He sat silent in the playground listening. He observed and became anxious. There was hopscotch, tig, British Bulldog, Corgi racing cars, skipping, gangs, groups of girls, groups of boys, and sometimes there was rain, sometimes sun, but mostly grey sky, mostly bitterly cold. Unless a pupil was tough- on personal terms with a monitor, there was no chance of getting in from the cold, hiding warm among coats or under a table until the shit was over.
The child didn’t understand the series of white lines on the playground; he didn’t understand white lines on the football pitch. He feared the restriction and rules attached to lines-feared the competitiveness of games that he never fully understood, games that never really showed happiness-win or lose, because winning would bring the worst out of his friends, losing bought on depression, a solemn interval which would take ages to disappear, he couldn’t understand the need for competitiveness and the vulgar consequences of it.
On occasions when die cast alloy toys were allowed into school, he who had none would wonder at the intricate construction and detail that went into making them. He looked away as his fellow school associates rammed them across the playground, into kerbstones, and questioned the wisdom when they marvelled at the toys resilience. It was all too painful; too painful to the child who dearly wanted to snatch them away and love them, re-paint, and show. His hopscotch stone was always warm in his hand, washed-gently, he rubbed chain oil on it, wrapped it in greased bread paper, and he was the fastest down the slide, he knew of friction and of physics, but found human contact and relationships too much…too much to fathom.
The sound of laughter made him nauseous, the sight of laughing faces, threatening. An accidental shove or push felt like the whole world was smothering him. In his head a constant question nagged…
“Who am I?”
“Who am I?”
The little boy glanced briefly at his refection in a classroom window. He stood still, rooted to the spot while other children glanced, knocked, but never off balance, his eyes screwed shut. But upon peeping he was still there.
He had a secret. He wanted to share the secret, but was warned off by an adult.
He could smell the secret, see it moving in slime, sometimes his mouth tasted the secret on the air as he grew closer, knowing where. He liked picking mushrooms with the old man who had large warm hands wooden colour; loved the smell of the bushes, trees and hedgerow. The lessons were better, and the coat smelled of tobacco, the beard of ale, breath like fried liver. He could touch the old man’s face without it moving away. Time stood still and days were longer out there in the fields. There were no white lines, no noise, only sounds he understood. The crack of bracken when brown, the rug of turf, the hiss of trees, the trickle tickle of streams, and the underwater shale sound of idle stones, the plunk of engaging gate and fence post, a fidget of hedgehog, and the carefree chirrup and wardle of the winged world. Each and every degree of heat he sensed on his young skin, and he would relish the warmth of trapped swamp air in dips of nowhere. Colour warmed his heart and encouraged a lost smile which didn’t hurt.
On rare occasions the sun shone on his world and the old man walked holding the child hand through woods. The tiny adult marvelled at gold and green marbling created for his vision by trees which, in a gentle breeze shilly-shallied sunlight through their leaves-shimmering-shading always moving and painting terra firma. He called to azure skies, pounced on puff balls, spun dandelion clocks out of time, and unfurled green flags of ferns until they furled no more. The rural peripatetic pair ate without looking at watches.
A fine menu, wild garlic and snails, boiled fungi, chestnuts, raspberries, strawberries, watercress as fresh as icicles, gooseberries, crab apples that that went “clock” when bitten, eggs, frogs legs, aluminium fish, milk after midnight, bread from bins, and hot rosehip and marigold syrup.
The lost and untracked pair never went hungry, and slowly they both knew how to find, both knew where to look, and stood proud like owls a top of hillocks looking down with dusk before them, sunrise warming their backs.
A deep gully ran in a straight line through a section of their favourite forest. He asked, and learned from the old man that many men were buried under the trench. An old mine working, a whole section had dropped and squeezed blood from the ears of sooty blackened men, who were never to see light again-never seen again.
A gully wall hollowed out; was home to two who were out, and wrapped up together no weather stirred the sleep of untroubled minds. Sometimes fallow deer stopped to stare, as did wild pig, and hares, once a goat. It was all a dirty Robinson Crusoe tale, until the old one died and left the little one cold.
The child poured overripe damson juice down the dead man’s throat. Stars turned at night, the moon said nothing, and the child lay by the slime of his father. The child new of physics and stood barefoot in the cold putrid intestines of the corpse. He stood rigid looking west, his head followed the sun, and he raised his slithered arms to the sky and took root.
Such a fantastic metamorphosis ensued – man to child, child to Mandrake.
There was a terrifying scream in a school playground, luckily in the childish calamity, it was not heard, but was carried off.