Operation Market-Garden @ Raffles Hall

Garden table-bench

The night was quiet. He cracked open the blinds and peered through the window. Lights in most rooms were already off, occupants asleep. He felt the cool breeze. He tasted the sweet moisture. He felt right. He made up his mind. The night was just perfect. He opened his door and ambled onto the corridors. The light posts cast eerie glow. No shadows, just pitch black night. Perfect.

Even the nocturnal orchestra was silent. Interestingly, they too were waiting for him. He gazed into the dark sky. The stars and moon cooperated by hiding behind the clouds. It was very dark indeed. He donned his favorite All Blacks rugby jersey. Perfect.

He needed help for he could never pull it off alone. He was strong but Hercules he was not. He reckoned he needed at least half a dozen like-minded and able bodied hands for what he had in mind. He paused and pondered. Soft murmuring and giggling from the kitchenette gave him an idea. Some were still awake, gossiping mutedly over late night supper.

He ambled towards the kitchenette. They were sitting precariously on the parapet outside the kitchenette, legs hanging outward secured below the handrail, facing the quad while enjoying a pot of “Maggi” noodles. They nodded when he approached, and offered him some noodles. He just elbowed into them, two gals five guys. Perfect.

He whispered his plan. They listened intently. Even their breathings were hushed. He paused when he was done and soon mischievous smiles broke on their faces. They understood. Perfect. They liked his plan of exploit for the night. They wanted to be part of it. None could blame them for RH had been rather uneventful after orientation, just the monotony of lectures and tutorials. They volunteered un-asked. He briefed them of their roles and the night’s objective.

They excitedly scrambled back to their rooms, changed into their black T-shirts/shorts and quickly returned to the kitchenette. They huddled to go through again the plan of action. He reminded them that it was a total radio silent operation, only silent hand signals were to be used. The rudimentary signals National Servicemen learnt at BMT.

He tapped on the shoulder of the lead gal. She slithered forward silently, in the shadows, always in the shadows. Her partner snaked after her, mirroring her every foot step. Like twin ghostly apparitions, they floated silently along the path and across the car park behind RH4 towards Engineering Faculty. They were the reconnoiter pathfinders. If caught, their story was they were merely taking a walk to de-stress, and the rest to melt away and disappear into the night.

They paused occasionally behind parked vehicle and under trees, each time raising her right palm as a silent signal to the rest, glancing and checking right and left before, and signaling “all’s clear” to move on. Six shadowy brawns followed also in the shadows. They met no one for the car park was deserted. Soon they were at the base floor elevator/stairwell of the 7-storey building of the Engineering Faculty.

The elevators had been switched off for the night, so they had to hike up by stairs. They dashed up the stairs, taking 2-3 steps each time, muffling their footfalls as silently as they could. To be detected was like being caught in the open. No amount of story-telling, however convincing, could save their skin then.

Once at the top, they returned to the “recon” mode along the lit corridors. They hid in the shadows of columns, cabinets and drinks/tidbits vending dispensers wherever possible. They were getting into the rhythm by then, setting an admirable pace like veterans.

Suddenly, the lead palm went up. Everything and everyone froze, even time seemed to freeze. They were immediately on their hands and knees, and soon melted into whatever shadows. They held their breath. Their hearts were however pounding, deafeningly thankfully only in their ears. She was alerted by the sound of footfalls and voices in conversation around the corner, which were fading gratefully away into the distant corridors. She grinned in relief, most likely security guards on their routine walkabout.

When all’s quiet, following her hand signal, they were on the move again. They turned the last corner and there she was all alone before their eyes, their quarry, unassuming, sturdy and sun-kissed. They feasted on her sturdy ergonomics. They felt her smooth lacquer. They caressed her affectionately. They were so engrossed in their revelry. He had to jolt them back. They had yet to complete their mission. They were still in the woods.

The six brawns confidently strained to lift her in unison, and followed their “recon” gals. They re-traced their way back along the corridors, down the stairs and across the carpark back into familiar and safe territory. They were breathing hard, almost winded and sweating profusely by the time they reached RH4. Despite the exhaustion, they were pleased and satisfied. Their teamwork was impeccable and task execution splendid like clockwork.

They hand shook and back patted each other for the mission accomplished. They hastily dispersed. All headed for a quick hot shower to wash grimes off their bodies and massage the knots off their muscles, before fading into their rooms for some shut-eye for the sky was losing her darkness.

Baffled cacophony the next morn woke them up. Many were already crowding around wondering how she magically appeared. Some were testing her, grabbing her, pushing her and even sitting on her, very rough and so uncouth. Conjectures and conspiracies, both puzzling and mystifying, abounded. The perpetrators just stood along the corridor, smiling contently while gazing down at their nocturnal handiwork, amused. They pretended to be pleasantly surprised yet perplexed as well, adding to the intrigue.

The debate raged on the whole morning. Many wanted to keep her. However, one protest rose above all else, it was wrong, whatever the mystery or magic, for her to be placed in RH4 quadrangle. It was not sorcery but plain thievery, illegal. She had to be returned from whence she came. Not negotiable, not debatable, return her or the theft will be reported to the proper Authorities.

They still tried to rationalize throughout afternoon. They had pilfered A&W root beer mugs as trophy before. Some argued that moving something from one place to another in the same compound was not stealing, legal semantics. Whatever the arguments, however ferocious and convincing, her fate was sealed for none would dare to risk possible expulsion. And she was reluctantly whisked back to her rightfully place that very night.

The episode was brought to the attention of the Master of the Hall by the Welfare Secretary. She was the much needed magnet for fraternity/sorority. A request was made through the Domestic Manager. Shortly, each quadrangle received her kinds. They quickly became the centre of attraction all night every night. Life in RH was never the same thereafter, and would never be the same without them.

I oft wondered how the 6 unsung heroes managed to bear her to and fro, specifically up and down 7 storeys without any tools, relying purely on muscle power, undetected. Oh yes, not forgetting the 2 recon gals. I reckoned when there is a will there is a way. Further, had they not pulled off such a stunt, our lives at RH would never be the same. All those gatherings, stunts played, gossips whispered and supper consumed at our very own multi-purpose garden table/bench would never happen.

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