Bekka continued, “I managed to pass my GCSE’s, but then had to leave school to start earning and contributing to the family purse. I worked in a shop for a while but hated every moment of it. I couldn’t get the story out of my mind. It was as if it was tugging at me, pulling me in a direction I had never considered before. My best friend had accepted Jesus into her life some months before, after a church camp weekend which I had not been able to attend. We chatted a lot about what had been said at the camp. I think this was the final push towards God that I needed. I asked Jesus into my life.
“Almost at once I saw an advert in the local paper for a kennel maid at the local kennels. They needed someone to look after dogs, cats and birds. I had no qualifications but applied anyway. This sounded like my dream job. The owner of the kennel was reluctant because I had not passed any exams, but I begged her to let me work in my free time.
“I was there every moment I could spare. Even at times when I should have been somewhere else! After a couple of weeks, once the owner had seen how I enjoyed working with the animals and how they responded to me, she offered me the job. That was twenty years ago. I’ve never stopped my hands-on work with the animals. I now have oversight of ten kennel maids, men and women. The owner has invited me to consider the possibility of a partnership. She is nearing retirement and she wants to play a lesser role in the business. It will mean I have to save every penny I earn. In fact, this weekend is a ‘last fling’ for me, but the Class of 1990 was so special I just had to be a part of it.
“I am very keen to accept the partnership. I have some ideas to bring the kennels into the 21st century, and can’t wait to try them out. Perhaps one day, I’ll be able to afford to buy the owner out. I would love to turn the kennels into a sanctuary for sick and injured animals, and perhaps convert it into a place where children can come and experience for themselves the wonder of creation in the animal world. It’s an idea which makes my heart race.
“My relationship with Jesus has opened doors for me and helped me to overcome challenges I never thought I would have to face. I love working with the animals and staff. I’m still a bit of a loner, but have learnt a few people skills during the course of my work.”
Bekka laughed, “I even have a flatmate now. Sharing the rent means I can save a bit more every month.”
She looked across at Dean and smiled.
“I wonder where I would be if I hadn’t attended your class that day and heard about the tapir’s story. I am so glad I was able to be here this weekend and thank you in person, Dean. Your teaching gave me courage and direction and I’ve never looked back.”
She got up and walked across the room, giving Dean a clumsy hug.
“Thank you. I will always be grateful to you.
Dean was surprised at the emotion he was feeling.
He thought it was time for him to say something. People were watching him, waiting. He cleared his throat.
“I had no idea,” he said. “The classes were just additional lessons to me. I felt uncomfortable teaching them. I couldn’t understand why the numbers kept growing. I’m glad you all enjoyed them, and I’m looking forward to hearing more of your stories. I see what you mean by being influenced by them. Perhaps if my life had turned out differently they may have changed my thinking too.”
He paused, trying to clear his mind of unpleasant thoughts, then rushed on before anyone could say anything or ask any questions.
“But now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I must go to bed. It’s after ten and I’ve had a long day. I’m not as young as all of you!”
People moved towards him to say goodnight and thank him for coming. Once again Simon accompanied him to the door of his room.
“I’m fine, Simon, don’t worry about me. I’ll manage from here. It’s been an extraordinary evening. Thank you.”
“I’m so glad you could make it, Dean. Goodnight. Sleep well.”
Once again Dean sighed with relief as Simon walked away. He was not used to being with crowds of people anymore and had found it rather tiring. But now, at last, he could be alone. He went into his room and rang through to the bar.
“Please send me a double scotch and water, easy on the ice. Room 120. The door’s unlocked. Please ask the waiter to come in and bring my drink to me out on the terrace.”
Dean opened the French doors and went outside. To his relief, it had stopped raining. The sun had set about half an hour ago, but there was still a golden glow. It was not quite dark yet. He sucked in the cool night air, feeling it course through his body. Under the small thatched gazebo, the chairs were dry. He lit a cigarette, inhaling the smoke with relief. There was a discreet knock as the bedroom door opened and the waiter came straight through to the terrace. The man put a tray with a glass of scotch, a jug of water and a small bucket of ice on the table.
“Is there anything else, sir?” he asked.
“No, thank you. Please add this to my tab.”
“Right you are, sir.”
Dean signed the slip and raised his hand in farewell as the waiter turned to go. Pouring a small amount of water into his scotch, he sipped it slowly, his mind whirling with the evening’s events. It was truly remarkable, the stories those two had told, and the way they had been influenced by them. Truly remarkable