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School Over

the belated bell shrieked rustily
into listless children’s ears
listening to their noon-dreams
and wandering plans
for the schoolless afternoon.
i too was waiting for the bell
(quietly cursing the new office boy)
expanding an idea home
into minds that have closed their doors

the bell was life-giver,
god of freedom,
and life flooded into the limbs
of heat-tired bodies
suddenly, chairs
were mounted on desks
wood upon wood, dragging
the last scraps of the day down.
but I must wait,
see them leave
what they had not wanted,
the dreary classroom,
wet from the heat

i stood behind the table,
out of the path of the stampede
of boys running to catch
friends from other classes,
from the elbows and feet
of those newly alive.
the moments took them
away, away behind the buildings,
to the roads.

the girls smoothed their hair
secretly peering into some mirror
hidden in Shakespeare or usman awang
in their book baskets

i stood waiting for them to go
awkwardly looking at them
giggling and whispering.
they walked out
some feminine, some childish,
thanking me.

Muhammad Haji Salleh