Dear readers, this is a follow-up to my previous post on Leaving Sarah by June Mendez for which the author has written the PROLOGUE.
“Sarah Jane McCalister!”
Here it was at last! The hushed undertones which brought her name wafting through the air, flowing gently into eardrums that had been yearning for this final call – for this moment.
Those hushed tones so inconsequential to the less discerning were filled with promise, hope, and foreboding to others. She had tasted this moment over and over, a chilled glass of lemonade flowing down a parched throat. She had savoured it, swirled it around in her mind and thirsted for more, year after year, sitting on the hard benches of the chapel pews. This was her crowning glory, the moment when she would be thrust into the spotlight to attain what every man longs for – freedom!
The doors of her cell were finally being thrown open, but she found herself reluctant to embrace what was being offered. Was she insane? Stupid? She had always imagined herself running, falling, gasping, but striving hard to attain this goal, but now that it was here she did not know what to do.
As if in a dream she stood up, but her legs would not carry her forward. They had suddenly acquired a life of their own and seemed to have cut off ties with the rest of her being.
Her eyes glazed over, and sadness descended upon her.
What was wrong? Was this what she had been waiting for all those years? Was this the ‘Grand Finale’ the grand exit she had imagined!
She had lived this moment so many times.
In her daydreams, she had always seen herself smiling and rushing forward. Like a triumphant Olympian, pushing ahead to claim her prize.
Now, however, her body seemed to be frozen, and even her facial muscles ceased to work. Try as she might, she could not pull them into the smile she wanted.The only thing working was the secret tap, which had suddenly been turned on behind her eyes.
Through a film of tears, she stared at the candles lining the pews, which seemed to be swimming in and out of focus.
Her name again, said with more urgency this time!
The loud whisper carried right to the back of the chapel.
That was Aunty Isabelle, always pushing, driving her forward; her guiding force all these years.
Thank goodness her legs began to work again. She dragged her feet behind, counting every step as she walked down the long aisle.
She had run down this aisle hundreds of times before; had even skidded down on a pair of ‘rubbers’ numerous times while cleaning the chapel.
The aisle was the part of the chapel they had enjoyed cleaning the most. It was so long, it gave them plenty of space to race on their rubbers. Now looking down the aisle, she envisioned Tandy struggling to pull Daisy, who had squatted on her haunches, demanding a ride on the rubbers. What a riot it had been watching them! They were like Laurel and Hardy – Daisy obviously Hardy’s lost twin! Tandy had huffed and puffed, and tried dragging Daisy, while everyone teased, egging her on, knowing what the outcome would be – a collapsed entangled mess of arms and legs, followed by Aunty Isabelle’s hard rap!
The memory of that time almost brought a smile to her face, but she was rapidly drawn back into the present. Back to reality, back to the unknown.
She wondered what was wrong with her. Perhaps the solemnity of the ceremony had got to her. Yes, that is what it was.
The ‘Carol Service’ had always had a strange effect on everyone – even the most cynical could not help but be touched by it. It was a special service that marked the end of another school year. A beautiful farewell to all those leaving school!
Just before the service began, the electricity would be switched off, and the whole service conducted by candlelight.
The chapel looked beautiful, like a grand Christmas tree, with rows upon rows of candles, twinkling in the darkness and then reflected in the children’s eyes. As the service progressed, one would occasionally get a whiff of singed hair as someone dozed off, but in all the years, there had never been a calamity. No one had gone bald yet!
Sarah had found tears welling up in her eyes as they sang ‘Silent Night,’ and then again as she heard Miss Sharma read the nativity story. She had heard the story year after year, read by the same person, so why was she crying now?
Were her tears for real? Was that sinking feeling sadness? Had an alien invaded her being? Why did she feel this way?
It was almost the end of the service, the most important part for the students – the farewell ceremony. This was the final moment of parting, the goodbye in the form of a Bible, the beautiful memento that was presented to each of ‘the school leavers’ passing out after class twelve.
A kind of hush descended upon the congregation during this part of the ceremony. Time seemed to be suspended, waiting for the congregation to release the breath that it seemed to hold.
It was as if everything moved in slow motion. The Principal and Headmaster stood before the altar, grandly dressed in their flowing gowns. As each name was read out, the respective student rose, collected his Bible and stood before the marble steps leading to the altar.
All eyes were glued to the front of the chapel. A clearing of the throat or a stray cough was met with stern disapproval. The principal’s voice was the only sound heard. The only other sound was an occasional sniffle from the bowed heads of the row standing before him.
This had been a point of heated discussion.
Hours before the candlelight service, a debate would ensue and a list of those who would cry would be drawn up. It was the last game of the year!
Sitting in the congregation over the years, Sarah had always wondered what it would be like to be amongst the school leavers, to walk down the aisle of the chapel and collect her memento.
Time and again, she had made her contribution to the ‘crying list,’ had keenly watched girls and boys walk down the aisle, stretched her neck to see if she could catch a glimpse of a tear in someone’s eye; mentally making a note of it!
“Hey Sarah, what are you going to do tonight. Do you plan on shedding some tears? Come on tell us. Let me add your name to my list.”
The juniors were ribbing her, the same way she had done to the seniors before her.
“Me, cry! Puhleese just watch me run down that aisle!”
Now that the time had come for her to ‘run down the aisle,’ she could not do it. An image of her mother suddenly manifested itself before her, and she involuntarily took a step back. The way ahead was filled with uncertainty, and she felt like she would fall into a dark abyss of nothingness if she continued forward…