“Alright students,” our teacher began, “please pass your homework down so I can collect them.”
I glanced down at my open backpack and began to seek through the identical notebooks between the diverse textbooks.
I arrived at the end.
Might have missed it, I thought. I rummaged through the stack, this time back to front, taking an extra split second to read each of the notebooks’ label. A small pile of books had started to sprout on the teacher’s desk. I tried my best to appear unfazed.
I reached the end, again. The pile had grown into a formidable tower and the others had begun to settle down. Soon enough, I realised that it was probable that I had left that cursed book at home.
Panic. I decided to ransack my own bag. My friend, apparently, noticed.
The two innocent little words somehow amplified themselves and sent shockwaves to all four corners of our classroom. One, two, and eventually more heads slowly turned toward me until the attention was too much to bear and I could no longer stare at my backpack.
I finally looked right at the teacher who wanted to confirm her suspicion.
“Have you forgotten your homework?”
With those words, I was cast into a dark abyss, spiralling out of control. The classroom became nothing but a speck of light, until everything went completely dark.
I woke up. It was time to go to work.
Sometimes, I dream of fragments from my academic past. This particular one, however, brought back vivid memories about my school backpack.
Much like James Bond, the title was held by different backpacks at different points in time. They all share similar characteristics nevertheless: cavernous main compartment, durable stitching, useful side pockets, sturdy shoulder strap and, most of the time, water-resistant material.
And black. For some reasons I barely drifted away from that shade.
A good backpack was integral to my daily, occasionally backbreaking, chore of hauling books to and from school. We did not have laptop computers or electronic books and book publishers saw it fit to print textbooks on the heaviest paper stock possible. My backpack used to utter a very satisfying thump whenever I plonk it down on a flat surface.
Consequently, the banal task of swapping books between my shelf at home and my backpack became an inseparable part of going to school. Every kid would have honed their method (or lack thereof). In my case, it started with tidying up after my homework and reviewing the following day’s lesson schedule. I would then gather the required textbooks and notebooks for those lessons and load them up neatly into my backpack. I would retrieve clothes and shoes for gym, if needed, and pack my pencil case last.
Every morning I would carry my backpack downstairs, grab my lunch and water bottle, and deposit them on the front porch chair. My dad’s driver would then put them on the back seat of the car and I would ride on the front seat.
One small step of the routine changed on that fateful day in sixth grade.
It was the last day of exams and I had arrived early enough to compose myself before the first session. As usual, I alighted and opened the rear door to pick up my things.
The back seat stared at me with nothing to offer. The floor mats gave only their sympathies.
I bowed inside and irrationally searched under the seats. Eventually I concluded that my backpack had not, in fact, shrunken down to pocket size. The driver had simply forgotten to load my things into the car that morning.
Surviving that memorable (if not rather traumatic) experience, I changed my habit instantly. I made a point to carry my things to the car personally. It probably helped that my parents merely laughed at my abject misfortune.
Some things are just worth doing on your own.