They still drew the old roller over the cricket pitches with men
yoked like a team of oxen to the stubborn iron wheel.
The grass smelt as the grass did, all rich beneath the afternoon sun -
the heat flashing to the ground with a blinding flick of steel.
All the fields were there - but much smaller than remembered -
the rugby and football grounds unused, the whitewashed lines
washed out by the rains, but the names of dead Jesuits, on signs,
still stood on the preened edges - in traditional white and red.
Up into view the memorable tower of stone rose with all the dreams
of climbing up the winding cool stairwell, up to the top of the turret
where thoughts of fields, soft with breaths of Natal grass, met
the sky with hope and refuge. But those were just a schoolboy's dreams
brought on by the sight of the huge bronze plaque of St. George
plunging his spear, extinguishing our fears of the dragon.
Though all that bullshit vanished with age, the staged hero on the forged
plaque still remained some old myth the Jesuits liked to work on.
'I'm here to go through the Chronicles.' ''86 to the mid 90's.'
The receptionist is grey and half-deaf, I'm apparently soft spoken -
so there's a lot of repetition accompanied by grimaces and apologies.
'I'm here to go through the Chronicles.' 'Yes', to another question,
'I did attend here some years back.' 'Yes, an Old Georgian, an old boy.'
The phone slowly goes up to her ear as she mentions something
about visits and strange requests from foreign journalists wanting
to sit in on classes or have private interviews with the boys.
'Penny?' 'Yes, Penny it's me'. 'I seem to have a safe one here.'
'Wants to go through the Chronicles.' 'Something about poetry.'
Her small eyes look up. 'You do remember the way to the library?'
I had forgotten, but then retrace the steps in my mind to get there.
Each class I pass, a voice spills from the mock-Edwardian windows,
the red polished floors tap under my feet, and a sweet blessedness
fills me that I'm not sat in those sweat-rooms of learning, shadows
of my youth, daydreaming about a new-world after the first kiss.
The study-hall has lost all its desks and holds an array of instruments
and chairs for classical musicians. The fountain in the quad is gone now,
and at first it didn't mean a thing to me - but then a crude bewilderment
took hold when a memory tried to find its place in the absence; and how
on earth they removed it had me lost - the lawn was perfectly smooth.
The weights' room, where our hands were beaten blue by a leather wad,
where iron was pumped on hot afternoons, was now clean and had
the smell of sweat and leather replaced by veneered internet booths.
Outside an office a boy lifted his hat and said 'Good morning' in a way
that had me question what he'd said. It was only when I looked back
that I noticed the strain on his face, his rheumy eyes and the big black
words scoured across his chest, FAGGOT. I could see how easily they
could have pinned him down. The tree was there where we sat at break
trying to forget the colour bar that still hasn't faded outside the gates;
the smell of musasa leaves and old orange peels revived a dead ache
that filled my belly: a mob outside the science-labs, fists of other kids...
When I met Penny she smiled, and something told me
it wasn't a strange request to come here and go through the Chronicles.
She had them stacked up on her desk, all piled up chronologically -
towers of memories, names and dates in black and white at my disposal.
I sat down, leafed through the pages, the photographs alive in my head;
and after an hour of being immersed in the vivid quiet, the bell rang:
It was still that same high-pitched drill that once brought relief as it sang
through the long corridors, but with it also came a certain dread.