PLAYGROUND SPIRITS

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By: Alma S. Anonas

The little girl sighed as the evening deepened. Her mother   had forgotten to fetch her and it was just the first week for school.  The night air was  chilly and there was that smell  of ozone  before the rain.  How she  wished her mom  would come  to fetch her. She was at theside gate of the school, the one beside  the playground, waiting as her mother  had told her  to wait though the gate  had been closed for  the past hour or so.

The little girl eyed  the playground longingly.  It would  be nice to  have someone to play  with while she waited. Even the  school security guards  had left  this gate  and the playground. They,  at least,  were home  already though they had been kind  enough to  share their  dinner   of fried  galunggong, scrambled eggs,  and rice  with her before leaving.  The guards had told her  to go to the main gate and  wait for her mother there, but the little girl insisted on staying by the side gate, afraid her mother would not  find her in the throng at the main gate.  “My mom told me to wait here, so  I will wait  right here,” she insisted  as she waved  goodbye to the kind guards. “I’ll be okay.  The  playground is right there and I can sit on the blue swing-it’s  my  favorite one. At least I won’t be bored.”

She did not tell the guards that she  was lonely and cold, or that  she just wanted to go home- they had  already fed her dinner,  that was  enough. Shrugging off her loneliness, the little girl went to sit on one of  the six worn swings in the playground. Again she wished for a playmate or two.  As the little girl looked up at the silver of moon peeking  through the clouds, she heard a slight creaking sound and  turned her head  to the swing beside her, which  was moving slowly to and fro, though she was  no one on it. Whistling, the little girl  kicked herself up in the air, telling herself  it was just the wind,  which was  beginning to pick up velocity as  a storm was brewing. She shut her eyes,  but the creaking  only got  louder. The tart scent of fallen caimito leaves  crushed underfoot  wafted  up to her as she  inhaled the night air and,  along with it, the sweet scent of sampaguita blooms from the nearby nuns’ garden. Suddenly all the  swings  began to move to and fro,  as if there were other unseen children  on them.  Laughter and long-forgotten play ground taunts  echoed through  the air,  which was growing  colder by the second.

The little girl  ignored the noises  and began to pump the swing up high.  When she opened her eyes,  the little girl was soaring mightily  through the air on her swing-the blue one- and she  dared not stop.  Unseen hands would touch her,  tug her pigtails,  brush cold fingers over her face as she came down.  As the swing would come down,  she could  feel someone  pushing the swing  forward, helping her frightened little feet kick the swing back up.  She looked behind her and saw no one,  but she heard another little girl’s voice telling her to “hang on, here comes the big one” and felt the swing fly forward. Her fingers were melded to the swing’s  chains by fear  and she quickly looked forward again.  Her eyes focused on the rusty old merry-go-round,  which often took eight children to push it  into a decent centrifugal momentum.  It was  spinning and she could hear delighted shrieks coming  from it,  as if  invisible children were having  a joyride.  To her left,  a racket  of banging  added to the playground din-the  window shutters and doors of the two playhouses were slamming  open  and shut, as if there was a bunch of kids  playing hide and seek. Terrified and cold, the little girl pried her hands from the  swing  chains and jumped as the swing  reached  its zenith. The shadows of children played on the  swings and merry-go-round, they chased each other  through the banging doors and  windows of the playhouses. They called to the little girl, “Come, join us! This is  so much fun!”  The shadows began to close  in on  the little girl, reaching for her and that was  when she decided  to jump from the swing.  The little  girl fell and rolled  on gravel and grass  and ran for her  trolley bag on a  bench  by the  school’s side gate.  Having grabbed  her bag, the little girl ran for the main gate at the other side of the  campus, her lungs bursting as an adrenaline  surge kicked in and  propelled  her forward, ever forward.

All the way to the main gate,  which was about 400 meters from the  side gate,  the little girl sprinted without pause for breath for fear that the  playground  spirits would follow her, would grab her. Once at the main gate, the little girl ran smack into her mother, who  had just  arrived, late as usual. Crying and heaving for breath, the little girl demanded that she  be brought  home right away.  Once she was in the  car, the storm unleashed its fury and the moon was eaten by the black  storm clouds. The motion of the car was soothing, and the little girl  finally felt safe now that she was strapped into the front passenger seat.  She could relax, the shadow children were gone. As the little girl was about to fall asleep in the car to the creaking  sound of the windshield wipers, she heard the laughter  of several other   children in the seat behind her and the scent of crushed caimito leaves  and sampaguita filled the car.

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