The patter of feet on the hard dry ground within the school sent a cloud of dust into the air, as anxious parents, guardians and school bus drivers waited impatiently to fetch the children home after school. The dust slowly settled down on an old stone bench positioned next to the old guard house. The stone bench stood witness to all routine and happenings within the compound of the school. If only it could narrate all that was spoken by the old guard who stood vigil during school time. If only it could convey the thoughts of those who had sat on it.
The guard chewed betel leaves and occasionally spat a spray of betel leaf extracts onto the blossoms growing just outside the guard house. The white blossoms would appear red until a torrential downpour washed the stains from the delicate white petals.
At times a bird would temporarily perch itself on the stone bench, flying away only after leaving behind a splatter of watery waste. Then the little Chinese girl who usually props herself on the stone bench after school, awaiting her mother’s arrival, would seek the guard’s assistance to clean off the dirt before she settles down.
The little girl would study the plants, the sky and the ground around the stone bench. Then she studies the pattern on the stone bench.
” At last, I have someone who notices and appreciates me for what I am and what I had been,” thought the stone bench.
If only the little girl knew the joy within the stone bench. “Will she ever know?” thought the old bench.
” This bench has undergone weathering. Look at the breaks along its legs and back. There are names carved with blades dating back to the twenties. This would have been a beautiful bench, once upon a time. I wonder how long it will be here for me?” thought the little girl. ” I wish the old casuarina tree were here. It protected us from the heat of the day,” lamented the little girl.
The night watchman was far from civilised. As soon as he enters the school gates, he plants himself on the stone bench. He looks right, then left before lighting a cigar. Then he uses the stone bench surface to douse the flame. With the first rays of the morning sun, cigar butts and sputum surround the stone bench, waiting to be cleared by the guard who takes over the morning shift duty.
One night, during the monsoon season, a strong gust of wind plucked the roof off the old guard house onto the stone bench. The stone bench weathered the storm without a scratch.
The stone bench became the guard’s temporary seat until the old guard house was restored with a new roof and a fresh coat of paint.
” I wish I were the guard house. Look it has been rejuvenated. I fear for my existence here,” lamented the old stone bench.
It was not long before the stone bench’s fears were realised. The guard was ordered to remove it as it was an eye-sore next to the newly renovated guard house. It took its place next to the rejects and discards in the old store room.
” Be there old girl, I would be next in the list waiting to be thrown,” thought the old guard as he latched the door of the store room behind him
At school dismissal time the little Chinese girl came looking for the old stone bench. She was disturbed when she learned it was removed.
” Where am I going to sit while waiting for my mummy?” she asked the guard.
Hearing the commotion, the school principal rushed out of her room. It was not long before the old stone bench was reinstated in its old position next to the guard house.
” You are back where you belong, old girl. We will be together for a pretty long time,” prophesied the old guard as he wiped the surface of the stone bench.
The old stone bench stood proudly once more next to the newly renovated old guard house to weather the storm.
( This piece of work was inspired when I went to fetch my daughter, Dhanashree, at her school in her primary school days. There was this old marble bench near the guard house and it attracted my attention)