When I think back to my time in Raffles the thing I seem to remember most clearly is the school at night. Like many of us, I often had occasion to stay back in school past sundown, for CCA or for a meeting or simply because it was J2 and that it seemed, was what people did as A levels approached.
At night, the lights came on and threw everything into a sharp relief. Under their fluorescent glare, you’d notice little things you’d never seen before.
You’d suddenly realize how harsh and how real the peeling walls of plaster around you were, and how every smudge and stain on them seemed to hold their own story – the imprint of a shoe at waist height, the mark from a slouching back , a crack where a table had been pushed violently against the wall. You’d notice discarded clothes piled haphazardly in a corner and you’d wonder whose they were and if their owners would ever return to claim them. You’d see two of your classmates sitting together, hands filled with pen and paper and yet somehow almost touching, and a little voice inside you would wonder if they were dating.
And then there was the silence, a silence characterized not by the lack of noise, but by the muting of what noise there was. The silence that seemed imposed, as if the school itself was struggling against it, eager to return to its usual state of noise and hubbub and life. It was a silence that was so unnatural it could somehow wake you up from sleep with a start, your body conditioned to associate sleeping in school with the background of a teacher’s voice.
The silence got to you worst if you were alone. It’d make you look up from your work and pause for a moment to wonder at how loud the fans in the canteen sounded without din of activity to mask their droning. Then you’d cast your gaze around you for a fellow human being and see a stranger glancing around too. And then you’d both glance back to your books quickly and pretend your eyes had never met, too scared to admit to each other that you’d been feeling alone; but somehow also forming an unspoken companionship in that moment of fleeting contact, the memory of which might make the both of you exchange a smile or a word as you finally packed up and went home, more than strangers but less than friends.
I remember the light and the silence of the school at night. I remember how they formed a barrier that held back the dark and the end of another day. I remember how, in that warm cocoon, we could keep pretending that we would always be young and would never have to leave this place with its strange hurts and highs and illusions. In the school at night, I could almost believe that the dark would never end, that tomorrow would never come, and I that would never have to cross into my future with steps that seemed too uncertain for my age.