I run my fingertips over wood scars, each indentation a message of triumph over authority. Hidden codes in seemingly random markings. The desk is an ancient, tottering Victorian affair, tattooed with a rainbow of pens in its continuing service. How many more will sit before its closed mouth, waiting with bated breath to see what treasures or monsters lie inside? Fossilized gum, or my own tacky remnants, stretched out over an interminable Maths lesson. How long before my saliva dries away completely? And there, wadded in a corner - the sad little carapace of a beetle, lost in its wanderings from the window, ending its days in a stark night riddled with ink and shredded paper. Its tight legs try to walk the ceiling of the lid, in death.
Away across the scored wood laminate floor go my shoes, squeaking a last time for good measure, and in the faint hope the black soles (worn today only for just such an occasion) will leave my residing remark on education.
The corridors are emptying already, as those with heads full of the summer have escaped to the open air. I find my feet dragging, my fingers mimicking them as they leave undefinable cell trails behind on my Once-kingdom.
There, the corner at the tuckshop where I and a boy of my year burped the alphabet, after a hellish five minutes non-stopping slurping of blueberryade. Our purpled tongues flapped and our throats croaked, while my head got fainter and fainter; I was the eventual winner (despite my apparent handicap of being a girl), but ended up in the infirmary for the afternoon after passing out. Still, the victory glow bore me up, even while my form tutor dressed me down.
That boy, my rival, incidentally was dead barely a month later. Being the hyperactive child he was, he'd busted out on his motorbike while his blood burned with temper; Fate chose that afternoon for him to forget to take his Ritalin. My mother was heartbroken, being closer to him than many as his private taxi driver home before the bike came along. I found myself missing his cursed monkey-arms snaring me around in gangly hugs, his teasing flirtation. I knew from my mother's observations, that his quieter moments were times of dull-eyed reflection, half drug-imposed. He showed off, aped and fought. Here! The winding staircase at the end of the upper floor Maths corridor, which he once fled down and threw himself off to escape a pursuing teacher; landing in a perfectly executed roll, and back on his feet while we mere mortals cheered and applauded his insatiable lust for life, for freedom.
But Danny was never free. The demons followed him on his bike that day, made him believe he could overtake the lorry. His invisibility cloak fell off. And at our school prom a month after the funeral, Puff Daddy and Faith Evans' cover of 'Every Breath you Take', which even now burns my eyes with tears, was our last slow dance of the night. We raised our single permitted glass of champagne and, in toasting, wished for something stronger that might bring him back.
Now down the English corridor I walk, my feet echoing in the oldest part of the school. Warped windows that banged abruptly on blustery days, chinked walls that let in the insidious chill. On the corridor walls, projects of esteem that caused tears and fights to complete, made all the more worthwhile for the eventual * added to the grade. My name hops out at me like a whisper across a room: the last project of my GCSE year, costing me a night on the all-hours train. My heavy-lidded eyes paid off, perhaps, in bumping up the grade. I wonder how long it'll be before it's removed, for the scrap paper bin in my old classroom. Or will it be testament to my coming age of publication? My heart burns. I can't tell hope from fear.
Through corridors and classrooms I rove, with a few once-enemies met along the way. The janitor teases, ruffles my hair in a manner he could never get away with before. His smile is wide and sad. We had a running conflict/friendship for years, due to my apparent disregard for the school fence when playing truant. I hope some new kid continues the tradition of bringing wire cutters from home.
Old trainers line the bottom of the lost property bin, like so many mangey dogs, never to be rehomed. Their smell is evocative of playing fields and white line paint, pins 'n needles in the rain, ice over muddy puddles that once broken, will stab your knees a thousand times. Oh those mornings in the frost! I won't forget, or miss those.
The girls' changing room, still seems to echo back shrieking laughter as the icy showers drill long-gone backs. Benches, marked with love hearts in lipstick of all shades and density; one on the mirror by my favourite corner, bears the initials of my first love. We only ever were friends, even after the first and last drunken kiss. I don't think they'll ever get that off; I borrowed Hayley's black goth stick, and that stuff is dynamite. She's left enough scars on boy's collars and souls with it, as proof.
I almost duck through the double doors to the boys' changing room, knowing it will at last be empty, no longer off limits... But lose my nerve.
One lesson after another fades from complexity to another's bane, as I drift like a ghost. I could come back and haunt the library, my most frequently-seen spot on rainy afternoons. That corner by the fantasy-shelf, a puffy chair pulled upto the window for my elbows to rest on the sill - will that forever be my spot? Or will it now be filled by another, their own head drifting on dream clouds, watching the weather and wishing themselves far away along the blue-black horizon line, while all the time years drift by carrying childhood with them?
The 'Corner' in the top playground, favoured breaktime place of the Favoured. I find a reluctant thrill in my throat at finally having access to the sainted halls of the Goddess' and their athletic consorts; but it is, after all, only a sloping roof and fluttering crisp packets in a constant vortex. No treasures or secrets do they leave behind, those scions of popularity and success. They disappear from the indifferent face of the school, like any other.
And at last, across the playgrounds where my running feet took me, in games of breaktime chase that were only half-fun. The endless rounds of detention I received for wearing trainers to school rather than shoes, were well worth the hours of predatory amusement; honing my skills in the event of my oldest dream of becoming a cat, coming true. Those chase games encompassed many lives that would otherwise have had no reason to mingle. Up and down stairwells, haring through football games, our lungs burnt and our overlarge feet flapped, still waiting for our maturing bodies to catch up.
And out the double doors at last. No longer a pupil here, and heart-heavy for it. Letting them clap behind me, with no reason to return.
Clutching the envelope full of my exam results, I stride on into the multilayered air, full of the thick sweetness of pollen.