The brass handle on the dark wooden door clicked softly in to place. She walked slowly to the large desk and smiled at the elderly gentleman standing behind it. He offered his hand and said, ‘hello’. She handed a file to him, which he opened and read. He smiled as he did so, occasionally raising an eyebrow. After a few minutes he closed it, placed it back on the desk, and stared at it intently. The silence of the ancient room enclosed her, the soft tock of the clock, the quiet oppression of the wood paneled walls, the smell of old stone. She glanced through the large window and watched the branches shifting gently in the wind.
He looked up and stared back at her, ‘this is marvelous’, he said.
‘It’s amazing news, isn’t it? To think every strain gone, years of research…’
‘Yes’, he cut through her enthusiasm, ‘indeed.’ He walked to the window, ‘that’s rather the problem, isn’t it?’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘For many years now the people of this country have striven to bake cupcakes, spend their Sunday afternoons running cheered on by friends and family – all to fund the research. They’ve shared common loss, common joy – call it war time mentality. Now, with the common enemy gone… you’re an intelligent woman, I’m sure you see my point’. He walked back to the desk, sat and stared at her confused face, ‘think of your own job. What of your own future?’
‘What of the common good?’, she stammered.
He steepled his fingers, ‘the common good comes from having a common aim, from the belief that one person can save world by baking a cake. You are destroying the hopes and dreams of a nation – the dream of finding a cure.’
Shocked she shouted back, ‘but we’ve found it!’
Ignoring her, he slowly opened the top drawer of his desk and passed her a blue file. ‘In there you will find details of a new strain that is going to be discovered in Kenya any day now. It will take a few months before the first cases are reported and possibly early next year before it takes a serious hold. This strain is considerably more complex and, I’m sure, will pose a greater challenge. I suggest that you take a holiday to relax before you get back to work, or maybe bake some cupcakes? Do a fun run?’