“Okay, class! Pop quiz!" bellowed Mrs Ling, sending Form 4H into a fit of pure joy. What followed was a solid hour of science-related questions that made everyone’s head spin. The students, in a stroke of autonomy, split themselves into four groups, each vying to answer the most questions correctly and earn the coveted title of victor.
Now, the curious thing wasn't that the pop quiz itself was a barrel of laughs. No, it was Mrs Ling herself who had everyone in stitches. She was a woman in her mid-40s, sporting spectacles as thick as a brick wall and a knack for transforming her voice into a kaleidoscope of tones. Her vocal shenanigans never failed to coax uproarious laughter from all corners of the classroom.
Mrs Ling was, without a doubt, the apple of many an SMK Bandar student's eye. Besides her weekly pop quizzes, she was renowned for conjuring up an endless array of surprises. On occasion, she'd bar students from entering the canteen during recess, demanding answers to her cunning questions as the price of admission. Her inquiries ranged from simple bones-in-the-body calculations to pondering if poor Pluto should get the boot as a planet, and even to identifying the sole metallic liquid at room temperature.
You see, whenever her students caught sight of her, they'd groan like the old wooden floors of a haunted house. Yet, despite their grumbling, they held an unbreakable fondness for her. They simply didn't mind being denied food if they couldn't provide the correct answers. Mrs Ling had a knack for contorting her face into the funniest of expressions – squinting her eyes, twisting her lips, raising a solitary eyebrow, and mockingly shaking her head whenever they stumbled upon the wrong response. "Off you go and find that correct answer, or go hungry!" she'd exclaim, all in good fun but with an air of unyielding seriousness.
Oh, how they adored Mrs Ling. She was a true gem in their eyes, despite her mischievous antics.
One dreary Monday morning, the poor souls of 4H were in for a right shocker. Enter Mrs Ling, her face etched with sourness, clutching their test papers like a grudge in her hands. And their shock levels skyrocketed when, instead of beaming with a customary smile, she slammed those test papers on the teacher's desk with a bang that could wake the dead.
"You lot have failed the test!" she hollered, her fury shaking the very foundations of the classroom. A hush fell over the students, so silent you could hear a pin drop. "Unbelievable laziness. All simple questions, none right. The essays? Pure pain!"
Khairul, bless his heart, felt compelled to apologise on behalf of his classmates. He rose from his seat and said, "Mrs Ling, we're really sorry. We promise to do better next time."
Her response wasn't any gentler. Oh no. She unleashed an even sterner barrage of words. "You think I'm having a laugh?" Mrs Ling snapped. "You reckon your apologies can spruce up your marks?"
Khairul wilted like a damp daisy, his face ablaze with shame as he sat back down in silence. Guilty glances were exchanged among the students, their shoulders slumped, eyes fixated on their desks. Truth be told, they had all studied their arses off. They held a deep affection for Mrs Ling, and every one of them wanted to impress her. They made damn sure to revise every topic she'd mentioned would be on the test. So why, pray tell, did they end up failing?
Just as the tension reached its peak, Mrs Ling turned on her heel, facing the whiteboard, her fingers pressed to her forehead as if in despair. Panic set in throughout the class. Was she crying? Khairul, being the brave soul he was, felt compelled to investigate. He rose once more, striding toward Mrs Ling, ready to comfort her if she was indeed in tears. He'd go so far as to make the entire class apologise for their careless test-taking.
"Mrs Ling," Khairul uttered softly.
Still facing the whiteboard, Mrs Ling shook her head.
"Mrs Ling, we're really, really sorry—"
All of a sudden, Mrs Ling spun around, a grin stretching wider than the horizon, her thick spectacles perched on her naturally nerdy face. "Gotcha!" she exclaimed, laughing like a right prankster. "You lot just got punked! You've all scored A-pluses, and six of you managed a perfect 100%!"
A collective sigh of relief escaped the class as laughter erupted. "You nearly gave me a heart attack, Mrs Ling," Sandra chimed in, teasingly but clearly grateful for the heart-stopping prank.
"Sorry, Sandra. But hey, a quick heartbeat is good cardio!" Mrs Ling quipped, setting the entire class off into another fit of laughter. "Alrighty then, class. Give yourselves a pat on the back for acing that test! Now, whip out your textbooks and flip to page 54," she declared, and the once downcast students of 4H eagerly obeyed, now brimming with enthusiasm for their science lesson.
And that is yet another reason why those students adored Mrs Ling to bits. She was a bona fide comedian, a laugh-a-minute type of teacher.
However, it wasn't all laughter and jest with Mrs Ling. There came a time when a heavy cloud of sadness descended upon the students, as news reached their ears of her husband's passing. He had fought a valiant battle against the unforgiving stage four cancer for months on end. "Mrs Ling won't be joining us for a little while," Mr. Abdul Hadi, the esteemed principal, solemnly announced during the weekly Monday morning assembly. "Let us send her our prayers and well wishes, as she navigates these challenging times alongside her two-year-old son and four-year-old daughter."
There's no denying it, Mrs Ling held a special place in the hearts of every SMK Bandar student. They were deeply moved by the news of her husband's departure, even though they had never met the man. Tears streamed down the faces of several girls, and the entire hall fell into a hush so profound, you could almost hear the silent prayers of their hearts.
For the entire week that followed, the entire school rallied together. They penned comforting messages and condolences, leaving them upon Mrs Ling's desk in the staffroom. Those were the days when smartphones hadn't yet graced our lives, and communication took place through landline telephones or good old-fashioned mail. The students hoped, with all their might, that their words would bring solace to Mrs Ling's grieving heart, though they knew it was but a small gesture in the face of such sorrow.
And when the following Monday finally arrived, and Mrs Ling returned to the fold, her heart swelled with gratitude. The sight that greeted her eyes was one to behold! Her desk overflowed with messages of every hue, crafted upon different-coloured papers. Flowers, balloons, and other trinkets adorned the space, as tokens of love and support. "Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for your kind words," she spoke into the microphone during the school assembly. And as tears welled in her eyes, a chain reaction ensued. Students and teachers alike found themselves unable to contain their own emotions, joining Mrs Ling in her sorrowful tears.
Those were undeniably emotional moments. Mrs Ling, usually full of cheer and wit, now carried the weight of grief upon her shoulders. She soldiered on, carrying out her duties as a teacher, but there were no jokes, no pop quizzes, and no surprises at the canteen to lift the spirits of the students. The students missed the old Mrs Ling, but they understood that grief takes time, and it may be a while before she could once again embrace the radiant self they held so dear.
A scant two months following Mr. Ling's devastating loss, and with Mrs Ling still visibly mourning, the students of Form 4H were about to be hit by another shocking wave.
Mrs Ling entered the classroom, and it was apparent she was not just sorrowful, but steeped in a deep, profound misery. Pain etched upon her face, and the entire class couldn't help but notice the ghastly blue-black bruise adorning her arm. Questions rained down upon her like confetti, but she waved them off, motioning for the students to take their seats.
"Alright, class. I won’t be able to teach you today. Clear your tables, tuck away those textbooks and stationery. Just stash 'em in your knapsacks," Mrs Ling announced.
The classroom fell eerily silent. The students couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of sympathy for their beloved Mrs Ling. Not only did she have to bear the weight of her husband's passing a couple of months prior, now she was grappling with the pain of these mysterious injuries.
Once all the students had obediently stowed away their belongings and cleared their tables, Mrs Ling fixed her gaze upon them, creating an air of anticipation. Khairul, always the spokesperson for the class, couldn't contain his curiosity. "What's the matter, Mrs Ling? Wha—"
Before he could finish his sentence, Mrs Ling's face contorted with pain. She clenched her teeth, her hand, the uninjured one, moving to hold the bruise on her arm. "Ooopp izzzz," she managed to utter through gritted teeth.
The entire class grew increasingly concerned, some students even rising from their seats in an attempt to check on her, but Mrs Ling's vigorous head-shaking brought them to a halt.
After a few tense moments, her grimace subsided, her face returning to its normal state. Yet, her hand continued to rub the bruise upon her arm. And then, something quite extraordinary occurred, leaving the entire class in a state of fear and awe.
As she continued to rub circles on the bruise, the black-blue hues of the bruise began to spread, as if the colours were smudging like cake icing. They crept across her arm, some even transferring onto her hand. A sight that would make everyone’s jaw drop, no doubt.
And just like that, Mrs Ling lifted her gaze, her spectacled face transforming into a mischievous smirk. "Gotcha!" she exclaimed, with a hint of triumph in her voice. "It's pop quiz time!"
The class erupted into an uproar. They playfully scolded their dear Mrs Ling for pulling such a prank, one that had sparked a frisson of fear in them. The noise grew so cacophonous that Mr. Rambo, yes, that was indeed his real name, from the neighbouring class, scurried through the door to investigate the commotion. Yet, upon seeing his colleague sporting a smile, he returned the gesture and made his way back to his own classroom.
"Hush now, students. Shocked, right? Form groups. Pop quiz!" Mrs Ling announced, and with beaming smiles adorning their faces, the entire class shuffled to their respective groups.
It's abundantly clear that the entire class of Form 4H was elated, not only because it was time for a pop quiz, but also because their beloved Mrs Ling had made her much-awaited comeback, igniting a sense of pure happiness among them!
Over the next few weeks, Mrs Ling began to reclaim her former self. And as much as the students rejoiced, it also meant bidding farewell to those carefree days when they could stroll into the canteen during recess without a worry. Now, they had to buckle down and arm themselves with scientific knowledge galore, or risk being left hungry and barred from the canteen.
There were days when Mrs Ling threw them a curveball. She'd toss out-of-the-curriculum questions their way, like "Do you reckon aliens exist?" or "Does every star in the universe have its own galaxy system?" or "What are 70-Virginis-b and 51-Pegasi-b?" On those days, the poor souls who found themselves in the hot seat were mighty annoyed, for it meant missing out on their much-needed sustenance. But despite the hunger pangs, they cherished those moments, for they held the key to uncovering fresh knowledge. They'd find themselves diving into countless books at the library. Back then, the internet was a far-off fantasy, and Google was just an infant info-source.
As the months ticked by, a certain student from 4H named Noel had an epiphany. September had arrived and he knew what that meant. "Guys! Do you realise what's going down on the 13th?" Noel queried, causing a collective sense of confusion among his classmates.
"What?" Junaidi chimed in, perplexed, while the rest of the class mirrored his bewilderment.
"You all forgot?" Noel exclaimed, his hopes of sparking their memory waning. "Someone's got a birthday on that day!"
"Who?" Shuhada chimed in. Then, suddenly, her eyes widened and her lips curled up into a radiant smile. The enlightenment hit her like a sudden downpour. "Ohmigosh! Ohmigosh!"
The entire class burst into jubilation as they all remembered the grand occasion looming ahead. It was none other than their beloved Mrs Ling's birthday! Plans were set in motion, discussions buzzing with ideas of cake, parties, and decorations. Most importantly, they vowed to deliver a taste of their mischievous medicine, to shower Mrs Ling with surprises and pranks aplenty. "We're gonna give her a dose of her own tricks," Khairul declared, setting off a series of sly giggles around the canteen's meal space.
They divvied up responsibilities, assigning cake acquisition, gathering decorative items, and collecting the funds. So engrossed were they in their fervent chatter that the bell caught them off guard, ringing out its signal that recess time had come to an end.
With hearts aflutter and grins plastered upon their faces, they scurried back to their classroom, eagerly awaiting the day they would put their plans into motion. Oh, the excitement was palpable, as they relished the anticipation of surprises yet to come.
When the long-awaited 13th of September finally arrived, and with just a few minutes to spare before Mrs Ling graced their classroom, the mischievous students of 4H busied themselves with executing their grand surprise plan. Steven scurried off to the canteen, with the crucial mission of retrieving the birthday cake. He had managed to convince the canteen owner to lend them some precious fridge space earlier. Meanwhile, the rest of the class transformed their haven into a festive paradise, adorning it with balloons and stickers, turning it into a party room of sheer delight.
They purposely sealed the door tight, ensuring that they would hear the telltale signs of Mrs Ling's arrival. And then, a few minutes later, it happened. Footsteps grew louder, and the doorknob began to turn, a clear indication that Mrs Ling was approaching.
"Ready!" Khairul whispered with a hint of excitement.
Then, in perfect synchronisation, as the door swung open, they unleashed a thunderous roar, shouting at the top of their lungs, "SURPRIIIIIIIIISEEE!"
But, to their astonishment and sheer panic, their plan took an unexpected turn. The person who stepped into the classroom was not Mrs Ling at all. No, it was their dear old principal, Mr. Abdul Hadi. And that wasn't the only cause for alarm. Right after their exuberant voices echoed off the four walls of the room, Mr. Abdul Hadi began to tremble uncontrollably, clutching his chest in distress.
"Sir!!!" Sandra wailed, as Mr. Abdul Hadi lost his balance, desperately clinging to the whiteboard. And before they could react, the poor man dramatically collapsed to the floor, still trembling.
In a flurry of panic, the entire class rushed to Mr. Abdul Hadi's aid. But just like that, he closed his eyes, fainting away. It was clear as day that their beloved principal had suffered a heart attack. "What do we do?" Sarah cried out in a state of panic.
"Someone needs to perform CPR!" Raudatul suggested urgently.
Bracing himself for the task at hand, Junaidi stepped forward. He approached the motionless Mr. Abdul Hadi, placing his arms on top of each other upon the principal's chest. And then, in a twist of fate, Mr. Abdul Hadi opened his eyes, sporting a cheeky smile, and in walked Mrs Ling through the door, hollering, "Gotcha!"
Well, suffice it to say that not only did the students of 4H fail to give Mrs Ling a taste of her own medicine, but she also managed to multiply her prankster prowess by conspiring with none other than the school principal himself.
Oh, how the laughter erupted in waves! Needless to say, there was no science lesson to be had on that eventful day. They fully immersed themselves in celebration mode, indulging in merriment and feasting. "Thank you all so much for this surprise party! I love each and every one of you," Mrs Ling expressed, her words warming the hearts of all in attendance. Then, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, she playfully added, "I hope you don't mind me inviting our principal to join the festivities."
Of course, the students didn't mind one bit. If anything, they were grateful to cater to both Mrs Ling and their principal. It only made their grand plan all the more memorable and marvellous.
It's been 27 years since my old gang and I left SMK Bandar. Nowadays, we're all wrapped up in our own lives, juggling families and careers. Thankfully, technology keeps us connected through WhatsApp and Facebook. Every now and then, we gather 'round to reminisce about the good ol' days with our dear Mrs Ling. Sadly, she passed away five years back, after a long fight against breast cancer. I still recall the tears we shed when we got the news. But, in a strange way, it brought a smile to our faces when we heard that, even in her final moments, she managed to crack a joke. They say she'd often talk to the ceiling, as if her late husband was up there, saying, "Patience, love. I'll soon join you." I hope Mrs Ling's soul rests in eternal peace. Her playful spirit has indeed helped us realise the importance of humour, even when times are tough. Her laughter and warm smiles will always live on in our memories.