Playground in my mind!
By Jing Villamil
THEN, too, the playground had gone.
It didn’t disappear overnight. It took its time, like all things proverbial, slow but sure. We should have prepared ourselves for it, like waiting in dread for an aching tooth to give up its walls, thus, exposing further the pulpy nerves to every exploring poke and stroke.
The see-saw dropped off its parts first. One time we saw one seat plunked down hard to the ground, together with one plump boy. Next time, we saw the other seat had gone, too. There was just this thick metal pole balancing pointlessly on a fulcrum, like outstretched arms without hands and fingers, praying for kids to “come see-saw with me: and bring your seats with thee.”
The swings swung out next, chains hanging limply down, strung to no seat, seating no kid. Arms emptied, the chains wept. Wet, it rusted, it crumbled.
We were left hanging on to the memory of our own childhood, of holding tight to these chains with our dear life. We were pulled back by the seat by helpful babysitting hands, then we were pushed hard forward. Our hearts lurched out to the sky again and again until momentum slowed down to a stop. Then we scream out loud: “gimme another push, one more pa, sigue pa!”
It took longer for nature and the sheer weight of kids to bring down the bars and the beams, the ladders and the slides. First, the bright paint dulled, then off it chipped. A grimy brown remained – the color of happy little hands and slippery little feet. And grimy wriggly little butts. The color of joy in the mud.
One day, a little girl, with eyes wide and thumb in mouth, sat suspended forever halfway between top and bottom of the slide. Totally dried out of wax, there was no more shimmying slid to the slide. When one can’t slide on a slide, why therefore slide? When one walked-up the ladder up to the top, then one continued to walk-down its slide, it is not anymore a slide. It is a mere walk in the park.
When fun had gone out of the playground, the children stayed away. When the play equipment had fallen in disgrace or had rusted untrusted, the parents insisted the children stay away.
When the children did not come, the spirit of commerce came in. The playground turned into a promenade or a picnic area, with a cluster of seafood, chicken or pork barbeque stands teasing noses to sniff their way, beckoning . . . “dito po, sa banda rito“. There was, too, the flea market selling not a single flick of flea.
There was a major change here though: the adults were the major players. The children were just the “retazos” tagging merrily, curiously, hungrily along.
Because, as time ticks on, change comes to the farthest island and the most remote of barrios. And when change comes, it is most often welcome, come to think of it. This time, though, change came with the most disastrous of disasters.
The virus does not distinguish, does not make special preference, does not exempt: from the child who goes home to a cooled pastel-walled condo with even lots more toys, to the child who walks home barefoot through rivers, rocks, solid hard or grounded or muddy earth.
It is not that everything in the park had rusted and gone or the parents had kept the children away. The virus had chased them away.
There is, of course, the playground in one’s mind. Where one can click off non-existent buttons anytime, and travel to NeverNeverLand. Where daddies plant red rice, fruits, veggies and all things healthily yummy. Where mommies breastfed babies to cheekily rosy and cook all things healthily yummy. Where kids run, jump, climb and play on seesaws, slides, swings, bars – all properly working and brightly colored with veggie-based paints – and eat all things healthily yummy.
Where classes are held under the sun; under see-through canopies but only when it rains. Where there are no nasty chief executives and greedy pesky many-faced bosschiefs and lawmakers. Only good daddies and loving mommies. And God looking down, standing guard. A smile in His eyes, a laugh on His lips. A finger pointing to His Holy Forehead.
Seeming to say: “but only in the mind, my dear child. Only in the playground of the mind – yours and Mine.
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: The original piece was written/published 13 years ago. Was it a foreboding of what is to come years later? It is revised with the Covid-19 insertions.)
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