“Miss, Adam won’t join in,” Sarah called in a whining tone over the din of the classroom. She looked disdainfully over at the silent boy sat staring at the wall, seemingly oblivious to the activity around him. Although he appeared to be one of them – in the same red uniform, on the same hard orange chairs and with the same childish features – Adam was far from the average Year Two pupil.
When he first came to Saltford Primary Adam was the same as all the others around him, he played and learnt equally, but it soon became apparent to his teachers and fellow pupils that he was learning faster than the others did. At first the teachers encouraged Adam, giving him extra and harder work to keep him as driven as he was. But when he began to reject the other children because they didn’t understand him and to sit reading on the playground instead of playing, they became worried and stopped providing him with challenging work; trying to ‘make him normal again’.
Their plan seemed to have the reverse of the desired effect and Adam became more secluded. By now the teachers, who were not very motivated in their low paid jobs, just left him alone, only bothering to acknowledge the ‘strange little boy’ when absolutely necessary, preferring to just pretend he wasn’t there.
It was this blatant refusal to acknowledge him that made Adam so frustrated with his school and the people in it. The teachers seemed to underestimate him and his abilities by making him perform the same menial tasks as these lesser creatures. But he never lost his passion for learning. The little boy would sit for hours at the public library, the only place where he felt at ease, making his friends in the authors and living his life in other worlds.
Adam felt that the only people who could possibly understand him were the great geniuses of the past – Shakespeare, Einstein, Mozart – and so he tried to be as like them as possible. He wrote poetry in his spare time, as well as painting, and learning to play seventeen instruments. His parents funded these ‘phases’ as they called them and were very proud of the way he seemed to master almost any task, but they did not know just how intelligent Adam was and so left him to his own devices.
Because of the lack of support and challenge in his life Adam became a very angry child. However, he never did anything about it, keeping his anger bottled up inside, the pressure building ready to fly out at any moment like a cork popping out of a bottle of champagne. By the time Adam reached Year Two, the pressure just needed a slight push to explode, and that push came on that bleak Tuesday afternoon in early March when the children in 2LH had been set some group work on simple multiplication.
Adam had already progressed in maths as far as he could at the library and so felt no need to participate in putting the right questions with answers to create a ‘pretty pattern’. After Sarah’s complaint, Mrs Healy sighed and stepped around the small children to crouch down in front of Adam, her bushy hair not quite hiding her tired eyes, filled with frustration.
“Now, Adam, don’t you want to learn your sums?” her syrupy voice and idiotic questions gave him a headache but he kept his mouth firmly closed. Obviously he didn’t or he’d be doing the stupid sums. “You know, you need to know this Adam because otherwise you won’t be able to do lots of things when you’re older,” she persisted in a more strained tone. Adam already knew of the importance of multiplication in more advanced maths because he had studied algebra and trigonometry at the library so again he did not answer her. Mrs Healy was past trying to be nice; she didn’t need this defiant little boy undermining her authority.
“Now you listen here Adam Parker, I will not tolerate such insolent behaviour.” The other children looked over at the unusual sound of their teacher’s voice raised. “You are going to do these sums if I have to sit with you the entire time and force your hands on the right numbers. Don’t pretend you don’t know how because I know perfectly well what you’re capable of and this is not out of your reach. Do you understand me?”
Adam was shocked to hear his teacher talking to him in this way and, for the first time in many years, he began to express his true feelings to a teacher.
“Of course I know how to do this, I’ve known since I was four and I know how to do lots of others things too. In fact, I’m probably more intelligent than you and all of the other teachers in this stupid school. I know all about nuclear physics and molecular structure and advanced trigonometry but I didn’t learn about any of it from you! I had to teach myself because you are too incompetent to even consider the idea of me being intelligent. I can write poetry and draw and play music better than anyone here but I can never show people how clever I am.
I am sent here to learn and all that happens is that you sit me down with these imbeciles and expect us all to act the same. Well I’m not the same, I’m special, I’m clever and I’m not afraid to show it if you didn’t insist on trying to make me the same as the rest of them. I hate you, all of you, you don’t motivate me or inspire me or even give me a little encouragement, you just frustrate me to the point of insanity and I wish you would all just disappear. To be alone is better than to be with all those beneath me.”
It was such a shock to hear such a big speech from such a small person that the other children would quite possibly have sat there, stunned, for an hour, trying to comprehend all the big words ‘weird Adam’ had just come out with. Unfortunately, we will never know if that would have happened because the teacher foolishly decided to argue back,
“Now you wait a minute -”
” No, I’ve waited too long, you listen. I hate you!” Adam took one of the small chairs and threw it at the teacher, catching her shoulder. The other children scattered and crouched under the tables, shaking with fear at this different species invading their safe little classroom. Adam continued on his rampage through the classroom, like an elephant destroying the trees which are its habitat Adam tried to destroy the idea of the learning which he loved. He tore up books and left the multiplication cards scattered on the floor, this school had let him down and so he had to get revenge.
Once the cork was out of the bottle, even Adam couldn’t stop the anger flowing; there was too much pent-up aggression to let out. He carried on in this way until the teachers from surrounding classrooms, hearing the disturbance, came to investigate. They took Adam by the arms to restrain him and he heard one shout to another to call the hospital. He quietened down a little then because, although he had never been to hospital, he had read about them in books and knew that there were doctors there and that doctors were very intelligent, just like him. Maybe they did understand and wanted him to be with other people as intelligent as himself.
Unfortunately for Adam, when the people from the hospital arrived they seemed to be just as stupid as the teachers, speaking to him in patronising tones and saying that everything was going to turn out ‘just fine’ and that he should ‘relax’. It was then that Adam remembered where he had heard about hospitals, in medical books. This just confused him because he wasn’t ill, he was just expressing his feelings, wasn’t that what people did? Adam did not have very long to ponder this question as the paramedics led him to the ambulance and shut him inside, all alone as he liked it. Except this time he didn’t like it. A feeling was inside him that he had never felt before. Although he didn’t know it, Adam was scared.
After a short but very uncomfortable ride, the ambulance stopped and the door opened to reveal the smiling face of Judy, the paramedic. She took a wheelchair from the side of the ambulance and made Adam sit in it, he didn’t argue or even question what was happening to him, simply thinking that this place must be better than school. As they pushed through the orange double doors, the first thing that struck Adam was the smell. He couldn’t quite define it (a rare occasion for him) but it was not very pleasant, making him feel ill.
‘Well,’ he thought, ‘at least I’m in a hospital.’ The wheelchair was finally pushed through the last set of white double doors (everything here seemed to be white or a garish shade of orange) to reveal the psychiatric ward. Although Adam had no problem reading the sign he didn’t know what it meant or dare to ask. The ward was filled with people walking around or sitting in beds, they looked perfectly healthy to Adam until he noticed that some were talking to themselves, and then that others’ eyes were rolled back and they were sat swaying on the crisp sheets. More out of habit than anything else, Adam dismissed all these people as being beneath him, they were obviously stupid if they did things like that and just sat around all day.
Later that afternoon as he sat on a bed, which was a slab of rock to the small child, Adam saw why they were all sat around doing nothing, there was nothing to do. It was while he pondered this thought that Adam saw the one person in the large space who looked normal and, for the first time, someone he could possibly relate to (he had quickly realised that the doctors were not like him). The man sitting in the corner on a chair was hunched over a book, his pale blue eyes sparkling with concentration despite his advanced age, apparent by the thinning white hair barely covering his head. Adam strode over purposefully to the man and asked what he was reading. Without looking up the man replied that he was reading The Advanced manual To Nuclear Physics and the Origin of the Universe. Adam had actually read that same book a few weeks earlier and found it very interesting and, for once, challenging.
“Much academic merit, but I felt the theories of the origin of stars needed to be more greatly confirmed.” The man looked up at this and stared intently at the small child who had just expressed his own thoughts on the book.
“Me too,” was the best response he could come up with. Adam smiled for the first time in a long while and the old man smiled back. He introduced himself as Professor Richard Crossly and the two intelligent men sat and conversed as equals about science, philosophy and literature for almost two hours until a nurse in a white uniform came over pushing a trolley with many small cups of tablets on it. She paused and took off their labelled cups, handing Adam one containing two small round brown tablets and one bright blue one. Adam sat stunned with the tablets, he went to speak and tell this nurse that he wasn’t ill when a low voice murmured into his ear,
“I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking you’re not ill and that you don’t need those tablets. And it’s true, you don’t.” Adam turned to look at the professor, whispering words that confirmed in Adam’s mind that he had found his soul mate. “You’re not ill, you’re just intelligent. Very intelligent if what I’ve heard this afternoon is anything to go by. So why are you here? What did you do to make them afraid? Because that’s what it is, they’re scared.” Adam thought about this but didn’t answer. The professor smiled at the serious little boy. “Don’t you answer now, just think about it sometime. Now, what are your views on the theory of alternative universes and life on other planets?” and so it was left, but Adam did think about those words, later that night and many times afterwards.
When Adam was lying in bed later that night he heard the whispered voices of nurses outside his curtain.
“He’s such a sweet little boy, he’s quite taken with the mad professor though.”
“Do we know what made him go mad?”
“No, probably never will. We’re sending him home tomorrow though, not right to keep a little boy like that here.”
Adam heard the last sentence but he didn’t really care. It was the question which made him think. He didn’t ‘go’ mad, he was driven. Why didn’t they know that? Then the professor’s question came back to him. What had he done to make them all afraid? All he’d done was show what he was, hadn’t he? But Adam knew that he wasn’t really like that. He wasn’t a maniac who wrecked classrooms and shouted at people. He was just a normal seven-year-old who happened to be intelligent.
The next morning after a truly disgusting breakfast, Adam was told that he was leaving and that his parents would pick him up at 9:30, in just half an hour. He ran over to the professor to say goodbye and found him finishing his book.
“I thought about what you said yesterday,” he approached the professor tentatively, “I’m going to try not to make them think I’m mad again. But it will be harder now because I want to see you again. And they’re all just so stupid” For the first time since they had met, Adam looked his age and he looked vulnerable.
“Adam, listen to me. You have to stop thinking of others as beneath you. Even if they are less intelligent, it doesn’t make them worth any less as human beings and by isolating yourself you will never get to know them. Trust me, I did exactly the same thing and now I’m all alone.
Don’t make that mistake. If other people are making you angry just remember that you will someday get out of school and be able to pursue a career of your choice, until then just grin and bear it and try to have a little fun along the way. And if you become desperate you can always come and visit me, whenever you want, I’ll be here. Remember, if you don’t let others in then you will never be able to see what they can give you. I’ll miss you too, goodbye.” The old and frail man leant down and hugged Adam then turned him around and let him go. As he walked away, Adam never looked back. He met his parents and went home.
The next day Adam returned to school determined to make an effort where others were concerned, for the professor’s sake if not for himself. He did the work set without argument, even though it was so easy he could do it in his sleep. During free time he did not go to the library but did some painting, even making the effort to help Sarah when she couldn’t mix the colours correctly. At playtime, for the first time since Reception, Adam did not sit at the side and think or read, he went up to a group of other children playing ‘tag’ and asked to join in. He wasn’t at all good at the game but he realised that he had actually had fun, and had smiled more that playtime than he had all year. As the children lined up to go in, cheeks rosy from exertion and cold, Adam felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see a dark-haired teacher whom he didn’t recognise, looking down at him sympathetically,
“Are you feeling all better now sweetheart?” Adam knew she was trying to be nice but the patronising tone and false emotion made the anger inside him start to bubble again. He wanted to scream at her but instead he just smiled and nodded. He turned back, not only turning his back on the teacher but on the violence and anger of the past.