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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.