Updated: Mar 10, 2020
A story by the the winner of the Chug 'n Write: Shireen Bhalla
First there was the weird meeting with Robin. She saw him staring at her across the third floor, fingers interlaced, a stern look in his eyes. A butterfly of worries crept into her stomach as the elevator descended to the safety of the student-owned lower levels. Two days later, he ‘ran into’ her and asked her if she could accompany him to his office. The door closed behind her, heart beating unexplainedly and they sat down on opposite sides of the table.
Second there was the Easter hunt. Someone told her about it at the last minute, and she decided to join. She was in the basement when she saw a couple of board members run off towards the stairs in the South East corner of the building with a big chocolate bunny. She followed surreptitiously, just hearing the echoing close of the door on the ground floor. She did a quick scan around the stairwell. In the corner she saw a wooden dummy waiter. Smirking she crossed the stairs and lifted the old lid.
Third, there was the chug and write session at the Beurs bar. She had been withdrawing from EUCSA events over the year, but she made an exception. It was at the new bar and it was writing, and beer, so why not. Maybe she could work in a bunch of APA, get some laughs. The red lights seemed to set the tone from the get go – mysterious and slightly bloodthirsty. She wrote and drank and drank and wrote. And the lights waxed and waned and swept over her and the shadows darkened, and the people laughed in the background and it grew sinister. She walked away into the darkened corridor. The red light at the end of the long corridor pulsed and drew her. And she walked in.
Fourth there was the last PBL of the quad. Of the year. Of her Undergraduate. She sighed as they wrapped up the evaluation. ‘Good reporting phase, good chairing, good scribing, intriguing tutor (keeping his identity anonymous, let’s call him Bard)’ the usual. Then she ducked under the table and went to sleep.
Fifth, and penultimate. She stood amongst the crowd at the End of Year BBQ watching Wim being helped on to the fountain to deliver the final end of year address of her EUC career. Deciding she couldn’t handle it, she walked around to the back of the fountain and jumped in.
The finale. She walked down the aisle in her black robes, cap tilted in a final show of defiance, humour, attitude - call it what you will. She climbed the stairs and shook Wim’s hand, receiving the sterling white roll of paper. Behind him stood Robin, hands clasped in front of him, a small smile on his face. The paper that stated:
Certification of Graduation
And she took it.
Alright. So, what happened?
… The door closed behind her, heart beating unexplainedly and they sat down on opposite sides of the table... ‘Welcome to the Ending. In the next three weeks you will denaturalise yourself from the EUC life and prepare for your future.’
… Smirking she crossed the stairs and lifted the old lid... Behind the ageing wood she saw a book. Small and dense it was. The pages ageing. She picked it up and sat down, back against the cold marble. And she began to read. And as she read, she learnt. And her understanding of the world, her ability to think critically, her opinions and arguments, they built. She emerged a few hours later, with a knowledge set that was not nothing, but something.
… The red light at the end of the long corridor pulsed and drew her… And she walked in. The red light surrounded her now, still pulsating but with no end in sight. She walked on. Minutes, hours, days seemed to pass, but there was no ending. Desperation. She felt it deep in her bones. Time wore on, red like the inside of her eyelids, not a natural light. Like the Dutch landscape without sun. Sad and sadder. Only she was already that sad. It did not touch her because she was already there. Then the sun rose. And the birds sang. She felt the fresh air and the stress melted away. It got better, with every step, and she emerged anew.
… Then she ducked under the table and went to sleep... Her dreams were twisting and twisted themselves into a nightmare. Around her were her worst realities. There was her first time. There was her streaking along the rooftop – the illegal rooftop, joint in hand. Weaving shakily across the bike path, drunk to the point of non-remembrance, finding her way home after a night at Kaapse. “Immoral girl, must relearn your values. You’re leaving the bubble now” whispered the voice.
… Deciding she couldn’t handle it, she walked around to the back of the fountain and jumped in... ‘Not good enough’. ‘Not good enough’. ‘Not good enough’ the shadows whispered. She stood in a mist of fog, eyes bleary, the shadowy figures barely distinguishable. But wait. There was that guy from the exam board. That one, that was her capstone supervisor. This one here with the short hair – that was the head of the only course she had failed. She waded through the wisps, who mumbled incoherently. Their lips mouthed different things, but she heard to faint ‘Not good enough’ from all around her. And finally, there at the end of the column – Robin. ‘Good enough’, he said. ‘Definitely good enough.’
Graduation. Success. She had survived the ENDING.