Mr. MacArthur was the school principal of Waldmeer State Secondary School. Maria had known him for her entire schooling. When she was in primary school, he would visit assembly and give an inspirational talk which, for that age group, mostly consisted of the request to be kind. He had been the principal of the secondary school for a hundred years or it seemed like that to the children. Even their parents couldn’t recall a time when he was not the principal. As with many Waldmeer children, he was the most important father figure in Maria’s young life, second only to her father.
“You have greatness inside you. I expect to see it,” he would say in the secondary school assemblies. Then he would add with much gesticulation, “You are not just a small fish in a small pond. You can be a big fish in a big pond.” It was sort of corny and the students would, frequently, roll their eyes but they heard it so many times that, indeed, it became part of their consciousness in their formative years.
Having had no children of his own, he considered all his students as his children. His wife died about ten years ago. He was extremely community minded and was always winning awards for excellence. He was, also, always trying to win awards for his students. However, somewhere along the way, he forgot that he had a life apart from school. Sometimes, he almost seemed to get stuck in a time warp. It wasn’t the death of his wife that did it. It was more that he felt comfortable in his work world where he excelled and he didn’t possess the same sense of ease and purpose in the rest of his life.
Almost sixty and looking at retirement in the next few years, he actually had no idea what would be left of him when work finished. For this reason, he started to do a few little things that he never would have considered previously. They were just little things but they meant that he had opened something which was closed before.
On such a whim, he decided to call into Maria’s house when next visiting the city. He didn’t bother ringing as he was only going to go to the door and express his appreciation for Grace’s recovery. Grace and Joe’s twins, Mary and Harry, had, likewise, been with Mr. MacArthur for their entire schooling. He knew the family well.
“I bumped into Grace recently,” said Mr. MacArthur when Maria had opened the door to him. “She credits her return of health to you. I wanted to say what a wonderful thing it is that she is well again and you must be a very special person if you can make people well.” Mr. MacArthur was the first one to find a reason to congratulate people.
“Oh, how kind of you to call in to say that, Mr. MacArthur,” said Maria.
“Please call me, Thomas,” said Mr. Macarthur in a slightly awkward way. “We are not at school anymore,” he said trying to sound funny. It didn’t come across as funny but to break the awkwardness Maria laughed.
“Okay, Thomas,” said Maria with deliberate exaggeration. Now, she really did laugh and Thomas joined in. “Actually, Grace made herself well again,” said Maria, “but thank you. I appreciate it.”
“Well, I won’t keep you any longer,” said Thomas. He paused. “I have decided that I really need a bit of a fashion overhaul and so I am going to the shopping centre now. I’m not good at shopping and I’ll probably end up buying more of the same clothes that I already have but I’ll give it a try,” he said without the usual enthusiasm he had in assemblies for inspired living. Maria looked at his clothes. They certainly needed updating. They were very ageing and dreary. She didn’t have much hope for his shopping abilities.
As if on cue, Gabriel pulled up and jumped out of the car to drop something to Maria from Charlie. Maria introduced Gabriel and Thomas. Thomas would be the age of Gabriel’s father but he had died when Gabriel was little. For some reason, they looked at each other a moment longer than is customary for strangers. Maria explained Thomas’s shopping venture. Gabriel had a natural flair for clothes and enjoyed shopping. He looked at Thomas’s clothes and almost screwed his nose up in disdain. Maria tried not to laugh.
“Tell you what,” Gabriel said unexpectedly. “I am going to the shopping centre myself now. Why don’t you follow me in your car and I’ll show you a few good shops.”