(Last edited on September 27, 2016)
Bobbles of heads bouncing in the dark with murmurs of laughter and whispers of discussion dispersed amongst the gathered teenagers.
I see the spotlight shining down brightly onto the assembly ground. A crack from the hailer silenced all the white noise. Loud and clear, I hear a familiar voice from the school warden, “Selamat petang murid-murid…” Everynight, students assemble before they go off for night classes, where they try to finish their homework or try to study. I see this all the time as I make my way to the Art Room way after school hours, but at night when things are supposedly calmer and quieter.
When I am there, I also get night visitors, consisting of various students from various forms who are curious why am I there at such odd working hours. I would ask them back, “Apa lah kamu buat di sini?” Once, a kid who just transferred from Sabah told me, “Tapi, kan cikgu dah tahu masalah kami… Takda tempat mok study bah.” On a more personal note, I feel the same way with my quarters. There is no space to do work. I don’t like to do work in my bedroom. The call for sleep would be stronger than the will to work. So, I would run off to someplace else; the office; the studio; the art room. Coincidentally, that office is situated right in front of the boys hostel block.
Hence, as I turned on the light, flocks of creepy crawlies called students will creep into the studio…. to disturb me. “We just want to study, teacher.” or “Cikgu! Cikgu! Aku ada soalan…” or “Cikgu, cikgu Huda, ulih ku nanya…?” When one goes off, another comes in. A string of students, always the same bunch sometimes… would make sure my night becomes as busy as my mornings… and I wonder, are they simply doing this to test me? They told me once in the most honest tone… “Sebenarnya… kami tak pernah nampak cikgu marah…” My face changed (yet my smile is still unchanged), “Oooooh, so kamu nak cikgu marah lah ni?” There was a pause.
He broke the silence with, “Boleh, cikgu.” with an added mischievous look on his face.
(After reading it again on May 8, 2017)
I didn’t get mad at him. Infact, I smiled and chuckled together with them. I glanced at the clock in the art room. 10.00 pm. I didn’t want to go back too late, my housemate would latch the door and leave me outside! Well, she never did that in real life, but she liked to joke about it. I rather not test her patience. I looked back at my students who just wanted to disturb a new face in the school. They didn’t want to sleep, but I didn’t want to be the culprit of their ‘panda eyes’ tomorrow morning. So, I reminded them that it was getting late and told them to return to their hostel block as I continued to pack my stuff to return to my teacher quarters.
The stars were bright as they always were. The countless sparkles accompanied me back to my quarters safely. No dogs resting at my quarters stairs. No random insects crawled up my leg. No gigantic cicadas singing out loud as a lorry engine and buzzing by the spotlight of my front door. I climbed up the stairs slowly, taking in a deep breath of the chilly night air. I took another look at the starry night sky.
Alhamdulillah, for giving me another reason to smile.
I wonder how long can my heart stay here.
Even long after I have left the outskirt settlements of Lambir, I still think of the art room.
A place that I could be myself again, a break from the monotony of being just another teacher. A reminder that I can find a glow of hope in the middle of nothingness.