There are some things that only night and the darkness it brings can see with utmost clarity, some things that can only be brought to light when the brightness of the day has disappeared.
And so I wait until darkness reigns.
I stand in the middle of the front lobby. A couple of light bulbs are lit to brighten a few corners of the school. I can hear the soft ticking of the clock hung high up on the wall. The time is 10:30 p.m.
Few other sounds can be heard. There is the constant crack of a hammer from the building construction nearby, a locker door slamming at the gym two floors above, and there is the slightest rustle of the wind telling me that the ghosts are out to play tonight.
I turn to begin my weekly Friday night prowl about the dark corridors of the school. I slip through the green metal gate of the first corridor. I pass a door or two, pausing in front of the next classroom.
I can see my reflection in the glass pane as I look through it.
There are small chairs stacked on top of rectangular tables positioned neatly around the room. An array of colored squares makes an interesting pattern on the floor. Tacked on the bulletin board are artworks obviously created by tiny hands.
It is a kindergarten classroom. This is where the journey had begun for most, a long journey that was altogether too short.
I step as close to the door as is possible. My heartbeats must have somehow reached my ears, as they are the only things I can now hear. The ghosts are about to make their presence felt.
And in they come, filling the darkness of the classroom and corridor with a flash of light. I can see them—images that are faint, faded, fleeting.
But the ghosts that come aren’t the dreary, creepy figures that frighten. The ghosts that come don’t moan and groan, nor do they walk with clanking chains.
They come in quick flashes of color, of light, of smiles, of laughter.
I see children taking out their snacks for recess. I see a game of tag played on the old red flooring of the back lobby. I see a seven-year-old girl giving a letter to her best friend.
I see math trainees playing Ice/Water without being caught. I see grade-schoolers rehearsing for a play, reenacting Lapu-Lapu’s heroism.
I see freshmen cheering as they watched their first basketball game. I see students filming their versions of a movie about a wimpy kid.
They are the ghosts of the past.
But they are not my only companions.
The ghosts of the future are there to join me as well.
I see the seven-year-old girl now grown up, probably in her early twenties. She is standing beside the teacher’s table, writing on the board while talking about run-on sentences and dangling participles.
Teaching must be a difficult profession. She looks tired and her voice sounds hoarse. I guess that’s part of the trade. But I look in her eyes and I see the sparkle. That, too, is part of the trade, the part that makes everything worthwhile.
The teacher suddenly turns towards the door and sees me peering in. She smiles and I smile back.
Funny. The lady looks a lot like me.
I continue my trek round the school. At each classroom I stop at, there will be that sudden flash and the arrival of more ghosts.
Every scene is different yet every scene is familiar.
Whenever my Friday night stroll ends, I always find myself back at the front lobby, listening to the ticking of the clock once more.
I turn towards the Panda that looks over the school day after day, night after night.
He sees more ghosts than I do, I’m sure. You can tell from his eyes.
He’s proud of every ghost he sees because he’s proud of the people they’ve become.
I look back at the Panda, and I nod my thanks.
I turn to leave.
This may very well be the last of my nighttime strolls in school, at least for quite a while.
My parents and I are migrating to Canada in a few days. It’s a trial trip. We’ll be staying there from five days to five years, I don’t know.
In the meantime, I am packing the ghosts in my suitcase.
The ghosts of the past are my memories.
The ghosts of the future are my hopes.
They go wherever I go.
The ghosts of the past provide me with reasons for coming back.
The ghosts of the future give me the assurance that I will.
Five days, five weeks, five months, or five years, I will.