The summer I was ten, I spent many a toasty morning traipsing barefoot, up and over the hill behind our house, then down to the lush green park that sprawled out for acres below, on the other side. It was an oasis of distraction and fun.
I swung back and forth on the rings till my armpits ached. I flew up high in the swings, bailed out, then landed on the soft sand, below. I dug tunnels in the sand and let the cool, moist grit inside the tunnels soothe my sunburned arms. Over and over, I swung and I bailed and I dug, till my limbs shook with exhaustion and my throat was hot and dry.
Then I would head over to the director’s office at the corner of the gym, unearth the dime Mommy had given me hours earlier, and slide a frosty cold bottle of Orange Crush out of the cooler and up to my lips. Yum. The tangy sweet liquid trickled down my throat in a river of cold that revived my soul, right down to my toes.
At the north side of the gym, games were laid out in the shade, on a long line of plastic picnic tables. Checkers, chess, dominoes, foosball – any game whose playing pieces would not blow away in the wind, it was there.
Often, I would shoot caroms with a twelve year old boy who was more or less a permanent fixture at the game tables. You couldn’t miss him, because his slicked back hair looked like black, watery ink. Always wet, it never dried and it never moved.
His hair gave me something to think about, between shots, during our carom games. Finally, I decided that he must be new at using hair crème and hadn’t quite gotten the hang of it, yet. I felt mildly embarrassed for him, yet mildly entertained at the same time. (Was this the magic moment when I realized that people are funny?)
In umpteen games over the course of that long hot summer, that boy’s watery black hair never moved, no matter how much the wind blew or how far he had to bend over the carom table to take his next shot. Like I said, it gave me something to think about while I was standing there, watching him line up his shots, and waiting for my turn.
We were evenly matched and neither one of us could be bothered with talking, so we often played several games in silence, till some kid would call out, “Next game!” And then as soon as our game ended, we would put down our shooting sticks and walk away like strangers. Never saying, “Bye” or “Good game” or “What’s your name.”
We were both simply part of the landscape of the park, and of course we would always be. You don’t talk to the trees in the park. You climb them and then you jump down and you skip off to the next fun thing. You don’t thank the trees. That would be like thanking the sun or the air.
Or the boy with the watery black hair.