school empty
As I looked around, my school days flashed before my eyes like a movie Image Credit: Shutterstock

On a sunny winter day, I arrived in my hometown after a year-long wait. I was overjoyed to be welcomed by the snowy mountains, cloudy skies and chilly wind.

For weeks before my trip, I had been making plans for my stay. While visiting my favourite place, a solo boat ride and meeting friends stayed on the list, making a long awaited trip to my school was on top of my chart.

I rarely got the chance to revisit those best days of my life after I finished school about two decades back.

So, the very next day of my arrival, I was there, along with my son who was equally excited.

After a 10-minute drive from home I was there.

As the school was closed for the winter break, I had to persuade the guard to let me in for a short trip. He relented but urged me not to stay in too long lest he landed in trouble.

As he opened the huge brown gate, I ran like a child down the slope leading inside the premises, imitating my school time antics.

A gush of excitement

As I looked around, my school days flashed before my eyes like a movie. I could hear the noisy students passing in groups, pushing each other and cracking jokes.

The school buses in the parking lot were honking to alert the students. In the play area, I could see myself going up and down the slide. However, many swings were missing. I could see those innocent faces of children laughing and enjoying their break time.

I smiled at the sight of the huge clock tower which was famous for ghost stories. Its clock continues to be defunct to this day.

And how could I forget that mighty Chinar tree that stood like a landmark! It was a meeting point with parents and friends. It was where our favourite ice-cream seller would park his cart after the school time.

I could see that white and blue cart under the shade of the tree as kids dangle around him noisily.

I walked past the classrooms, the corridors and the playing fields.

And then the stage caught my attention. The stage in my school overlooked a huge playground surrounded by lush green trees. For me, it always held a unique significance. It was where I would always wish to stand, speak, act or talk.

Every day coming to school, standing in rows to attend the morning assembly, I would imagine myself speaking on that stage, being honoured for my achievements before the large audiences.

It was not that I never took to the stage. I was a bold and outspoken student. I enjoyed every chance I got to stand on that platform like being a part of the morning assemblies.

And being a good dancer often meant that I performed at various festivals and celebrations at the school.

However, my dream of receiving awards and trophies was rarely fulfilled. It somehow always happened that whenever I won a prize for my painting, quiz or sport, I would be sick at home on the prize distribution day or the same would be handed over in the classroom due to bad weather. This happened quiet often with me. And this made me more desperate for the stage during my school days.

So that day, so many years down the line, after living through so much in life, that stage still appealed to me.

I stared at it for quite a while.

Slowly, I took the steps and walked up the stairs. Those poplar trees next to the stage were still there, as if standing a witness.

I felt the same as my school days, anxious and excited. I stood on the stage with no audience. But what I could see before me was my whole life; the failures and achievements, pains and pleasures that life brought. I held an imaginary mic and tried to speak to a non-existent audience.

It was then that I heard applause behind me — my 3-year-old son silently watching the act.

I looked at him as he smiled: “Well done mama, I am proud of you.”

— Sana Altaf is a Dubai-based freelance writer