Hide And Seek
Hide And Seek7 mins 35.7K 7 mins 35.7K
"He didn't count to ten, Buddy! He's cheating!"
A hand clamped my mouth shut. Buddy looked down at me, his dark eyes wide, and shook his curly head before removing his hand. We were playing hide-and-go-seek at Sunday school and I didn't want to get caught, so I pressed my hands tight against my mouth to keep the words from falling out. My mouth would one day get me in big trouble, Mama always said.
I looked at Buddy staring through the gap at him. It was so strange how Buddy didn't even blink. He really didn't want to lose that day. The seeker went into the other room and we heard the noise again. I could feel the sound echoing inside my heart. Buddy held my hand so tight it hurt.
"They're just fireworks, Lenny, don't be scared. Remember the sparkling fireworks Daddy set off at the beach last year? They were so pretty, Lenny. He told us in a few years we'd be old enough to light them ourselves, Lenny. Remember that?" I didn't remember. Lenny was Buddy's little brother, but he got caught in the very first room. “I’m Robbie!” I whispered back.
The fireworks stopped. Everything was quiet until the church bells rang. It was lunch time. Mama had packed me my favorite ham and cheese sandwich that day, but I could only eat it if I finished my apple first.
“No lunch today, Robbie,” he said, as if he could read my mind. Buddy had an uncanny ability to know what you thought. That was why he was the best sitter in the neighborhood, Mama always said. I thought he was the best because he gave us candy for being good and helped us do our homework and taught us how to play grown-up games like basketball. He was the only big kid who didn’t look down on us like we were a nuisance until we got older. He understood that it wasn’t our fault that we were so little. We just needed some time, he would say.
My stomach growled a little, sounding like a little lion cub trying to roar for the first time. We both started at the sound, our eyes wide. “Sit still and be real quiet,” Buddy had said when he’d pulled me into the booth he’d been hiding in, on my way back from the bathroom. He told me we were playing and that we were going to win, that we couldn’t get caught here so long as I listened to him. I wasn’t going to argue. I was happy Buddy wanted to hide with me, but if we got caught because of me, I knew Buddy would make my life hell. I may never get to play with the big kids again, or be allowed to enter the secret tree house. So I sat still and tried to be real quiet, as if the silence would undo the trouble my tummy had caused.
The man came out again. We held our breaths, pretending to be mannequins, like the kind they have in the big stores downtown where the rich folk buy their clothes. I never understood why they needed so many new clothes. I wondered if their tiny dogs ate them up.
The man walked right past us, this time into the older kids’ classroom where Buddy should’ve been. The church bells had protected me that time.
The fireworks started again. They seemed never ending this time. I could hear screaming. “Have mercy!” someone shouted. It sounded like Miss Sanders. I didn’t know she was playing too. She was an old person, but not the grouchy kind of old – she told the best stories.
I put my fingers in my ears. “Why are they screaming Buddy?” The game had stopped being fun and I just wanted it to end so I could go back to class and sit with Lenny.
“Because they got caught,” Buddy was shaking now, like my bones were shaking with the loud fireworks. These fireworks were not pretty like the ones at the beach. They were just loud and scary. I didn’t tell him that. I was afraid because Buddy looked scared, and Buddy wasn’t scared of anything.
“Why is he crying, Buddy? Is it because he can’t find anyone?” It had happened to me when I was four-and-a-half and they first let me play the game. I was “it” and when I opened my eyes after counting to ten and looked around, I couldn’t see anyone. And it scared me so much because I thought everyone had left, like Daddy had left that year, and they would never come back. Every Sunday they made me the seeker because I was the littlest. And I would search and search, but I could never find them, and then I’d start crying like they told me not to. Buddy was the only one nice to me, because I was Lenny’s friend. One day, he showed me and Lenny the popular hiding spaces in the Church so that we wouldn’t be so bad at the game. “I’m not showing you my best hiding spots though”, he’d said, smiling. This was one of the spots he’d never told anyone about. But he wasn’t smiling anymore.
“He’s crying because he’s lost, Robbie”, he said to me, looking all grown up, like Buddy sometimes did.
The man walked out again, and I could see a smile on his face which was shiny with tears. He must’ve thought he had won, but he didn’t know we were still hiding. I prayed so hard that the man wouldn’t find us, but he did. He walked straight towards our hiding place. Buddy pulled me down, our backs flat against the screen, under the window.
I didn’t understand why everything was so silent. I looked at Buddy and he mouthed to me: “Be quiet!” I thought at first that maybe the fireworks had made me deaf, like that man who lived in the park and slept under a newspaper, but I could hear every footstep scraping against the broken wooden flooring.
I wondered why everything was moving so slowly and so fast all at once. It made me feel sick, like that time on the roller coaster. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like I might throw up or start crying. But I knew Buddy wouldn’t stand for that. I wasn’t a little kid anymore, he’d said to me a month ago on my birthday when I blew out five candles all by myself. Mama cried so much when Buddy gave me his old bike to ride to school on. I don’t know why; the bike made me happy. It was red and white and had a bell on it. Next week, Buddy was going to teach me to ride without the training wheels on. Like the big kids.
I had to stop thinking about my bike when I heard the man entering the confessional from the other side. The screen still hid us because we were too small. He thought the booth was empty.
“Forgive me, my Father in heaven, for I have sinned. It has been a year since my last confession.”
I could see a tiny spider trying to re-spin the web that had been swept away by the cleaners last night. I liked spiders. They could create paths in the air, like wizards. I stared at the spider because it made me less afraid.
“This world has so steadily deteriorated since you left us. There is no good anymore. People have forgotten your message. Is there anyone left who hasn’t sinned? I thought you had forsaken us until last month, when you spoke to me in my dream and told me heaven was running out of angels; when you showed me the path - the painful path of sacrifice.”
“It is said that the good that die young go to heaven. I was simply saving these children from a life of sin, for if they grew up, they would lose their morals just like the rest of the modern world. They would forget all that this great place had taught them. Their souls had to be protected from this terrible, awful world. And I did it! I saved them. So why did they scream? Why did they fight? Why couldn’t they understand? I was sending them to heaven.”
I looked at Buddy, confused. But Buddy wasn’t looking at me. His lips trembled and his eyelids were shut so tight trying to hold back tears, like the dike that held back the sea in the story of The Little Dutch Boy. That was my favorite bed-time story. He was just a small boy like me but he saved the whole city all by himself. I was going to be like him some day – a hero.
The man was crying again; the tears were in his voice.
“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I have broken your commandments and committed grave sins. But I did it for the greater good.” he said, “I am here to pay the price, my sacrifice: my place in paradise.”
We heard one last bang. The church was silent again. Everyone was asleep.