Hide and Seek

Characters: North Italy (Feliciano), Germany (Ludwig)

Based on the poem "Hide and Seek" by Vernon Scannel


The sun was warm, casting its honey gold rays over the heads of the children below. Sunlight streamed through a window, lighting up the eager, sweat-slicked nine-year-old face; five minutes more and the bell would ring, and then they would stream into the playground, shrill voices filling the air.

As the clock struck two, classroom doors burst open and children flooded over the asphalt. They clambered to the top of the slides and swung themselves on the swings. They laughed and squealed, tackling each other to the ground, neatly ironed shirts becoming rapidly more crumpled. However, not all the children joined in the fun.

In the corner of the playground, hidden beneath the shady oak leaves, sat a boy, hugging his knees, face overcast with something almost akin to envy, which didn't quite suit the childishly plump face. How he wished to slide down the slide or swing on the swing! How he wished that for once, just once, he too would be allowed to run across the huge green fields, laughing as he chased the running feet. But they wouldn't let him. They pushed him away, childish voices singing in mockery: crybaby! Silly Italian! What happened to your voice? Did you cry too much?

Back home in Italy, he had been popular. The other children liked him; they crowded around him at lunch time and admired his paintings; he had had lots of friends. Here in Germany however, the other children laughed at him; they told him drawing was silly, not quite as useful as math or science. They were larger than he were, and although he had been good in football back in Italy, here football often left him with a black eye and bitterly shamed heart.

Sometimes, Feliciano wondered if there was something wrong with him. He had always been proud to be Italian, proud of his culture and heritage, but now, he wondered if maybe, just maybe, he had been wrong. How could being Italian be a good thing when everyone else mocked you, when the German children laughed at you, your accent, your fetish for pasta, your everything?

And then, there was his voice. It was certainly high but other than that, there was nothing wrong with his voice. Surely it was just as good as everyone else's! But no; how could it be a good voice when it was so much higher, squeakier, and made him sound like a five-year-old girl?

"Feliciano! Hey Feliciano Vargas, over here!" Across the playground, there were children waving at him, beckoning him over, their faces hazy in the afternoon heat. A small balloon of hope swelled within him as he climbed, almost languidly to his feet and crossed over to them, tentatively at first, before breaking into a run.

"Hey, Feliciano, we want you to play hide-and-seek with us!" A boy at the front with his hands on his hips, whom he took to be the leader, barked. Joy swelled in his chest and Feliciano's small face broke into a huge smile. He nodded.

"Very well then," the boy continued on bossily, "I shall count and the rest of you shall hide, is that clear?" All around him, small heads nodded. Behind him, a girl nudged her friend who stifled a giggle.

"All right then. Ready?" One… two…" off went the small Italian child, tiny legs carrying him as quickly as they could. Where should he hide? Not the bushes, that was too obvious; the oak tree wouldn't do as a hiding spot either; but what about the tool shed? Yes, that was a marvelous place to hide. Only the gardener went in there and he would have gone home by then.

Quickly, Feliciano slipped his small form into the shed's cool interior. Against the back wall sat a pile of sacks filled with damp earth. A tiny space remained between the sacks and the wall, just right for a child to fit into. What a wonderful place to hide! Surely no one would find him there!

The tool shed was a small, musty, dank little room, gardening tools cluttering the cramped space. From his position behind the sacks, Feliciano could see with brilliant clarity, a rake looming up at him in the corner. In the gloom, the rake resembled the claws of a terrible monster, waiting to pounce on him and shred him to pieces.

The longer he sat waiting, the more he disliked the shed. It was cold, unfeeling, unlike the warm playground outside, filled with sunshine and laughter. The shed made terrifying noises, squeaking and scraping, scratching and hissing, like angry beasts. Feliciano remembered the stories his grandfather told him; anything could happen in the dark: small boys could be eaten by hungry, prowling animals; some strange creature could materialize out of nowhere and dig his eyes out. Anything could happen in the salty, suffocating dark.

Feliciano rather wished that someone would find him. It didn't really matter if it meant losing the game. He wanted to go home: his fratello would have made delicious pasta (oh how comforting pasta was in the dark, like an angel descending on a war-torn world); he wanted to go outside, where there were other children, where the angry beasts wouldn't get him; he was certain it was way past the time for his siesta, but he couldn't go to sleep now! (What if the beasts got him while he slept?); he wanted to cry, but that certainly wouldn't do! The other children would call him a crybaby. It was the first time they had asked him to play with them, and he didn't want to mess up! It felt like he had waited hours, but perhaps he was just impatient.

How long had he been there?

"Feliciano?" A voice called softly from the door, "Feliciano, are you still here?" In the light streaming in from the doorway, Feliciano could see the figure of boy clearly. He was Ludwig Beilschmidt, a boy he knew but barely spoke to. How wonderful sunlight looked after being in the dark! How wonderful Ludwig was, standing there, like a savior! Quickly, he scrambled out of his hiding place. Ludwig's expression was one of worry.

"Mein gott, Feliciano, you are still here!" Ludwig sounded almost angry.

"Ve, Ludwig, you found me!" Feliciano couldn't help the huge wave of relief sweeping over him, "you won! Am I the last?" He would have cried from relief, but then Ludwig would laugh and tell the other children about it. It could have been a trick of the light, but Feliciano thought he saw Ludwig's eyes darken, a flicker of guilt crossing his face.

"Yes, you're the last. You're really good at hiding, Feliciano." Feliciano giggled happily and made to push his way past Ludwig but was stopped by his outstretched hand.

"Feliciano," Ludwig's voice was slow, deliberate, as though struggling to find the right words.

"Yes?"

Ludwig took a deep shuddering breath, opened his mouth as if to say something, and shook his head.

Feliciano smiled and pushed his way past Ludwig. He stopped. Something was wrong. The sun hung low in the sky, casting long sloping rays over the darkening, lifeless playground. Away in the distance, a church bell tolled.

Where were the other children?

-x-

Call out, call loud -
"I'm ready. Come and find me!"
The sacks in the tool-shed smell like the seaside.
They'll never find you in the salty dark,
But be careful that your feet aren't sticking out,
Wiser not to risk another shout.
The floor is cold.
They'll probably be searching the bushes, near the swing.
Whatever happens you mustn't sneeze
When they come prowling in.
And here they are, whispering at the door
You've never heard them sound so hushed before.
Don't breathe, don't move, stay dumb.
Hide in your blindness, they're moving closer
Someone stumbles, mutters
Their words and laughter scuttle and they're gone,
But don't come out just yet, they'll try the lane
And then the greenhouse and back here again.
They must be thinking that you're very clever,
Getting more puzzled as they search all over.
It seems a long time since they went away.
Your legs are stiff, the cold bites through your coat.
The dark damp smell of sand moves in your throat.
It's time to let them know that you're the winner
Push off the sacks, uncurl and stretch.
That's better! Out of the shed and call to them -
"I've won! Here I am! Come and own up! I've caught you!"
The darkening garden watches, nothing stirs
The bushes hold their breath, the sun is gone
Yes, here you are - But where are they who sought you?

-Vernon Scannel-


Bunny's note: This is so short! *sobs* Anyways, I decided to do a series based on childhood. I don't really know what will be up next, but it will most likely be Austria/ Hungary.