Last Sunday, I went to my old high school in the city, to take the Civil Service Exam. A day before, that is Saturday, our names and room assignments were posted on a bulletin board inside the school, near the entrance gate. I looked up my name, found out my number. I walked to find the room in the school, and realized the universe was messing with me.
I still get this nightmares where I am in my homeroom in my old high school. It was my last year of high school, there were only a few months left until graduation. It was exam time, and I couldn’t make out the numbers and symbols on the paper . In the nightmare, I failed and dropped out, and had to transfer to another school. What happened actually ten years ago was I did fail, I did drop out, and I did have to transfer to another school.
So you can imagine what I felt when I found out the room where all those recurring nightmares, all those memories that I’d rather suppress, is the room where I will be taking the Civil Service Exam. Well you probably can’t imagine, since my reaction surprised me. I was giddy actually, I thought, because it was some kind of proof that there is something larger, in the metaphysical sense, going on. Like, behind this curtain of a world lies another probably more interesting one. Could it be the real world, and this world is just an illusion?
I managed a smile, I was laughing inside, walking the nearly-empty corridors of my old school. Somehow in my mind it was larger. I mean, it is a large school, but maybe I was just smaller then. They did some renovations. They acquired the land nearby and built another building complex. They call it ‘The Playground’ because the buildings surround this wide open space used for sports activities. A decade ago, that spot was the site of the city gymnasium. The gymnasium was already old at that time, so it wasn’t any surprise that when it caught fire, it burned rapidly. In the morning, all we saw were the embers and the half-charcoaled posts. The city management did not rebuild it.
They still had the religious inspirational quotes painted on the walls of the classroom. These were on all the four corners, and I looked at each one as I waited for the exam to begin. These aren’t supposed to be there, being a public high school and all, but we don’t have a strong secular tradition in this here beautiful country. I am sitting there on the chair, near the exact spot where I used to sit so many years ago. We used to have these long benches with armrests as dividers that could sit four students. But maybe they stopped using those years ago. Or it could be that they still use it, only this time, for the Civil Service Exam, they replaced the seats with the single-chair ones so the examinees would have some distance between them.
The exam went on for three hours. What surprised me was I found the mathematics portion easier than the word and sentence problem portions. After the exam, we were not allowed to loiter in the school grounds. I walked slowly in the peopled corridors, munching on the White Chocolate KitKat Bar I bought the day before. People were smiling and talking, the proctors and examiners were serious-looking. The day was hot and bright. There was no wind blowing.