Playground Bully & Associates
The first school I went to, I was 4 and the second my mum waved goodbye and disappeared around the bend, I knew I was in trouble. It felt like a giant hand had dipped into my mother’s womb and ripped me out and in the process severed the umbilical bond binding me to her. I was so exposed standing there all alone. I couldn’t feel my mum’s warmth, couldn’t see her smile, couldn’t hear her voice and the more I thought about it, the stiffer my joints became, standing there in the playground, until…SNAP! I was frozen in place.
All the kids in the playground stopped whatever they were doing and turned to look at me with their big saucer eyes. It made me dizzy just to look at them for I didn’t know where exactly to look. I don’t remember what I did or said or didn’t do or say but I remember the taunting jeers and the screaming and the name calling and the finger pointing — Mum said it’s rude to point. I remember the shoving and the wicked laughter and the petting and the world as I knew it ended for me in that one moment. I was in really big trouble.
I knew I was in trouble because an adult came stomping through the grass on giant feet that claimed the land in acres and not in feet. She was upon us before I could even let out a scream. A few startled kids screamed an alarm but it was too late to serve any purpose. A few barks later and not a hand was touching me. A few slaps later and even in my reduced state, I could make out the sniffling of a bully who got served and the silence of the witnesses. With a giant’s voice, she boomed louder than loud speakers and the kids who a moment ago had swamped me like a horde of incensed bees fell silent as one, heads lowered in shame. It was a dead silence only broken by the sniffling and the whimpering of the Playground Bully and his Associate. The adult had saved me in the nick of time.
I turned to look at her and to my surprise couldn’t make out her face. It was all a blur with a halo around her head like Baby Jesus and Mary in the pictures in my mum’s story book. I shook my head to clear my sight but her face remained blurred like looking through smoke. The Playground Bully had done something to my eyes! I couldn’t see! A panic started building up in my throat rapidly spreading its tendrils all over my static body. I couldn’t have moved an inch had my life depended on it. It was at that moment that I ran out of breath.
I opened my mouth to breathe but it felt like I was swallowing muted air. It didn’t taste like air but rather like a solid chunk of the absence of it that was lodged in my throat and blocking my windpipe. I couldn’t breathe! I was going to die! I was going to die in a compound with a sniffling bully, his associate, an adult who looked like Mary in the pictures and a playground full of witnesses. Now the real trouble begun.
My heart was contracting and constricting in my chest and my eyes were rolling uncontrollably in my sockets and a morbid fear was systematically snacking on me, digesting me until all my nerves were shot. I was dying. Then I was shaking like a leaf and shaking-shaking-shaking all out of control. I heard terrified screams in crescendo like background opera music at the back of my mind but I was too far gone to be moved by it. They were growing fainter and fainter until I couldn’t hear then anymore. And then I was falling-falling-falling into a giant abyss from where there was no coming back. I was never going to see my mum and hear her read to me from her big battered story book about baby Jesus when he grew up and came to play hero. I was never going to watch He-Man and Punkie Brewster on TV. I was never going to be happy again.
And right when everything seemed lost, giant arms gripped me in a vice keeping me from falling into the abyss: it was a death grip that knocked the last pockets of air from my chest as she yanked me back to reality I puffed out the bad air and then gasped for fresh air; lungfuls of it. I had no intention of ever letting it out again so I blocked my nostrils and shut my mouth creating a vacuum with just me and my air and the darkness within. We sat there in the dark vacuum for a second; two seconds; a month; a year; a lifetime. In this world of my own making, things didn’t change faster than I could keep up with. The sounds were muffled and kind to me that I didn’t have to hide in my shell anymore. There was no one touching me before I had made up my mind that they could. I was safe. I was never going to leave, I decided.
Right when I thought I could live like this forever, I felt a slimy snail pressing against my lips working its way into my mouth. I thought of the slime and the germs and those protruding eyes and it was too much to bear. The repulsion shook me to the core that I opened my mouth to puke and it was well and good that I did. It seems I had run out of oxygen because all I did was drink lungfuls of it. I was woozy and dark spots were bursting randomly in the void of my brain.
The snail was still on my lips so I made to wipe it off with my hand but it wasn’t a snail at all. My eyes snapped open to see that it was Mary’s giant face and her giant eye fixed on mine and her giant lips planted on mine. When she saw that I had come to, she broke off contact and those lips I had a moment ago mistook for a snail split into the widest smile I had ever seen. The giant teeth underneath were chiselled to perfection and sparkling white.
It was at that moment that I forgot to breathe. Again.
A giant hand rested on my chest and with a gentle smile still in place, Mary spoke in the gentlest voice I had ever heard. She spoke like the sighing of a cool breeze in a heat wave. She said:
I didn’t need to be told twice.
After I had calmed down, Mary took me in her giant arms and I felt like I was the Baby Jesus in Mary’s arms. I felt safe. She took me to the bathrooms and stripped me down even past my bare minimums. She washed me down with a practiced ease. She wrapped me in a towel and strapped me to her back with a leesu . Then she got around to washing my clothes.
I had pooped myself.
I sat in my first class later that morning at the front, where I could gaze at Mary. My clothes weren’t mine; they were from Mary. She said I could wear them until mine dried but I think I will keep them. She gave me them.
I sat in class and I had eyes only for her. She spoke and spoke and spoke and all I could hear was music. She was singing to me and it made me happier than I had ever felt in my life.
And then something was thrust in my face. I felt myself start to sink into the giant abyss once again but then I felt her giant hand stopping me in my tracks. Her voice soothed the terror away that I was able to open my eyes a crack. It was a rag doll that had been thrust in my face. I followed the hand that held it and I came face to face with the Playground Bully in the flesh.
I stared at big round eyes, smooth brown skin pockmarked with tiny black spots and cornrows of plaited jet black hair. It was a girl all along. How could I have missed that? She smiled at me and I pretended I didn’t see it. Her Associate, beside her smiled too and I didn’t know where to look, so my eyes sought out a giant pillar of strength: Mary. There she stood with her wide smile. She said:
I didn’t need to be told twice. I was starting to feel woozy all over again, so I did as I was told.
Then I looked back at the rag doll still in my face. I looked at the chubby hand that held it. I looked at the Playground Bully and her Associate.