Rows and rows of bookshelves. Simple, dark wood. Unpolished. Yellowed spines in each. Tropical dust motes bouncing around in the sunlight. Flecks from pages, the earth, skin and hair all intermingling. Hushed little corners. Dark but not damp. American books. English books. Satire. sf. Westerns. Thrillers. Best Sellers. Reference books. Each with a little paper pocket pasted onto the inner side of the back cover. And a worn, yellowed card tucked into each pocket. If the book didn’t have one, it was disquietingly odd. On each card, scribbles and scrawls in different shades of blue ink from ‘Chinese’ fountain pens. Wing Sung.
There was even a little pathway leading into this world. Made of uneven glazed bricks. Off-white, yellow and slate coloured. With initials on them. Walls on either side, making it feel like a slightly special pathway. Moss grew along the curved tops of the walls, which reached just a little higher than a teenager’s head. The path led to impressively large doors with a thick brass bolt and a rusted padlock on it. The doors were painted an unreal chocolate brown. Some years, a slightly light chocolate brown. Others, a really dark one. There was even a day of each week, where we had a ‘double period’ which said Library Period. The same phrase written twice, one under the other. And we would make a long queue at the beginning of this double period.To walk up the path and through the doors in an orderly fashion, handing over the books we had borrowed previously, if any. A queue which snaked from the stairs into the hot sun quite often.
The smell of new books, mixed with the texture of smooth concrete benches, lime-coloured ‘chuna’ walls and brown cover paper. Paper so thin it would always give your fingers multiple cuts. A room in the corner with a patient, smiling young man with curly, unruly hair. The excitement of finding out what textbooks we had been prescribed for English Lit, Bio and History.
An abandoned wrought-iron construction with rods and platforms, made for some long forgotten purpose. Children swinging from rods and milling around. Tiffin boxes everywhere. Bursting with smells of things carefully wrapped and packed. A dinghy, ramshackle canteen just beyond. Selling hot, steaming simple things, that tasted like heaven.
Looking up at the night sky just a little before dawn from the roof of the Quadrangle. The sounds of voices from Club mates just far enough to not intrude, and just close enough to provide the comfort of company. Meteors passing by overhead, while the North Star blinks untiringly. Big Dipper, Little Dipper and Orion. Jupiter and Mars. The sky growing steadily lighter. Its edges tinged by the glow from both the soon-to-rise sun as well as the ‘blast furnace slag’. Looking down, a swimming pool, and a wide expanse of rolling fenced in green. No parapets. No guard-rails. No one to shout out the worst.
I have a lot to look back in anger about, when I think of school. But I don’t think enough of disjointed memories like these, which point to what now seems like an idyllic Neverland that few have had the privilege of visiting in quite the same way.
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.F. Scott Fitzgerald