Suzy Stewart Dubot
Roman Britain – 114 AD
Septimus Varius yawned involuntarily.
The midday sun shone down on the brickyard, unimpeded by clouds. It was at its zenith on this fine summer’s day and there wasn’t the tiniest shift of air to counter-balance the heat. He had been living here in the Provincia Britannia for five years now, but it always surprised him that it could be this hot so far north from his hometown in Italy.
Septimus had just finished his lunch and the small amount of wine he had consumed to wash it down was now making him sleepy.
He looked at the workers carrying out the latest batch of bricks from the kiln and decided to go for a piss. Those working below him, taking his orders, knew what needed to be done and also knew that he would be harsh if the quota wasn’t met by the end of the day. As their supervisor, he often appeared when he was least expected to check up on the work being done. Although he should always stay on the job, there wasn’t anyone around to watch over him. Besides, if he left discreetly, who would know?
With a last look over his shoulder as he passed behind a stack of bricks, he quietly took the path leading down towards the woods. Maybe he would do more than piss, he thought, as the image of the local peasant woman sprang to mind. He had dallied, flirted with her before and it occurred to him that going to relieve himself in the woods was only an excuse to meet her again and to maybe spend an agreeable half hour away from the hot brickyard.
He was convinced that he had slipped away without anyone noticing, but then he hadn’t look back at the shed where Antonius had been standing in the shadows.
The coach had discharged its load of students in the parking lot. The teachers with them were shouting instructions and waving arms to indicate where they needed to group together. There would be twelve in each group with one teacher in charge of it. They were sixteen-year-olds with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, but they shouldn’t need to be told something twice. They weren’t stupid. Some of them were rowdy, albeit in fun, but nonetheless it could be exhausting just getting them to behave and to be quiet.
Mr. Shackleford seemed to have a special talent for getting his group, whoever was in it, to pay attention. It was perhaps the knack he had for making any subject he taught interesting. He injected enough imagination into Maths to have his students wanting to work out the size of the Pyramids and then questioning how they had been built. Somehow he was able to instil enough enthusiasm in them to read about a subject of his choice and then to write about it.
The other teachers looked at his cluster of kids enviously and continued calling for order from theirs. Finally, when each group had been threatened with some form of retribution, the parking lot was once again quiet as the students headed towards the Roman Verulamium museum.
“Just imagine,” said Mr. Shackleford, “that nearly 2000 years ago you came here all the way from Italy where you had modern comforts, and you find yourself having to work in primitive conditions in Britain.”
“Modern comforts?” asked Fred, from one of the other groups. “’course they didn’t have modern comforts that long ago.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Fred. They had all sorts of comforts such as running water in some of the houses, central heating, baths and even toilets with running water.”
“Serious?” said Fred looking surprised.
“Yes,” replied Mr. Shackleford. “You’ll be able to see some of the sophisticated utensils they brought with them, and were finally able to make here.”
“Come this way.”
Mr. Shackleford knew the museum by heart. History was, in fact, his favourite subject which he always managed to incorporate with other subjects to keep his students’ interest.
The museum held intricate Roman floor mosaics that would cost a fortune to have laid today and hand-painted wall plaster which the Romans had so cleverly done to look like marble.
He explained family life and how they had had to adapt to living in Britain with people they had conquered. They had been mighty smart about setting up businesses and towns and then putting the indigenous tribes in charge but under Roman rule. Roman roads were some of the best in the world; so well made that there were still some that could be seen today.
He had saved what he thought was the best for last as the girls oo’d over bone hair clips that were so elaborately carved that it was hard to believe they hadn’t been made in a mould.
“Now this is an interesting piece of graffiti, I think you would call it. People then were no different from us today, and you’ll understand why when you see this...”
He led them towards a showcase where a good portion of a brick was propped up so it could be appreciated to its full value.
“We can learn a lot from this single piece,” he added.
“It’s a brick,” said one of the girls. “Not nearly as good as that perfume bottle over there,” she pointed to another showcase.
“Ah, but look at it closely,” said Mr. Shackleford.
They all pressed nearer to the case and tried to see what was special about the red brick.
“There’s writing on it!” exclaimed the first to see it.
“Not writing on it, so much as in it,” commented their teacher.
“Someone with the initial ‘A’ has signed what they must have carved into a brick before it was fired. It’s written in Latin, so that means ‘A’ had a bit of an education.”
He was standing next to the sign on the window explaining in detail what they were seeing.
“It is quite fascinating. The person who signed has written ‘Septimus sneaks away from work every afternoon’.”
“So they even had skivers back then, Sir?” one of the boys questioned.
“Yes, they had people who shirked their work nearly two thousand years ago. They also had others who told tales on them and used graffiti to do it!”
“That’s hilarious!” said Fred.
“What do you want to bet that Septimus never imagined that centuries later, hundreds and hundreds of people would end up knowing that he sneaked away from his job?”
“Wonder if he got caught?” asked Frank.
“That we’ll never know, unless we find another brick with more of the story,” answered Mr. Shackleford.
Antonius finally hit on a way to be rid of some of his frustrations.
He decided that every time he saw him slink away, he would marked it in a wet brick that was going to be fired. That way it would be fixed in brick forever. With enough of them about, he’d soon be found out. Someone was bound to read it one day, weren’t they?