“Good job today, Arthur.” Miss Clarke patted her student on the head on his way out the door, ruffling his hair a bit. “You’re a very bright young man. I hope you realize that. You can do anything you want in this life.”
Arthur smiled at his teacher and nodded his head in thanks, but the smile faded as he stepped into the hall and pulled the classroom door shut behind him. He had exams in a few days, tennis lessons at the weekend, chores to do at home. The rush of being reminded how clever he was faded quickly into the mess of his responsibilities.
He started towards his locker, but stopped in his tracks as he heard a rough-sounding chuckle next to him. He turned his head to investigate and realized it was the caretaker. He hadn’t even noticed him there, mopping up something that had spilled on the floor. Odd how someone can be so ubiquitous that they fade into the background.
The caretaker – what was his name again? – was grinning at Arthur, his eyes bright with amusement. He jerked his head, beckoning the student to come closer. Curious, Arthur took a few steps toward him.
“They tell you you’re clever, don’t they?” asked the caretaker. He had the sort of gravely voice that comes from a lifetime of heavy smoking. Arthur nodded his head, but didn’t go any closer.
The caretaker lowered his voice. “They tell you how bright you are, how talented, how clever, and in the same breath, they tell you what to do, as though they know better than you.” He chuckled again, and Arthur found himself inching closer to hear what he had to say. “That’s because no matter how clever they know you are, it never occurs to them that you might be cleverer than them.”