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Respect for the Shadows

We hear stories of everlasting youth and photographic memory. Of shadow people with monstrous strength who are always seen but never seen to work. Well, our schools' support staff certainly fit the description.

Neither students nor teachers pay much attention to them unless we need something, and there are certainly far fewer of them than there are of us. Yet somehow, while we only know their faces, they know every last one of us, from names to classes to subjects we chose for our O'levels. How else could they possibly know we're bunking Economics?

We prefer not to notice them, because when we do, it's often embarrassing for us. We see an ageing bua hauling piles of books and copies from one floor to the next while the young teacher she's doing the work for walks right beside her, holding only her dainty purse. She'll drag a chair over for a teenage boy and shove a table around according to a male teacher's preference. We rarely offer help, but we have to hand it to them: they never look like they need it. When one of us breaks a leg (literally), she's willing to carry said student's two-ton bag, one-ton flask, Physics project and Biology cockroach wherever needed. Such endeavours tire us out, but not her. Saying she has monstrous strength would be quite an understatement.

Most of the time we don't see the buas doing much, yet all the work seem to get done anyway. We think they wipe away the pencil sketches we left on our desks after we leave school, and then discover the support staff bus arrives at the same time as ours, and sets off minutes after we do. So when exactly do they change the curtains or scrub the bathrooms? It's not only a mystery; it's a bit eerie too.

The darowaan bhais are just as creepy. Not only do they know us and our teachers, but also our parents, siblings, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends (how?), cars, and drivers (including which student is assigned to which driver and substitute drivers)! They gather all this intel from one meeting with each category. That's right. One. So when our moms come over to the school for a little jhamela with the school fees, they're happily greeting them with a “Why didn't you come to the last parents/teachers meeting?”

Because we didn't tell them about it. Duh.

The worst part? They're not being malicious. Just nice.

If they hate us, we're goners. If they like us, we're still goners, except we get help more often and are told on less. Thing is, even after ten long years, even after we've passed school and been to college abroad, when we see them again, not only do they remember us, they also remember whether they hated us or loved us, and why! There's no making a second impression. If we spray-painted the walls during graduation and they had to stay at school half the night clearing it up… yeah, we can rest assured knowing they still hold a grudge.

Eight years since graduating Junior Section. Five years since graduating high school altogether, and college too. Coming back for a twentieth reunion. Whenever it is, we notice that almost all the buas and darowaan bhais who chased us around in Playgroup are still there. Smiles are in abundance (for the ones who annoyed them too much, there are glares), and we feel a sense of… déjà vu. It's hard putting a finger on what it is, of course, and we think it's the fact that we're back in a building full of memories. That something nags at us all the way home, and as we reminisce we pull out a bunch of yearbooks stacked in a remote corner of an old bookshelf. We flip through the pages of the Nursery yearbook and grin at the baby fat puffing up our friends' cheeks and ours, comparing everyone by the then and now. That's when we realise what was actually causing the déjà vu: the support staff.

They look exactly the same now as they did way back then.

They don't age.

Our support staff are the most useful people at school. They can be the nicest or the meanest, but they're pretty amazing when we think about it. Also, when we think about it, we reach a rather disturbing conclusion:

They're not human.

By Professor Spork


Every look,
Every glance,
Every touch,
Every chance,
I miss having you by my side.
Every minute of
Every hour,
Every day
I lose the power,
To bear the pain that I hide.
Every laugh,
Every smile,
Every word,
They all took me a while
To comprehend.
But now I can tell fake from real
And now I know how you feel.
You told me you love me,
And it all ended perfectly.


When you look at me, what do you see?
The person I intend to be,
Or somebody else completely?
What I am inside
It's not something I can hide, Not something
that would fade,
Won't change from night to day
You think you know me so well,
And you think you can tell,
What it is that sets me apart.
But have you listened to your heart?
I wish that you could see,
See all that I can be,
But somehow you see,
A completely different me.

By Anisa Khushnuma Shafiq


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