Right after tea, Aunt Velma’s felt like a sandbox in which the children’s lungs became soon filled with cotton and mucus filled their noses. Mia stuck her head out of the window to breathe as if the house were filled with water. Amira frantically worked the thermostat, sweat pooling down her neck. Jacob and Daniel, the European twins, played arm wrestle to pass the time, but figured they were better off looking through the pictures of their crushes that they had taken in school. Oh, and they also tripped poor Mark Lee whenever he walks by.
Mia, finally unable to take it, yells, “Mom, can we please go out and play! It is a million degrees out here!”
“No, my dears, you will wander out to the shed and…”
“NO, we won’t!” the children hollered their reply.
“Not!” laughed the children as they sprinted out of the house.
Now, now, they were free. Like slaves liberated from the hull of the ship they were held captive. They frantically pushed each other and wanted to start. Start what exactly?
“Let’s play hide and seek,” said Mia.
“Ok who is the seeker?”
“Nah, he always wins in the end.”
“Someone else! Someone else!”
“How about Daniel?” teased Amira.
“How about Jacob?”
“How about scissors-paper-stone?” Mark asked.
The children got into a circle and held their palms out.
Then, came the complaints. Complaining that they had all conspired against him; were being unfair; were this and that yadda yadda.
“Bye, bye!” shouted the others leaving Jacob open-mouthed.
Mark Lee knew the shed all too well. It was basically No Man’s Land to the children, but when the family drove by, he observed a slouching figure of a man hurling his garden tools inside and slamming it shut. However, since the old man had left the residence, the shed had not been opened for more than a year and plant life took advantage, lacing itself over the shed like a draping curtain made out of shredded plant material. The door was sagged and it was nearly off the hinges. The gap between that of the door and the hinges were large and small enough for Mark to slip through undetected under the cover of night.
Mark never knew why, but whenever he and the kids played, the guy that covered his or her face and counted ten to one always came after him first. Because of that, Mark always gets caught first. This time, he had a plan.
Mark had never once thought that he would enter that dark and depressing cemetery of derelict garden hardware lurking with hostile and unspeakable touches of nature: the creepy, crawly stuff. However, he could hear Jacob coming. Jacob always brings a baton with him and when he is near his prey, he drags the tip of his baton along the metal fence of the houses, making dull metallic clanging noises that bring the shivers down each and every of the children’s spines. Those he found weren’t spared from his brutal treatment of giving them the ‘noogie’.
So, when he heard that metallic clanging, Mark panicked and for a second, lost all sense of direction.
Where was that shed?
The clanging grew angrier and sharper in pitch and he heard something storming through the grass become wilder.
Suddenly, Mark slipped over a flower pot.
“I heard you! I am coming for you, you chin-” cried Jacob.
When he made a turn, all he saw was the upturned flower pot and the door of the shed creaking sideways. Mark tittered surprised at his own temerity as he saw the cluelessness on the European’s face. Jacob’s face reddened with distinct rage and his blue eyes spoke nothing but wrath. Vengeful wrath.
Jacob then spat: “Chink! Bloody yellow dwarves! Fine then, I wasted too much time here already!”
Jacob whacked the baton against the metal fence, expecting a whimper or a startled gasp.
Nothing. Mark shook, proud with congratulation and fear. In the shed, it grew into something like a graveyard of rusted tools and rats meddling themselves with dust. After Jacob cussed to himself and moved away, he was gone. There wasn’t a sound, not even a whisper. There, Mark stood frozen. Something crawled up his neck. It took him a couple of reassurances that it wasn’t Pennywise with a red balloon to reach out for what that was. It was an insect (a spider?) and he squashed it like the mere unimportance that it was, wondering how many more of those creatures were staring at him.
The spider was still alive. But it was on its back and still wriggling, trying to get back on its feet.
It then occurred to him that he could have slipped out long ago, dashed across the yard to the old gate and touched the ‘den’! It was necessary to do that to win. He had forgotten. He had only remembered the part of hiding and trying to elude the seeker. He had done that so well that he had forgotten success had to be clinched by that final dash and shouting “Den”. Was that the reason he was not found for over half an hour now?
With a whimper, he burst through the crack and cried heartily by the time he had reached the old gate. He flung himself to the iron bars and screamed the words, “Den! Den! Den!” His voice broke in misery and frustration, having being able to stretch his legs after so long had left his poor legs cramped. On the lawn, Mia, Amira, Daniel and Jacob stopped chanting.
However, they then took no further notice and began chanting again, “You love me, I love you…”
Mark ran to the children who scattered in surprise as Mark bawled, mucus dripping from his nose and spit drooling from the corners of his lips, “But I won! Jacob could not find me… I won! I won!”
It took them a minute or two to finally realise who Mark was and what he was saying. The truth was they had all forgotten about him. Jacob had found them all a long time ago. For a few minutes, they argued who should be seeker next and they unanimously agreed that they played a different game. They played “I Spy”, washed the car, rode on Mia’s brother’s motorcycle and helped the gardener water the plants. Finally, they clasped hands and jumped in a tiny circle, chanting. All that time, Mark had been forgotten from their memory, clean.
“Don’t be an ass, Mark,” Jacob pushed Mark away.
“Yeah, wait on us, you chink,” laughed Daniel as he pushed Mark back.
“Stop it! The both of you. Leave the chink alone!” Mia scolded, suddenly so embarrassed with herself that she covered her mouth and looked away.
Jacob and Daniel laughed heartily at Mia, “You are just as racist as we are! Racist! Racist! Racist!”
Together, the brothers chanted, “The grass is green, the rose is red; remember me when I am dead, dead, dead!”
The spider began to shrivel and a few of its legs died away.
“Why… why are you guys like this?” Mark asked, no longer crying.
“Koreans killed my grandfather in the Korean War! Chinks are the same!”
“Sorry about your grandfather. But those were Koreans. I am born American.”
Daniel chortled, “Please, no one born in America was born with a face like yours!”
Amira stood silent, looking at him pitifully.
Mark stood alone, stunned. They were teasing him. He wanted a victory, not a funeral chant or assumptions of his birth. He had been forgotten and misunderstood and he saw no more reason to be with them. He felt like a rock thrown down the hard rock bottom of their hearts. His heart throbbed and ached unbearably. He crushed his face into the damp grass, no longer crying. He could sense the girls hesitating between comforting him and thinking about their ignorance. He could hear the boys laughing like the asses they were. But he was stunned nonetheless. Stunned at his inexistence like that spider.
The spider, with its last battle cry, then collapsed into a crumpled particle, mistaken for the dust it was surrounded by.
His mother once told him a story about the centre of the universe. It might sound cool and awesome being at the centre. However, every day, the planets go away from the centre as the universe expands. Now, the distance between those planets and the centre have never been further. There is nothing lonelier than the centre of the universe.