By Raffles Press
5:05pm. The sun hangs low in the air; for a split second (or hours, it feels like), the world stops spinning on its axis. Time treads lighter, slower, even, around these parts. A block ends and another begins, though most (the sane ones) are no longer in school to care. You might think you know what’s going on in school around this hour, but do you really? Raffles Press presents: the darker side of the campus, for your reading pleasure.
The Pick-Up Point
Cars rolling past; the wind blowing; people listlessly waiting; fans weakly whirring. It is a place that is in school yet out of it, at the border of Raffles and home: Pick-Up Point 4.
A vaguely hazy scent hovers in the air and distant voices echo from afar. Professor Brawn’s is about to close. The tables are dotted—here a pair is deep in study. (She looks up, pink earphones dangling, aimless for just a moment as a loudmouth saunters past. Curious. He passes. Back to work.) All around, figures flutter upon the border of Here and There—a black-jacket dashes past (there’s something on his mind). A gust of wind blows by, bringing with it a rustle of foliage, and a feathered visitor. Before us, a bird perches itself on the back of a chair, and chirps. It puffs itself up before taking off, back into the world beyond, where in the distance barriers, like skeletal wings, unfurl, to let cars in and out.
We first see her when she scurries past, tote bag slung on one shoulder and a laptop cradled in her other arm. A teacher, we think. She retraces her steps moments after, crossing paths with one of her students. She attempts to smile, raising a hand in greeting. She lets it drop when her student offers only a cursory nod in return. The fourth time we see her, she is taking a languid stroll across the cafe. One of us stare at her a beat too long: a grimace of confusion pulls across her face before she breaks into a small smile, quickening her pace to escape our scrutiny. It seems not everyone is into staring contests—except you, wire-rimmed-glasses boy: you only won because we had to leave.
Whoosh!! A huge gust of wind sweeps in. Where in the world is this??? It’s Windy Benches! At the Popular side, worksheets are flapping incessantly, to the utmost annoyance of students trying to mug. “Argh!” Someone groans and gets up to chase after a stray sheet of paper in hot pursuit.
Studying most definitely warrants an endless supply of food—a guy devours a box of Hello Pandas and opens yet another packet. Two girls study over a food stash right in the middle of the table, and we see a rotting banana, melted chocolate, and Oreos. Yum! Breaking the silence, one of the girls excitedly squawks, “that’s what I do! That’s what I do!” agreeing enthusiastically with her study buddy. We love sister friends.
A girl enters the scene with an unusual and baffling request to borrow a pair of shoes. Our students are extremely kind! Someone offers her shoes to the damsel in distress and strides off proudly in slippers after the kind deed. Oh, but we got our eyes on a shining white pair of shoes with red, yellow and blue accents, found on a guy studying at another table. Cool dude.
On the opposite side, the wind is a lot less powerful. The whoosh is quieter and all you can hear is pens clicking and pages turning. A guy fans himself with his worksheet… Seems like the windy benches are not working their magic today.
A guy shakes his leg to pass time. Three girls enter the scene with food in their hands, joining their other friends who are already seated. They speak in hushed whispers, presumably catching up with each other.
Woosh—the wind blows by a final time, windy benches lookin’ fine!
Supportive cheers ring throughout the amphitheatre as a white frisbee soars through the air, inscribing an elegant arc. A player does a high jump, reaching out both hands in the air to catch it—right before it slams into a pillar. Laughter erupts all around as the boy who failed to catch the disc gives a sheepish grin.
With the graceful leaps and effortless tosses, the scene looks straight out of a sports anime. Except that for a fully immersive experience, you also get to smell the stink of sweat and risk getting decapitated by a hard disk potentially slicing your face.
Entering the amphitheatre, one can immediately hear the sound of shuffling feet and frequent yells, a far cry from the peaceful sounds of rustling leaves at the nearby windy benches. Bags are thrown carelessly on the floor and on top of nearby tables, probably due to the eagerness of the players to start their game. Spare frisbees are strewn on the steps of the amphitheatre.
The amphitheatre is commonly known as the hangout place for members of Ultimate Frisbee and true to its reputation, the frisbee players are often seen having friendly matches there. On other occasions, orientation groups or cliques also gather there and exhibits are also showcased at the amphitheatre during special events. It can thus be said that rarely is the amphitheatre indeed amphi (empty).
A ragtag bunch of students files in, a little chime from the doorbell rippling through the peaceful ecosystem inside Chill and announcing their presence to those inside. Some are sweat-drenched and in workout shorts; others have evidently come fresh (or haggard) from studying sessions and leave with dogged purpose, armed with their choice of beverage: coffee.
For a moment, Chill swells with the sound of the age-old question, “what should I get?”, and the intertwining paths of people walking around and into each other only intensifies the narrow confines of the space—one wonders how the aunties stand it being cooped up behind the even smaller counter all day. A blink of an eye; coins change hands at the counter, and wallets leave slightly lighter.
It’s quiet again. The only signs of life that remain are the swish of the mop and the sputter of the air-conditioner, and of course, our squeaking shoes to punctuate the stillness. The next batch of starving scavengers comes in, and the cycle repeats—no different from the morning in that respect, except no one knows when the last batch will be.
Mysteriously, the shelves are as well-stocked as ever (come to think of it, we don’t think we’ve ever seen them otherwise, either). Even the Meiji straws are full to bursting—some poke out mournfully, having recently been considered and rejected. (The only indication of the evening’s drawing to a close is the display counter, absent of its usual pastries—though even that has been cold, dark, and empty since the afternoon.) The brilliance of the lights overhead further clouds our perception of time; one would be forgiven for thinking the day had only just begun.
Taking our snacks with us as we go (what can we say, Chill is rife with temptations), we wave goodbye to the auntie as the counter as she chatters in dialect to her sister. The door swings shut behind us as we leave, and the two figures return to being the sole lifeforms in the shop, and the sole guardians of a liminal space whose secrets only they know all too well.
The Shaw Foundation Library
You enter the library and come face to face with the Monolith—its eyes turn to watch you. You blink, looking away. You look back. Is it closer than it was before?
You are browsing fairytales in the fiction section. In the middle of Cinderella and Snow White is A Comparative History of Fascism.
No eating is allowed in the library. A conduct slip will be issued for non-compliance. You think about Tan’s Chinese Cooked Food and a conduct slip materialises in your hands.
You see your classmate studying at a table near the window. “Have you done the econs tutorial?” he asks. You shake your head and walk away. When you reach the other side of the library, you see him again. He’s doing maths now. “Did you move seats?” you ask, surprised. He stares at you blankly. He doesn’t recognize you.
Walking past the quiet study section, you stare at the mirrors. Your reflection turns away from you.
You have been writing your term assignment for the past 3 hours. You check the word count. It is still 400.
“FIRE ACCESS PANEL. DO NOT OBSTRUCT.” The small sign plastered against the window is illuminated by a single ray of sunlight. The sunlight is coming from the wrong side of the window.
It’s 5.28pm. It is golden hour now. The sun is filtering through the windows. You fall asleep. On your watch, it is 7.29pm. The light has not ceased.
The library is closing, please leave in five minutes, the librarian announces over the PA. Please leave in five minutes. Please leave in five minutes. Please leave in five minutes.
8 weeks into the school term, and still the atmosphere at Raja Block on this lazy Tuesday afternoon is one of relentless fun and relaxation.
In the shelter of the building, more indolent souls recline over and around the round tables to chatter about their day. The tranquility of the scene is otherwise punctured by the spectacle of a Year 1-4 boy giving chase to his friend, weaving in and out of the round tables in playful pursuit, all the while letting out raucous laughter. The overall image is a far cry from when the Year 6s last saw it during the PW OP examination season, when tables were packed with groups engaged in tense and serious discussions, hardly any joy or merriment in the air.
Over at the fields, a crew of friends tosses a frisbee to and fro from one another in deft execution, perhaps inspired by their counterparts playing at that very moment in the amphitheatre.
Meanwhile, a gaggle of Y5s sprawl on the field as they discuss their options for where to spend the rest of the afternoon at.
“Guys, want to go J8 later? Can go rooftop,” one of the boys pipes up.
“No! Wasn’t orientation enough?” One of the girls replies in horror, to which he retaliates by throwing a fistful of grass in her face. It’s a scene right out of a coming-of-age movie, and we can’t help but be amused by their antics.
“You want to go to Chill? Let’s get waffles.”
Final words from us: Life in Raffles really do be like that sometimes.