had have got everything so wrong? It was more likely that D’arby was wrong than that his supervisor was wrong though. Or were they both a bit wrong? Or were they both right? Did D’arby really understand his supervisor? Maybe it was just that his supervisor didn’t understand him. D’arby went to sit in the park. After a few minutes of watching the undergraduate students have lunch it occurred to D’arby that he didn’t have to go back into the building. He could just walk away and never return. D’arby was not in the mood for making decisions though. He stared into space and didn’t think anything.
Meanwhile, a man who D’arby hadn’t met yet was running down a nearby street. John was being chased by two police officers on foot and two police cars were trying to cut him off as he ran down laneways, across busy roads and jumped people’s fences. He didn’t even know why they were chasing him, not because he’d never done anything wrong but because he’d done so many things that police didn’t like that he didn’t know which one it was that had made everybody so angry. If he could find somewhere to hide, or make it to a crowded place John would be able to escape capture today. Then he’d sneak off to his sister Emily’s place for a couple of weeks, until things cooled down. His sister lived a quiet, respectable life in a leafy suburb and she had a spare room waiting for him whenever he needed it. She would know he was in trouble when he turned up because he only ever went there when he was in trouble, but she wasn’t allowed to mind because she was his older sister and was supposed to look after him. John never involved his sister when he got arrested. This was not because he wanted to keep her place as a reliable hideout, but because he didn’t want to upset Emily by letting her know what he got up to. She could probably guess, but it was better if she was only able to imagine these things. Seeing them would make everything seem as serious as it really was.
At last John made it to the uni, where he knew many places to hide. John was not very far in front of the police on foot when he made it to a toilet block. One of the cars wasn’t far away either – the siren was very loud. John chose to hide in the female toilets because he was being chased by men. Fortunately the toilets were empty. John went into a cubicle and hoped for the best. There weren’t many other places that John could have gone though and in a couple of minutes he heard the officers announce themselves before coming into the toilet block. John considered trying to push past them but then he noticed the hook on the back of the toilet door. He grabbed it and held himself up so that none of his body was visible above or below the door. Then he gently swung the door open so the officers would be able to see that nobody was sitting on the toilet. Although John was skinny it was an enormous effort for him to be able to hold himself up like that and as soon as the police decided he wasn’t there and walked out John fell to the floor. He was covered with sweat and felt too shaky to walk so he closed the cubicle door and sat there for a while.
When D’arby stood up and walked back to his desk he hoped that somewhere inside himself he really knew what he was doing. He passed John on the way. John had left the toilet block and was heading west. John was jealous when he saw D’arby, who, to John, didn’t seem to have a problem in the world. If D’arby had known what John was thinking maybe he would have tried to explain that being someone whose problems seem insignificant is a problem in itself.