So the three of us made it past our STPM in one piece, though we all ended up growing more than a few white hairs while we were at it. And we all paid a price for our choice of taking on the STPM challenge. For Philip, it was a tale of love found and lost, and then found again in someone else. Nate gained some insights into life, but finally lost hold of the remnants of his former personality. As for me... well, this story never really was about me in the first place, and so I'll spare you the details. But if you really wanted an answer, I'll just have to say that I do not know. Maybe the answer will reveal itself to me in time to come, or maybe there isn't one at all.
Those recruits who reminded us so much of our past selves have developed into fine juniors. Although they are a whiny bunch sometimes, their skills have far surpassed ours when we were at their level, and their enthusiasm for Scouting is highly impressive. Some of them are well on their way to passing their Usaha, and so far, one has distinctly pulled ahead of the others. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that if there were even three more juniors that were half as enthusiastic as he was, he'd be left with only his journey to complete the testing gauntlet.
Of course, the low number of juniors we have this year is somewhat disheartening, but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in being spirited young Scouts who never fail to derive joy from learning. Every teaching session invokes an amazing response from them, and we ex-Scouts are also more motivated every time we see them lighting up before us like that. In all honesty, they aren't the most gifted batch of juniors we've seen during our eight years as part of the Troop, but their potential shines as brightly as the sun. Their potential is like a light in the darkness that has surrounded our Troop, and we've been working with them to make sure that it doesn't go to waste.
About the darkness... I can safely say that it has become a common problem for the uniformed bodies in several schools besides BB also. Recruits nowadays do not seem to have an interest in the great outdoors anymore, and even if they did, they are all so busy attending tuition classes before and after school that they no longer have time to attend activities. Be it the Scouts, Red Crescent society, or Cadets, several schools seem to be facing a membership problem due to the aforementioned factors. As screwed up as the Malaysian public education system might have been during our days in BB, things had deteriorated to a point whereby most people assumed that tuition classes were practically a must if one wanted to do well. And here's what makes it all a colossal joke; you don't actually need tutoring to beat the system.
Nate and I did manage to spend some time with Liam and Joseph after our STPM, but our outings were always awkward in some ways. Our friendship had been strained at best since our Form Four days, when we had grown apart. Of course, not having seen each other in a while might also have contributed to the whole thing, but all I can do is speculate. However, I did notice that Nate and Liam seemed to look at each other in a different light, as though they had some secret form of understanding between them. Somehow, knowing what had happened in 2009 made me put my curiosity aside for once, and let it be.
Somehow, my mind always goes back to that conversation between Ken, Liam, and Nate that I eavesdropped on in Form One. The second-last Installation Night now feels like it took place an eternity ago, but also sometimes like it just happened yesterday.
I guess you could say that the relationships between the four of us had become something like a cracked glass - something that remained clearly visible, and which at the same time would never be exactly the same as it had been once upon a time.
I never did manage to find out if Ken had been a fan of 'Full Metal Jacket'.
So we moved on to become university students. Philip was sent to East Malaysia by the local authorities in charge of higher education, and Nate wound up going to UM, if I'm not mistaken. I myself went to Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), which is about an hour's drive away from BB under good traffic conditions. We had finally left BB behind us, and times were somewhat good. The juniors were enthusiastic, the Troop was poised for recovery, and we had new stuff to keep our minds occupied. Life was good.
One day, during a lecture, I received an SMS from one of my former juniors. After discretely opening the message up and reading it, I could only lean back limply in my seat, shocked beyond words. I can still recall the contents of the message clearly.
Someone told me that the Den has been destroyed. Am not able to go to BB, but Nate is on his way.
I had hoped that it was all a big hoax, or a sick joke. But like so many other hopes and dreams in the recent past, it was not meant to be.
It was a Friday, so I managed to get hostel leave from UPM and rush to BB in the evening. After evading some rather sticky questions from my mother back at home, I made it back to BB, and was horrified with what I saw.
The Den had been burned down. Well, its main structural girders were still intact, but otherwise, almost everything in it had been torched to little more than cinders. Our beloved Ark of the Covenant was lying on its side, bottom portion deformed grotesquely as though the coolant tanks had been blown open from the inside. Our QM's shelves had all buckled and twisted to the point that I could barely recognize them anymore. The whiteboard, that spotless surface for the sharing of knowledge, had been melted down, with only parts of its frame lying around. The lockers had been completely destroyed, and burnt remnants of several logs as well as campfire program books could be seen scattered all over the place. Ashes lay ankle-deep in what was left of the Den.
I don't know how long I stood there in a shocked state of silence, but I was soon joined by several of my former peers and juniors. Some of us hadn't been back to BB in months, but this tragedy had brought us all back together. Night had come, and for a long while, all we did was stand there without saying a word to each other. There hadn't been a need for words then, and maybe there never will be.
No tears were shed, and after some time had passed, we all left the scene, once again going our separate ways.