A Very Short Story
By Leighton Vaughan Williams
A story doesn’t have to be true to to offer a poignant lesson in life. But this is a story that does happen to be true. I know so because I was there. It is aimed at everyone, but especially those people who have ever been sure, sure of anything on this earth. Especially them. All I ask is that you read this very short tale with an open mind. Because it might, it just might, change your life. It certainly changed Neville’s. And it certainly changed mine. It is called ‘Sure.’
That early Spring morning was the first time Neville had ever been absolutely sure of something. Well, he knew that two and two equals four, and that the square root of eight squared is eight. He was sure of things like that, but that was mathematics, not real life. In real life, you couldn’t be absolutely sure of things. At least that was his general philosophy. But this day was different. This day was the day of the Latin ‘mock’, as they called it. Now, Neville didn’t understand why they called it a ‘mock’. It was just a school exam, where you pretended it was a public exam, and had to pretend that the result was important. It wasn’t, not to Neville, but the school thought it was and so should you, they said. He never understood why. But Neville was clever. At Latin, he was very clever. Even the Headmaster’s wife said that. And she knew her Latin, spoke it like a centurion, so the Headmaster once said. That’s why he was so sure, so absolutely sure that he’d win the bet.
He offered me a wager, an even pound, that he would not top 10 per cent. He was nervous, that’s what he said. But I didn’t believe he could be that nervous, not sub-ten per cent nervous. I was so sure, so absolutely sure, that I’d win the bet.
The ‘mock’ began and Neville did write. But not in Latin, he wrote just his name at the top. Now, Neville’s not even a Latin name. The winnings, he was sure, were coming his way. He was absolutely sure of that.
And he told me so, he told me what he had done.
I was still sure, absolutely sure. But sure now that he’d won.
A week to the day and the Headmaster’s wife was now ready to deliver the scores. “Why do we learn Latin in this school?” she had once asked us. “To improve our minds,” Neville had said. Wrong answer. “We learn Latin because your parents signed a contract that you would learn Latin. That’s why,” she had corrected him. It was that sort of school, if you know what I mean. Neville knew that, and it showed.
“Neville Holliday has come bottom of the class,” she earnestly declared. Neville smiled. He had been absolutely sure of that. “With a mark of just 12 per cent.” “Twelve! Twelve!” Neville jumped to his feet. “Twelve per cent for writing my name! What a mockery! What a mockery!” he shouted. For the first time he felt he knew why it was called a ‘mock’, or so he said. Boy, did he say that! The lady who spoke Latin, spoke it like a centurion, or so her husband once said, now explained all. We had all done so badly they decided the exam had been too hard. And so added 10 per cent to all our scores, Neville included. Neville got two for his name.
Well, I won a pound, and Neville lost his. But learned something worth far more than a pound. He learned that nothing is sure, not absolutely sure, nothing is sure in life.