The year was 1984.
It was our final year at St Mary's Secondary School, an all girls' school established by the missionaries in the 1840's. We were fifth formers sitting for our major public exam at the end of the year. The giant hurdle to clear was known as the Malaysian Certificate of Education, which is equivalent to O Level Cambridge Exams.
It was a year of mixed feelings.
Feelings of pride that we were finally at the top level of our school with younger ones looking up to us for guidance and instruction; awe and admiration reflected in some of their eyes in the same way that ours used to shine for some of our seniors.
Then there were feelings of excitement that we would be going across the road to our brother school, St Thomas' Secondary School, to pursue our A levels. Finally, a chance to be studying with boys, an experience which had been denied us for the past 10 years or so of our lives as students!
And last but not least, feelings of sadness at the thought of leaving our beloved school, our teachers and some of our friends who would not be joining the mass exodus to the school across the road.
Thanks to Facebook, I recently got connected to a number of my ex-schoolmates from twenty-nine years ago! What an amazing invention the internet is!
Even as I'm writing this, my dear friends from our memorable yester-years are busy planning our thirtieth-year reunion scheduled to be held early next year, which, unfortunately, I won't be able to attend.
Some of us had known each other since we started primary school together, building memories since the very first day of school when a few burst into tears as our parents prepared to leave. I wasn't one of them, but then, I had my cousin to start school with me, so I guess that helped!
There were pleasant memories of fun, joy, and laughter when during recess, we played with five stones or seven stones on the ground, or with skipping ropes made from elastic bands - our children would find that hard to imagine now with the advent of the computer era! The tricks we played on one particular teacher we didn't like that had us in stitches - stink bombs which we proclaimed to be smells wafting from the chemistry lab in the secondary block and what not! Oh, and there was Touche and Dum Dum, our two pet turtles which we had to take turns to look after. They may have been cute to look at, but the odour that we had to endure when it was time to clean their aquarium? That was another thing altogether......pee-ew!
Then there were less pleasant times when a few unfortunate ones had to stand on a chair in front of the principal's office with a placard of the crime committed dangling from the necks as punishment. The anxious moments when we were called to pay a compulsory visit to the school dental nurse; one at a time, as if going to our execution, with not even a friend as a companion to hold our cold, clammy hands!
More memories were made as we became teenagers and moved on to the next block of buildings where the secondary school still stands today. Or at least I believe they are still there!
I can still smell the pungent odour coming from the toilets even before we entered them. A classmate decided one day that she would try to hold her breath in there while she hurried through her routine. Alas! Her breath ran out before she was done and as she gasped for air to fill her screaming lungs, she almost passed out from the acrid fumes! It is my fervent hope that the deplorable condition of the toilets would have improved by this day and age.
Another memory that stood out was the time my class was dissecting frogs that were in chloroform-induced comas in the science lab. A few days after the poor dismembered amphibians had been discarded, we were startled to hear a cacophony of what sounded like wailing frogs! No kidding! That was one sure eerie experience that brought out the goosebumps! I wonder if any of us went on to become medical doctors or surgeons after that. It was during that dissection that I knew I wasn't cut out to be one!
The best memories shared with my dear friends were ones that included unrestrained and uncontrollable laughter. Not polite little chuckles, mind you. I'm talking about loud, unladylike belly laughs that had us doubled up in sheer ecstasy and agony all in the same breath, and with some having to cross their legs because they felt the sudden urge to make a dash for that awful place which we all wished we didn't have to frequent! The worst was when that happened in the library as we had to stifle those rumblings from deep within that were threatening to get us more of the librarian's attention than we would've liked to!
Ahh.... the innocence of youth, relatively untainted by life's many twists and turns with all its complications, sorrow and heartache tangled in the sea of love, joy and beauty.... If I had the ability, opportunity, and courage to turn back time, it would be because of genuine, sincere friends that I've found along my journey who would stand by each other not just through joy-filled moments, but gut-wrenching, heart-rending ones, too. And memories like the ones my fellow Marians and I had made in our teenage years, or the ones my flatmates and I had shared in our student years after high school....
With feelings of sentiment, I wrote a poem in 1984 when my heart ached at the thought of leaving school. I'm so glad I've kept it after all these years. So, here's to the Marians, Class(es) of '84:
The Beauty of Friendship
True friendship is so beautiful
It is like flowers blooming
It is like flowers blooming
Joining school, leaving school
Days pass, years go by
But our friendship remains
And forever it will lie
Fondly will I recall
Our school days together
As the years gather
Forget me not, dear friends
Let not the memories of our friendship go
And the lovely times we've spent together
Not so long ago....