Wednesday Jul 15

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Flag Waving

At 6:15 on a Sunday morning, I am at school. I take a few moments to shake the lethargy from my sleep-heavy limbs, climb out of the car, and head past five or six huge 22-seater buses, their drivers and teachers holding clipboards, consulting important looking documents.

I smile and wave at some of my friends, who look as bemused as I am sure I must. We summon the energy to grumble at how early it is, but it is mostly token grumbling, as insubstantial and brief as the coolness of the morning. We enjoy the novelty of the situation in our secret hearts. We are assigned little jobs – “Distribute these flags”, “Check for loiterers in the toilets” – and sent on errands – “Panggilkan prefek atu”, “Can you make an announcement to gather the students in the waiting area? Thanks”.

By 6:30, more people have arrived and my fellow early risers and I melt away into the crowd, remaining as inconspicuous as we can until it is time to get on the bus. Climb in, headcount, and we're off!

A few selfies later, I am watching the roads fill up as we approach Bandar. Daring Indian bus drivers make new lanes, squeezing into seemingly impossible gaps to get us ahead in the traffic. Old Haji bus drivers in their white caps “tsk” at the impudence and impatience of young drivers today. Impudent and impatient young Malay bus drivers behind their indifferent sunglasses look for opportunities to switch lanes, Kristal FM blaring from the radio. We all watch other faces in other buses and try to guess what schools they are from. I turn to glare at a squeal further down the bus that turns heads and the squealer, embarrassed, stops her frantic waving at a familiar face passing by, reaching instead for her mobile phone.

Near the Royal Regalia building in town, we are dropped off. Teachers and students swarm around the big buses like the small dinosaurs did around the mammoths in Pixar's “Ice Age”. Policemen halt us and wave us forward. We head out, not knowing our final destination, but watching for a familiar uniform in front of us, the faces of teachers we know. I keep an eye on those around me whilst chattering away with my friends. I am careful not to be a trailblazer. Our school move out and take up our positions – in front of the old Post Office building jostling for space, then in front of the old Bolkiah Cinema under fading posters, and are finally moved to in front of Standard Chartered Bank. We stand, squat, lean against convenient surfaces and eye the Dairy Queen. A serious debate arises concerning the merits of a cold DQ over a hot egg burger from one of the many street stalls.

A Maths teacher walking past overhears and calls out in passing, “Get both lah! You can afford it, what.” The girls and I exchange good-natured mutters about how men never seem to understand about diets.

Gossip ensues. Once in a while, sirens sound and students rush to their feet, eager to show their patriotism and do the job that we have gathered here to do. Hopes rise, and fall, dashed. Gossip resumes. Repeat.

At 9:30, THE cavalcade arrives, flags wave madly, we are marched in the SOAS field and out the other side, near the Yayasan complex. Everyone is issued one bottle of water and one packet of mostly rice and one piece chicken. We eat, rest, gossip and gripe our way through an hour. Then I rouse the troops and we and march them back to the buses and school.

When we alight at the end of the journey, I remind the students not to leave any personal belongings in the bus. They check, patting pockets to reassure themselves that they have their phones and wallets.

“Cher, can we go home now?” a few ask as they climb off. I nod my head and answer in the affirmative and mobile phones are whipped out, dexterous thumbs move fluidly over touchscreens and they disperse.

I climb into my car, happy at an easy day of work well done, content to enjoy the rest of my Sunday.

1150319 10200756948498558 2074737976 nEditor's Note: Mason Cooley once said, "Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are." You have just read a story by Joyce, a sneak peek into her world and some of her experiences. Who is Joyce? I asked her to share a little about herself.

She is a dedicated teacher at a Sixth Form centre in Brunei where she daily entreats, begs, threatens, cajoles and teases her students in an attempt to develop their skills in the English Language. She is a self-confessed bibliophile and excessive book addict who enjoys doodling, diving once every school holiday, messing about with bits of paper and string, and dancing in her car at traffic lights. In her free time, she annoys her fighting fish and long-suffering hamster who oversee her day to day adventures. She plagiarises from the Pixar cartoon “Up” to remind everyone that, “Adventure is out there!” and from Tae Joon in “A Beautiful You” to say, “Miracle is just another word for effort.”

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