The meeting convened in the Scout hall at exactly 7pm. Having made sure that all the parents had coffee, or tea, or green tea, as per whatever their preference was, Sophie Wilson stood up smiling and clapped for attention.
“All right, so, as you know we’re here to vote on a new leader for our lovely Scout troop.”
“Yay!” said Natalie, pumping her thin fist so her bracelets jingled. Everyone laughed.
“So, we’ve got two candidates who’ve kindly put their hats in the ring, so to speak. Neither of them could be here tonight, but they are Bill, who we all know fairly well, and … Phil, from number 43. Who I’m sure is also very nice.”
“OK, what are their, for want of a better word, policies? What do they each have planned for the troop?” asked Trinh, whose kids attended the Steiner school.
Sophie glanced at her notepad. “Well, they haven’t really said. I mean, I would assume they’re just going to, more or less, keep things as they are.”
“So it’s really going to come down to personality,” said Patrick, who was one of those cool dads.
“Well, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” said Sophie. “I mean, there’s no specific qualification for this job. It’s unique. And character is a big determining factor when it comes to leadership.”
“Fair enough,” said Lachlan, who had come straight from work and was still wearing his visibility jacket and boots.
“So,” said Sophie. “First off, Bill. He’s always seemed like an all right guy. Speaks Chinese, so that’s interesting. He might be able to teach the kids a bit about multiculturalism.”
“Possibly get some Chinese families involved with the troop,” suggested Natalie.
“Absolutely, and then there’s Phil,” said Sophie. “Who I guess is kind of the dark horse in all of this.”
“Phil and I go to the same church,” offered Lachlan. “He’s pretty devout. It might be good for the kids to learn some traditional values.”
Andy frowned. “No offense, of course,” he said. “But this isn’t the most religious neighbourhood anymore. A person whose decision-making is guided by faith may not actually be the best fit.”
“One point is that Phil is very much against gays in the Scout movement,” said Patrick.
“Whereas I think Bill has more or less come around to that,” said Trinh.
“After being against it for like, years. It seemed a bit insincere, the way he changed his mind all of a sudden,” said Natalie.
“Phil’s really said some pretty negative things, actually, about gays in general,” said Andy.
“Indigenous Australians, please,” said Trinh.
There was a long pause. Finally, Andy spoke up.
“Look, there’s something else I’m really uncomfortable with here. Remember how they ganged up on that refugee family?”
“It was like a contest to see who could be the shittiest toward them, “ said Trinh.
“What happened to those people, anyway?” asked Natalie.
“I don’t know, they were just gone one day,” said Patrick.
Sophie exhaled loudly. “It’s weird, because they both seem quite different, but then suddenly they do this really shitty thing, basically behaving identically towards those poor people — ”
“Basically chasing them out — ”
“It seemed kind of racist, right? Like all that rhetoric at the Neighbourhood Watch meeting about crime, and security, and queue jumping — ”
“Like, what queue?”
“They basically called them terrorists.”
“But someone has to lead the troop,” said Sophie. “And nobody else seems to want the job.”
Trinh sighed. “Why does it have to be a male? I mean, Sophie, you’re a born leader. You’d probably do a great job.”
“Look, no offense, but we had a woman Scout leader once before. We all know how that turned out,“ said Lachlan.
“It is, literally, a boy’s club,” offered Natalie.
“OK, so, let’s vote,” Sophie said in her brightest voice. “Please grab a piece of paper off that pile on the table, and I’ve got some pens here if you need one. Andy, do you need one?”
“Look, I think I’m just going to abstain,” said Andy.
Natalie turned to her husband, smiling tightly. “That really doesn’t help. How does that help anyone, honey?”
Andy stared down at his hands. “I know, it’s not the best. But I just don’t like either of them. I don’t trust them, and I don’t think they’re really suitable.”
Andy hated conflict. But when no one contradicted him, he decided to address the room.
“I mean, do either of these guys live by the Scout Code? Are they trustworthy, and courteous, and thrifty, and kind? Will they teach our kids about helping other people at all times? Being conservation-minded?” He swallowed nervously.
“I guess what I’m thinking is, are these candidates really the best our community has to offer? This is a nice neighbourhood, filled with good people, and we’re not perfect, maybe, but shouldn’t you have to at least be an OK person at heart to lead something as important as a Scout troop?”
The adults sat silently in their undersized chairs. Outside, a few of the boys from the troop could be heard riding their bikes in loops around the cul-de-sac. They shouted in voices on the verge of cracking, giddy with speed and freedom from parents.
“Guys, honestly,” said Sophie. “We have to pick one of them. I doubt we’ll vote on anything more important all year.”
Patrick spoke slowly. “You know, we might just give Scouts a miss this term. Will’s actually been talking about changing to martial arts anyhow…”
“Maybe I should abstain too,” said Trinh, avoiding eye contact with Sophie. “Ollie’s sister has ballet on Tuesdays, and I’m just exhausted after driving them both…”
“Andy’s got a point, Soph,” said Lachlan. “I don’t think either of them is responsible, or mature, or prepared enough to lead a Scout troop.”