Tripping down memory lane
©2006 K. Diab
Back to school
Although it was the summer break, the gates to Shearingdale, my primary school, were wide open. After exchanging some doubts and excitements with Katleen, we decided to enter. Inside the building, it was a little like being Alice after she sipped from the ‘Drink Me’ bottle. The school had either shrunk or I was now 10 feet tall. I could not believe that the ceiling of this corridor had once seemed high. I could not imagine that I had ever managed to sit down on the miniature chairs in the junior classrooms, let alone tuck my legs under.
As we looked out at the shrunken playground (to my eyes, at least), I recounted my first day at school. It had seemed so enormous back then, as I stepped out – a stranger in a strange land – with the other kids during my first-ever playtime. I was intrigued by all those pale, screaming kids, milling around, playing some familiar and some alien games. I was awed by this language I could barely understand, having only done kindergarten English in Egypt.
Not knowing what to say or do, I sat on a bench and watched the other children mess around. Eventually, three boys came up and tried to get to know me. They found my name amusing, as I did theirs. I don’t recall how we communicated, but we managed, and Peter, Danny and Daniel would become my best friends for the rest of primary school. Memories of matron forcing us to down revolting morning milk with thick cream on top, bland school dinners, morning assemblies and hymns, childish crushes, Christmas plays, conker fights, outings to the swimming pool, school projects, trips and fetes, kiss chases and other playground antics.
At the end of the corridor, we ran into two teachers who, a little suspiciously, asked whether they could help us. I explained who I was and what we were doing there. The older woman asked who I was. I told her and she said that she was the head and did not recall me. I explained that the head in my day was Miss Jones who was due to retire the year after I left the school. Apparently, this was her replacement. Then, ghostly images of former teachers began to hover in my head. Mr Royal floated into my consciousness. He was perhaps the most popular teacher in our school, an elegant, middle-aged black man whose eyes burnt with intelligence and emitted a sympathy for the trials and tribulations of our childhood that made it hard not to adore him. I remembered when we were told in morning assembly that he had died and how we all spent the rest of that day in silent shock and wide-eyed bereavement. I remembered Miss Bradford, my teacher in top-infants who was charmed by my big brown eyes and curly hair – which she eulogised in my end-of-term report.
I recalled how my mother would buy all our teachers Christmas gifts. “It’s not our celebration, but we have to be on good terms with the people around us, especially your teachers,” she explained. But the idea of showing too much affection seemed a little too ‘teacher’s pet’-like for my budding sense of cool and my mum’s efforts would make me cringe inside, but my teachers tended to be flattered. Besides, for most of primary school, I could barely fathom the notion that my teachers had a life outside of the school building, as if they were switched off after school or put on snooze. But when she started letting us send out Xmas cards and even started getting us presents, then I became sweeter on the idea! Read on...
ã2006 K. Diab. Unless otherwise stated, all the content on this website is the copyright of Khaled Diab.