Fiona McMahon knew the man sitting across the table. She had known him since birth. She knew both his mother and father and his many teachers. She had been The Matriarch for two hundred and fifteen years; mother had reigned for four hundred and twenty seven years before that. Her mother knew all the religious and political leaders for twelve generations so the current, supreme, leader of the Iranian people was well known in both body and spirit to The Matriarchy. Fiona spoke softly, “Is my daughter making a nuisance of herself your Eminence?”
The Ayatollah smiled through bright clear eyes. “Your family is always welcome in my land great lady. I am only sorry my family are not behaving so well.”
“The children have to learn before they can grow,” Fiona kept it philosophical. “We can only pray they do not hurt each other.”
“Pain remains – it is the fire in which my people are formed. We are not ready yet for deeper understanding. Please be patient with us Great Lady – we are changing, but we are hampered by simple men.”
“Always you show wisdom and tolerance Lord Ayatollah. The changes are coming from within you country. My daughter will guide your daughters when your people are ready.” A silence followed as Fiona prepared the next step and the Ayatollah waited for her to reveal why she had asked him to meet her here, in the Aravali Mountains of Northern India. “Perhaps you would accompany me Eminence, to join our hostess.” She stood and offered the old man her hand.
Together they passed to another reception room, to an anteroom, and on to the retreat office of the President of India. She was standing, waiting for them, and immediately handed them to sofas around a beautifully inlaid coffee table with delicate white china and piping black coffee. The President sat as they sat and took up her coffee. They followed her lead. “We grow the coffee up here in the rich soil and cool night air,” the President began. “For such fickle plants to grow well conditions have to be near perfect. Have you not experienced that Lord Ayatollah?”
His eyes sparkled at the delightful company and his palate sighed under the smooth coffee. “Indeed Madam President. We must strive for perfect conditions if our produce is to be of fine quality but, long before we plough the land and feed the soil, we must first clear it of weed, of malicious rubbish, of evil intent with deep roots. For that we need long knives with sharp blades.” He returned the coffee cup to his lips.
“In India our roots, too, are long, and not only deep, but wide – far reaching. We cut out a rogue here, and another there, but they return. Cutting and burning seem not the be the way forward – wouldn’t you agree Fiona?”
“To kill a son is to anger a father and mother and brothers and uncles all of whom return to kill. To kill only ensures more killing. To stop the killing we have to inform. Twenty-five hundred years ago Socrates and Plato came to realise that the first responsibility for government is education. After that everything else follows.”
“We are poor nations Fiona. Education falls low on the budget priorities,” the Ayatollah knew the Indian President would support that view. “To motivate our congresses to allocate more to education is to move mountains Great Lady.”
Fiona could see the President agreed with him. She turned to her, “India has made great technological leaps Madam. India has sent a craft to Mars and possesses a communication satellite program rapidly becoming the envy of the world. With that, and the facilities provided by Wikipedia and Google, Microsoft and Oracle and Nexus, you can bring the best educators on the planet to the remotest parts of your country. It does not require acts of congress or shifts in budget allocation – education is, by any other name, defence.” She turned to the Ayatollah. He was startled – fear flashed through his eyes. Turning back to the President she saw another emotion. She saw despair, hopelessness. The President had neither the power of the will.
Fiona waited a moment before offering, “Might it be appropriate for me to withdraw Madam President?” There was agreement. With the elegance and grace of a beautiful woman, yet the humility of a loyal subject, the Matriarch left two world leaders to consider their options.
“The Matriarch has raised this topic with me before,” began the President.
“She has enjoyed a long life,” he added.
“A very long life.”
“She was known to my ancestors,” he was probing.
“She was there when the first priests were chosen. As a child she was there more than three hundred years ago.”
“Do you know what are her most pressing needs?”
“Protection would be high on the list. She has many enemies.”
“For her and her daughter.”
“Oh, yes. We must do all we can to protect them both.” The President stood.