“Hide and seek! Hide and seek! Maya’s it, run!” A little boy screams beside me. I think he can scream louder than me. I don’t like it, he makes my ears hurt.
“Last round kids! You’ve got to go back in 10 minutes.” Ms. Abby, the scary nurse says.
I shake my head, but I don’t think Ms. Abby sees it. I don’t think mommy wanted me to know, but I heard the doctor say blood test. I know mommy never gets blood tests. So it must be mine. Blood tests means needles, and scary red liquid, and it hurts. But Ms. Abby doesn’t have needles right now. I think needles are only inside. Nurse Abby says it’s to keep it “stair all eyes”. I don’t think stairs have eyes though. But if I stay outside…
I hear Maya count to ten. I think she forgets number eight. Dummy. I run away from her. I need to hide somewhere. I see a bench in front of me and sit “criss-cross applesauce”’ under it.
“Not a very good hiding place if you ask me.” A scratchy voice says.
“Um- I didn’t ask?” The child’s voice floats up to me.
I laugh, “Snarky one aren’t you?”
Silence. I don’t think the child understands. I don’t bother to explain though. I don’t have the energy to. So tired, these days all I feel is tired. Instead I just sit and stare out into the horizon. Beyond the hospital walls, the sun begins to set. I savor the feeling of its warmth on my face. Soon, it will all be over. Despite everything, I can’t help but wonder when my daughter will find out. I wonder if she ever will.
Back by the park, the kids are still scrambling around, running from the seeker. I watch as one is caught, tries to run, and falls, scraping his knee. The young nurse rushes over to check on the child. I wonder if she will bandage his knee. Kiss the boo boo goodbye. I would’ve done it for my Olivia. But that child is not her Olivia, so as I watch, she picks the child up, wipes off his knees, and sends him to sit on the side. I watch and do nothing, because he is not my Olivia either. The game resumes, the children scrambling back into hiding spots. The seeker counts to ten, the nurse stands back, and it is as if nothing ever happened. The game will continue with or without the boy. The world keeps turning, righting itself and stretching over the missing pieces. The hole my Olivia leaves is a hole only I can feel. I catch myself and shake my head. Ridding myself of useless thoughts of the past. Instead I focus on the child under the bench.
“Running out of time, you are. Why are you hiding out here anyways?”
“I don’t like needles. They hurt.” Even though I don’t turn to look, I can all but hear the pout in her voice.
I sigh, shifting over to cover her, “Well, you’re not doing a very good job of hiding. Everyone can see you like that.”
I hear her move slightly, “ Oh, well now they can’t. You’re blocking me.”
I smile, amused. I don’t know why I do it. Perhaps because this girl reminds me of happier days with my own daughter. Perhaps because I want to remember those moments on my last day. Perhaps I am just delaying the inevitable. But either way, I find myself shaking my head.
“You’ve got ten minutes girly. Then you and I both have places to be.”
The old grandpa covers me so that Nurse Abby can’t see me. I think I hear Maya shout somewhere. Hopefully if they can’t see me, they’ll forget I’m here. The grandpa doesn’t say anything. It feels weird sitting here. I think this is what mommy calls awkward. I spell it out in my head. A-W-K-W-A-R- D. I think I got it right. Awesome.
“You shouldn’t run away from your problems. You’ll worry your parents.” The grandpa’s voice sounds like sandpaper. He also doesn’t look at me when he talks. Mommy says that’s rude.
“Why not? I don’t like it inside.”
“Well, they bring you here to try and get you better. But if you run away and cause trouble, maybe they’ll run away too.”
“My mommy won’t leave me.” I poke my head out to look at him again. He’s still watching the sun set. My eyes are already hurting. The sun definitely isn’t that cool. In fact, I think mommy says it’s very hot.
“Don’t poke your head out or they’ll see you,” I quickly curl up under the bench again, “and you never know what people can do. Even family.” I wonder why he sounds so sad.
“I told you, my mommy isn’t mean like that.” I don’t like that he’s being mean to my mommy.
He doesn’t answer. Instead. He turns his head to look at nurse Abby and the other kids. I think I hear Maya shout something. He still won’t look at me.
“Is that what you’re doing,” the grandpa raises his eyebrows when I ask, “hiding from someone?”
“Quite the opposite child. Someone is hiding from me, and I’m afraid they’ve already run away too far for me to follow.” This time, he actually looks sad. Very sad. I kind of want to cheer him up.
“Oh,” I don’t know how to make him happy again, “Are you sick? Is that why they’re hiding?”
“I am sick, but that’s not why they left, child.”
I don’t get it, “Why then? Where are you sick?”
“If only I knew.”
I’m not sure which question he answered.
I check my watch, inching its way ever closer to the time. I wonder if the watch will keep running after I’m gone. Maybe the water will break it. I know the water will break me. As I watch the minute hand tip over again, I find myself asking, even though I know I shouldn’t.
“Suicide. Recognise that word?”
“No,” a pause, then, “is it a bad thing? Is it like cancer? Mommy always cries when the doctor says that word.”
I smile ruefully, so young to suffer so much. Too young to understand her own suffering. Her voice still tinged with the innocent naivety of youth. Shielding her from the world’s cruelty.
“Not quite, but it’s unimportant. Just the ramblings of an old man.”
“The doctors also say I have two months left. Left before what?” She asks the question so innocently, it takes me a moment to comprehend. When I do, I am struck with an odd feeling.
Here is a child who has lived but a fraction of my life. Here is a child who will only get to live so long. Yet I am throwing away a gift this child will never get to even understand. My Olivia wouldn’t have wanted that. But my Olivia is of the past. Born of memories and promises never kept. Now, she is just that. Broken memories and forgotten pasts. My Olivia is not the same Olivia that left.
“I’m going to die right?” the child’s voice startles me out of my thoughts, small and unsure, “I heard mommy say it once. People disappear when they die right?”
I frown, ill-equipped to teach a young girl about mortality, “Tell you what, if you keep being a good girl and get all your blood tests, maybe you’ll get better.”
“Maybe?” She sounds sad.
“Nothing is for certain.” The sun finally falls behind the hospital walls, the world falls a shade darker.
Across the field, I hear the nurse call for the kids to come in. Calling out names to take roll. I stand, dusting myself off and turning to look at the child for the first time. Pity that I can’t properly see her.
I hear her small gasp, “Your eyes! That’s why you could look at the sun for so long!”
I laugh, taken aback by her reaction. “What’s your name kiddo?”
“Olivia, but mommy calls me Livvy. You can call me Livvy too.”
I blink in surprise. A smile blooms on my face. “Looks like our ten minutes are up Livvy. It was nice meeting you.”
As I turn to walk away, I hear the girl call out to me, “Will you be here tomorrow?”
I consider for a moment, then slowly, I nod, “I will.”
Photo: tank air on Pixabay.com