Hunched over my desk on a Friday – filling out forms – I let more than an hour slip by before I lifted my head to look out the office window. Smoky sun dust trailed to the west. September dusk yawned orange over an empty playground. Where had everyone gone? Was I the last man standing?
I thought so at first.
I packed up, scooted down the stairs and left through the back doors. But, as I stepped onto the blacktop, I got a cold tingle up my spine that told me to slow down. Look around. Someone was watching.
I padded forward a few steps, peering into shadow, casting my eyes like a flashlight. The playground felt off somehow and then I heard a shuffle, a stifle and two yelps. Watched, indeed! By more than one! I turned left and right, but I couldn’t pin down the source of sounds. Was I surrounded?
“Lights on in ten seconds. Get your backsides home. Now!” I shouted these words though I knew the yard had no such lighting. Then came frantic whispers, scampers, and a grunting thump when someone tripped. That had to be Theodore, I mused. No other kid could have hit the deck with a thud like that.
Last came the cling-a-ching of little bodies climbing the chain link fence and dropping to the street side. Giggles descended the hill. And then came silence – deep and full – settling over the playground.
Now I was, in fact, alone.
I pulled out a little pocket light and began pointing. A blue beam poured into the thick stand of shrubs along the east side of the yard. Kids called this area the forest. Whatever. I did not anticipate finding much there. However, I got a surprise.
I shone my light on a big flat rock and found assortments of chopped leaves, berries crushed to pulp, and sharpened bits of stone. A few feet on, I found a circle of six holes dug as if in preparation. Why six? Why a circle and not in a line? What else might be going on?
As I snooped, I came upon a stack of sticks, piled end-to-point, sharpened like spears. Readied, but for what? I held my light on these objects, pondering. Arrowheads? Berries mashed. Poisoned darts? Tribal paints? Preparation for sure. But against what or for whom?
I took it all in – the premise of a playground as a training camp. I allowed my mind to collect and sort data. I had interrupted a twilight gathering of children who were away from home. Were they missed? Was I the first to discover this tribe fortified against whatever an imagination might create.
When they say everything changes, what does that mean? Could you bend this rule to mean that nothing changes since everything does? Trees grow tall. No need to remind them how. Rivers flow downhill without confusion. Young humans presage the patterns of their elders. Onward rolls the great wheel and far flung are the fires of pioneers.
I wafted up into a growing canopy of stars and thought of comets that come and go. Even as I stood, a car rumbled by with the beat of drums thumping, grand, powerful, primitive.
Friday night on this hill. I paused before departure, near the swing set, waiting and listening. Singing old songs might pass some time. So might the anticipation of surprise tucked in any given sunrise. I thought to walk home, asking myself why rush when one has nowhere and everywhere to go?