The woman handed her son the egg. “Now take care and carry it over the hill to the poor people on the other side.” she said.

“Yes, Mother.” The boy cradled his hands carefully, taking the egg with great delicacy. He walked out of the door with a look of determination to fulfill his important mission as his mother smiled proudly.

It was a hot day, the hill was steep and the boy was glad to reach a level shelf of land. He sat down in the shade of an old ruin. Nearby, some other boys were shouting and playing. The boy stared enviously at them, looked up at the hill and wondered. The other boys waved and beckoned to him, so he got up and walked towards them.

“Wanna play?” one asked.

“Yeah, but…” the boy’s voice trailed off as he looked at the egg.

“Oh, you don’t need that”, grinned the other lad.

The boy stood, frozen in a moment as the others looked on, inviting and impatient. Then he decided, turned, and not caring to think, hurled the egg at the wall of the ruin. The other boys cheered as he ran over to join them.

When he got home much later, he was dusty, tired, and very worried about what might be said about the egg. His mother fussed about his clothes but hugged and praised him for doing so well. The boy was mightily relieved and smiled a secret smile. When his father came home, the boy’s mother proudly told of the boy’s achievement. The father put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and looked deep into the boy’s eyes.

“You walked all that way?” he asked.

The boy quaked inside but, emboldened by his success so far, held his ground and looked straight back. “Yes, father.” he said, as innocently as he could.

His father frowned, but congratulated the boy on his determination and effort. The boy turned away, both troubled and exultant.

In the following days, the mother gave the boy more eggs and he went up the hill to meet his friends and play. Smashing the egg was turned into a ritual game and sometimes a mock debate would be held as to whether the boy should continue with his mission, but the result was always the same: the egg would be thrown against the wall and cheers would precede play. And nobody thought about the people on the other side of the hill.

Sometimes his friends would not be there, but he still smashed the egg and either sat morosely (for he could not go home) or went for a walk by himself. When he asked them on other days why they did not come or did not tell him, they just laughed and told him that they did not always feel like playing with him.

It was on one of those walks, not long after setting out, that he turned a corner and bumped into his parents coming the other way. After the initial shock and some very quick thinking, he blurted out an excuse.

“Er, hello, um, I, ah, got lost.”

“But you have carried eggs over the hill many times.” said his mother, her brow furrowing in puzzled concern.

“Ah, I fell over and it broke. I banged my head and got dizzy, which is why I got lost!” he said, recovering his wits.

“Where? Let me see.” asked his mother, concerned.

“No! Don’t touch! It hurts.” The boy stepped back, hand to his head. “I’ve got a headache. I want to go home.”

His father’s eyes narrowed. “Let’s go by the hill path.” he said.

The boy tried to argue, using every emotional lever he could, but it was no good. His father even offered to carry him, but he refused this indignity and trailed reluctantly behind.

When they came to the old ruins, his parents stopped, shocked beyond belief at the sight of the wall where a fresh patch of egg yolk glistened in the sun and the floor was littered with the shells of many eggs.

“This is nothing to do with me!” the boy said, indignantly, “I go another way. I’ve never seen this before.”

And as they all stood there, perchance one of the boy’s friends dashed past.

“Hi!” sang the friend, “Can’t play today. My, you got the wall in a new place–good egging!” Finally, the friend noticed the boy’s horrified look and the shocked parents, and sped up, disappearing around the corner with a giggle.

Cornered at last, the boy knew that confession was his only way out.

“It was me. I’m sorry.” he said.

And as his mother wept. His father spoke.

“You were given an important task, to help other people.” he said. “And you have deliberately chosen not to complete that task. You have strayed from the path without consideration for those you have betrayed.”

“I’m sorry,” said the boy, earnestly, “I won’t do it again.”

“Trust is like a delicate egg,” said his father, stooping to gather a handful of shell remains. “Once broken, it cannot easily be repaired.”

And as realization began to dawn on the boy’s face, the father pointed at the mass of broken shells of the floor. “And you have been trusted many times, and many times have you broken that trust, and many times have you dashed the hopes of people you do not know.”

As the father looked from the shells to the boy to the continued path up the hill, the boy tried one more ploy.

“But I was scared! I knew you would be cross. I didn’t dare say.” he faltered.

The father looked at the wall, glazed and glistening in the lowering sunlight, and he looked at his son with contempt and pity.

“Like the yellow on this wall, you cannot hide what you have done, and seeking to blame others for your own misdeeds is a terrible and cowardly act.” he said, gravely.

And the boy sunk to the ground, weeping deep tears of remorse as at last he could no longer hide and the enormity of what he had done and the weight of responsibility struck home with full force.

“I just wanted people to like me.” he sobbed.

His parents sat either side of him and his mother put her arm around him, but it was no longer a refuge. His father spoke, gently and firmly.

“To live in this world with respect from others is not without serious cost. You are judged first and last by your actions.” he said. “The price of respect is integrity, and the cost of betrayal is too great to countenance. Integrity is not a whim but a deep and impenetrable determination to do the right thing, every time, even when nobody else is there. You are always present and integrity is the only route to respecting yourself. It is about who you are, through sun and storm. It is the inviolable rules that you choose for yourself.”

And as his parents stood up and walked back down the hill, the boy chose. Shaking and sobbing in remorse and determination, he started to pick up the pieces of eggshell, one by one.

***

 ~by David Straker~

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may your path be that of integrity

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