Iron on rock screeched across Jude’s school yard. Children covered their ears while Father Ryan closed both eyes. He pause and waited. Opening his eyes, he moved towards the noise. Beyond the window the limb of a machine pushed elbow like into the earth. He couldn’t help but watch the mechanical beast work. It was like spying on some new kind of species in the schoolyard, foreign and transfixing, the new yellow machine responded to commands with a fluidity rarely seen at Jude’s.
Pulling a bucketful of clay upwards, the digger extended a giant arm, swivelled and swung towards the outer walls of the school. Ryan saw it turn, open its jaws and dump clay on a growing mound. Scraws upon scraws, the mound grew while small stones rolled to the bottom and well beyond its edge. The students here may not well have the same response level as that digger, Ryan thought to himself, but something was certainly changing.
Momentum was gathering of late. Even Ryan was standing a little taller and straighter. Increasingly aware of time, he could recently be seen striding across the city streets with measured intent. “The school must grow” was etched mantra like in his thoughts and his visage had set into that of man with a singular goal in mind. “The school must grow.” And now that funding and planning were both in place, Ryan resolved that the whole business would be completed by Christmas. Time was pressing and another year could not pass without the turning of the key in his new flagship building.
Sounds of earth being suctioned away from itself had filled the air since digging first began. Garden crusts untouched for almost 90 years gave out as machines ruptured the lawns. Since then teaching at Jude’s was even more toilsome than before. Penetrating the mind of a Jude student on a good day was a big ask, on a noisy day filled with machines, shouting and digging, it was a dead loss.
At lunch time the children stuck themselves to the wire fence erected on the perimeter of the building site. Ryan often joined them under the pretence of supervision when in fact, he too was mesmerised by the progress being made. Each day veins of rock and clay were extracted layer by layer leaving a skeleton of old foundations exposed to the world. Muscle was being pulled from bone.
The grounds of the institution had been undisturbed since the building of St Jude’s at the start of the last century. Originally an orphanage and later a school, it was one of the few remaining religious properties to withstand the boom of the last 15 years. True to its name, Jude’s was seen as a lost cause and not worth bothering with by local or national property developers.
Encased in its own dark, foreboding aura epitomised by peaking gothic windows, the school easily dispelled any passing interest in the site. Perhaps it was the steep drive up to it that dampened the appetite of any possible investor. The skeletal long since dead Elms lining the avenue, suggested a sinister past where death slept but which could sidle up beside you should you linger too long.
Given all that had happened in the last 20 years, it was a wonder the grounds had not been confiscated by the state. There had been fears of forced sales at one point. All of that seemed unlikely now. Ryan learned from whispering inspectors and judges that the state was more interested in leaving the past to the church than confiscating its property, allowing him to work on expanding the facilities at Jude’s.
The whole disruption would be worth it. With a bit of luck and a spell of dry weather the new building would fly up. The children, currently being schooled under the damp high ceilings of old orphanage dorms, would soon move into the Ryan Building as he liked to think of it .Ryan had worked alone in the expansion project and was delighted to think that the fruits of his funding campaigns, chats with the bishop and school board and late night letter writing sessions to the local political elite would become manifest in concrete by Christmas.
The Ryan wing would house Jude students in what would be the most technologically advanced school in the district: Jude’s would pioneer the seamless join between student and IPad. IRyan he thought smiling and affording the indulgence. Who was to know of such minor flirtations with his ego? after all, he would confess and all would be forgiven. Surely dedicating his life to lost causes allowed brief lapses in modesty once in a while? He was just a man after all and others had done worse, much worse.