The Student and the Basket-Maker

by Adam Acidophilus

In a far, far corner of an ancient nation — close to a forest of willow trees — there lay an isolated village. And though their fields were rich with crops, and their trees abundant in wicker, the villagers were poor — for they were not working quite hard enough.

And there stood in this village a basket-making hut, whose old basket-making owner was richer than the rest of them — who was numerate, and literate, and taught the village children, who came to his classes and wove him little baskets as they learned.

And it came to his attention that one of these children — a girl of almost marriageable age — was brighter and quicker and cleverer than the rest. Soon, her talents had quite exhausted the old basket-maker’s knowledge, and he decided to take up the matter with her parents.

“Now listen,” he told them, “your girl is very bright. She is certainly more intelligent than I. She shows a facility with numbers, an aptitude for language, and a hunger for the scientific which is beyond me. You should, you must, you are obliged to send your daughter to university …

“For in the university her mind shall be developed. She shall be nourished and rewarded with great thoughts. With an education we are scarcely smart enough to dream of — she could achieve great things for herself, and for this village.”

“The university! The university! That’s the place!” agreed the parents, as they raided their hiding place and fetched their meagre savings.

And when it transpired that that was not enough, the other villagers raided their hiding places too. And soon a little pyramid of coins had formed at the basket-makers’s feet.

The girl was summoned, and dispatched with great rejoicing, and began her epic journey to university.

After some months had passed the university gave pause — for its labours were so great that it had to rest. And the girl, though tired from her lectures and her reading and her essays — returned to her village to tell the people of this higher education.

“What have you learned? What have you learned?” the villagers gabbled around her. “While we have been farming and basket-making?”

“Well … ” said the girl, lighting a cigarette. “I’ll tell you one thing: there’s no such person as God. There are no gods of any description at all. So you can forget about praying, or obeying the scriptures, or enjoying an afterlife one day — because people, it ain’t gonna happen!”

Well, some of the villagers were rather surprised, a few were actually quite cross, but the parents and the basket-maker were impressed.

“We had always suspected this,” they told her. “And we’re glad to see that education paying off. That said, you’d better spend the rest of your vacation back at college.”

The girl returned to university forthwith, and was the talk of the district with her college and her cigarettes and total lack of any religious faith.

Now, after some further months had passed the university gave a second pause — for its labours were so unimaginably arduous that one was not enough. And so, again, the girl who the village had sent to university returned to spend a few days at home, and share a little of her learning.

“What have you learned? What have you learned?” the people gabbled around her. “And it better not be as Earth-shattering as the last revelation.”

“Well … ” said the girl, lighting another cigarette and jangling her many piercings. “You may be interested to hear that war is unavoidable. It is fundamental to human nature — and, if anything, technological progress is going make things even worse in the future. So you can forget about international conferences or diplomatic safeguards. And you can forget about world peace — because people, it ain’t gonna happen!”

Well, some of the villagers were rather upset, they had always hoped for peace, and they didn’t understand how any student could be quite so sure it wouldn’t happen. Of course, the fact that there was no afterlife for anyone who did get killed in a war — and the sight of her piercings — made it somehow worse.

“We already knew that!” chuckled the basket-maker and her parents to the girl. “But we thought we’d keep it to ourselves. You’d better go back to college now. No point in upsetting everybody.”

The summer was hot. The harvest was heavy. The people of the village endured — as they picked and they plucked, and they cut and they stacked, and made baskets at every opportunity.

And the girl, too, struggled and suffered as she underwent the torment of exams, and the weighty obligation of end-of-term gatherings and academic rituals.

But still she found, when all was done, the time to journey home and illuminate her people with a little of the light that had fallen on her.

“What have you learned? What have you learned? What have you learned?” they gabbled — for their imaginations and vocabularies had shrivelled with exhaustion.

“Well, you’re not going to like this,” she said, “but I’m afraid that you will never be rich. In fact, if anything, your glory days are over. The world’s economic system works on the basis that people like you get nothing — but merely service the fortunes of the industrialised super rich. And, as their fortunes increase, so do their appetites!

“Of course,” she continued, “the environmental damage created by this elite will do for them in the end — but it’ll do for the rest of us as well!”

And she then revealed a small tattoo — which supposedly had something to do with the environment.

“So you can forget about a public water supply,“ she told them. “Or improved health care and waterproof homes, or shorter working hours, or real political power — because people, it ain’t gonna happen!”

Well, the people of the village were completely unsurprised. They had suspected as much all along.

“It is common knowledge,” the basket-maker agreed with her. “All the same, when you put it that way, there is little point in continuing your education. I have bought your debt from the village. You will report to the workshop at dawn.”

Moral: Perhaps it is gonna happen?

© Adam Acidophilus 2015