Beyond the dirty window, the field seemed a smooth, green velvet, tantalising and out of reach.
It had rained that morning, and sixteen year-old Nick could imagine the sweet smell of wet earth, the moist heat as the sun dried the blades one by one.
“Am I boring you, Mr. Renshaw?”
Nick’s head snapped forwards and his eyes dropped to the desk as his teacher glared at him, tapping a pen against the scarred wooden surface.
“I don’t do this for my benefit,” the teacher said wearily. “This is your future we’re talking about. Now, how many GCSEs are you predicted to pass?”
Nick shrugged. School had never interested him much. He’d tolerated a few subjects, but there was only one that he’d really enjoyed.
“Five, maybe six?”
“Hmm, any interest in further education at college? They have some good courses you could sign up for: bricklaying, painting and decorating. How about plumbing? They make more money than teachers these days.”
The teacher passed Nick a glossy brochure about classes at the local adult education centre, then flicked through some other leaflets about opportunities for school-leavers.
“Have you thought about enlisting? The Army or Navy could be a good career for a fit young lad like you?”
Nick shook his head.
“I’ve get a job lined up, sir.”
“Really?” The teacher gave a tentative smile. “Doing what?”
“Mark Warren’s father gave us a job in his paint factory.”
The teacher closed Nick’s file and smacked his hand on top of it.
“Excellent! Well, that’s you sorted then.” He paused for a moment, as if at war with himself. “But if you had the choice, what would you want to do?”
Nick hesitated, wondering if he wanted to share his dream. Not that it mattered. Not that it would make a difference.
“I want to play rugby, sir. Professionally.”
The teacher smiled.
“Of course! You’re our school’s star centre forward!”
“Fullback,” Nick murmured, but the teacher didn’t hear him and smiled benevolently.
“Ask any young boy what they want to be and it’s either football player or pop star,” and he laughed. “I’m glad to hear you’re a little more original than that.” He leaned forward, a paternal expression that seemed sorrowful to be the trampler of dreams. “You know it’s not a realistic proposition, don’t you?” the teacher continued. “Best concentrate on working hard and keeping your nose clean. In fifty years, you can retire with a good pension.”
The teacher hesitated again as if regretting his own advice.
“And of course, you can always go back into education at any time. Don’t forget about night school.”
“Yes, sir,” said Nick, ready to leave that stuffy office.
He stood quickly, and shaking hands.
“Good luck, Mr. Renshaw,” said the teacher, opening the next file on his large pile.
“Thank you, sir.”
Nick took one long, last look out of the window, then walked out of the room, closing the door behind him.