Nine years old

Several summers ago, I found myself driving past my old primary school. I pulled off the road, and parked my car on a grassy verge. I stepped out and gazed around.

The fields were golden and the sun was shining. Only a few white, wispy clouds drifted in the clear blue sky overhead, and a faint breeze ruffled my hair. I remembered many days like these during my childhood. In fact, I couldn't recall any dark or wet days from my time at that school. Every day was a sunny day when I was small.

I gazed over at my old primary school. I strolled across, taking in the rusty gates and the old stone walls of the school. It was off the main road, down a country lane, surrounded by fields. The school stood in the lee of the grassy hillside where the big chalk horse stood like a sentinel, watching over it.

The gates were closed but unlocked, the chain hanging redundant. They creaked open as I pushed, and I walked across the cracked concrete school playground. Not much seemed to have changed in the intervening years, except that the school was considerably diminished in size. I had remembered it as being a lot larger than it was right now, but I suppose I had grown a lot since I was nine years old.

A memory came to me of a boy, small for his age, standing in the corner of the playground, his back up against the wooden wall of one of the temporary classrooms. He was surrounded by several bigger lads, who penned him in, asking him if he was a mod or a rocker. The little boy felt scared. He didn't know what to answer, because he didn't know what mods and rockers were. Whichever way he answered, he might get hit. In the end he said he wasn't either. He said he was just a small boy with freckles on his face. The bigger lads got bored, left him alone, and walked away.

I saw the same small, thin boy sitting at his desk as I peered in through the window of my old classroom. He seemed to be struggling with some maths problems. Another, more capable child was assigned to help him. The nine year old boy still couldn't make sense of the maths, felt frustrated, and eventually gave up, thinking that some things were just too difficult for him to understand.

I moved along the side of the building and gazed in through what used to be the head teacher's office. I remember the smell of tobacco that emanated from that room. I saw the small boy, sat in the head teacher's office, at a wooden desk, during the lunch time break. He was being punished by the head teacher because he had not written his number 8 properly. Instead of writing it in a continuous flow, he had drawn two joining circles. Now he had to learnt how to write it properly, again and again and again, while outside, the screams and shouts of the other children seeped in through the window. He always wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere but in this musty, tobacco scented room.

Once more I made my way along the building and peered through the windows into the assembly hall. The climbing frames were still on the wall, and the parquet floor was as I remembered it - just a lot more worn. Again I saw the same little boy, this time proudly clutching a prize for the best painting in his year group. He went on to win other prizes in school too. All were for his artistic ability. He felt very proud that day.

I turned to go. Those memories were from many years before. A lot of history had flowed since I had last been at the school. I wouldn't be coming back again. As I got back into my car and began to pull away, I glanced back one more time. There, standing by the gates was the nine-year-old boy. He was smiling and waving at me.

Photo by Simpleinsomnia on Flickr

This story first appeared on Signed, Sealed and Delivered.

Creative Commons License
Nine years old by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Samir Fatani said…
Thank you for sharing Steve. I visited my child hood school years back, it was a scary experience. I enjoyed reading your post. It made me think of importance of childhood education reform. schools can make or break.
Steve Wheeler said…
So true Samir. Thanks for stopping by and reading/commenting.

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