“Yellow or blue?”
An overheard question, aimed not at me. Between kids. Those children who play outside the small school in the church that I pass every day as I walk up the hill to the highway. In small groups, the boys over here, the girls over there. A natural division – not unlike amoebas that split, a sheer physical proof of instinct’s enigma. Not always separate, they often join forces to play versions of games I might know if I stayed in one spot and studied their moves, but what kind of a man would pause for such sport? One can’t watch children at play anymore without creating suspicion. So I quickly move on, content to let their raw laughter relay their good will. And sometimes I hear stray words in their cheer that first linger, then echo, a stray phrase of English, my past brought up front.
“Yellow or blue?”
Referring to what, I’m not sure, for recess forms it own subtle world. I suddenly recall from my past small hands clutching paper, ten hidden fingers merging and moving together as a voice counts out -- slowly, in rhythm -- the numbers I gave him. This paper looks like a fake flower, the size of one’s fist, with separate folds as its petals, small symbols on each. These are numbers, crude drawings, colours. The kid holding that paper tells me I must give him a number, from one straight through ten. If I say ‘four’, he will count quickly out loud, as his hands shift and bob, the paper opening and closing like a fish on a dock gasping one final breath. (“One-two-three-four.”) I must choose again, another number. (“One-two-three-four-five-six.”) Another number. (“One-two.”) A final choice. (“One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-NINE.”) The game is over already. The folds are unravelled. Something is written in ink underneath that last petal. A joke? A lewd sketch? What did we get for our stake in this game?
So many moments, clouded. How can I forget what once brought me such mirth? Even back then, I could never quite get how that paper was shaped into something so layered; I could never do it myself, manipulate those few separate folds into one common unit.
In class, when the teacher’s head faced the blackboard (which in truth was dull green), someone would slip out that geometric time-waster, and off we would go. Don’t make me fold it myself; just ask me to play. But what was its point? How did we win, or lose, or were those terms not the point? All I can remember is not wanting to choose, worried about what I might find, that the colour I chose might betray my own instinct and leave me with naught.
Other games, at recess: hopscotch, played with a pink plastic puck of some sort, and marbles, always marbles, the purple wine bags loaned to us from our parents the cloak that contained all our gems, those small orbs and pure gems. These games I recall, with uncanny clear vision, but the details and rules have slipped right away. Hopping on my right foot over chalk patterns on pavement that lay outside my homeroom’s side window, or getting down on one knee to line up my marble’s one chance to roll straight on to schoolyard’s faint glory. (Save the Steelie for that one, that giant silver of power, five Gobstopper’s in size.) Mini-movies that my mind can replay with clear vision, Blu-Ray in clarity, the picture just perfect. But the actual restrictions we followed to determine a winner? Gone, if they were ever there at all.
“Yellow or blue?”
So simple: choose a colour, on that paper, and all will be opened. The folds will be made flat. Sometimes I think that if I could figure out the exact rules of that makeshift toy’s easy game, other gates might be opened. If someone offered me the chance to play that same game at my present old age, it might unlock certain doors that are now firmly shut. I would recollect how to keep score on a hopscotch’s small court; I might be able to kneel with my marbles and know now for certain just who got to shoot first. These inconsequential moments from age ten and under would suddenly return, vivid and actual. I could collect them like comics, stuff them away in sheer plastic. “Oh, that’s how we did it,” I’d mutter, those small moments I’d once feared lost and forever now back with a gloss that gives me my sheen.
If I hesitated way back then, that final crayon-coloured small fold a source of pure fear, I would not do so right now, knowing all that’s at stake. I want to see what awaits me, when the paper unfurls. A joke or a sketch, each would be ecstasy. But who would suggest such a game at my age? I can’t think of a soul.
I almost pause on some mornings, to stop at that school and join in their games, to tell them: Please remember quite clearly how each one is played, for soon you’ll forget, and what is lost can’t be found once you give up the search.
I don’t say anything, though. I let them play. I fear they would not understand the intent of my words, the spirit that’s offered. In the end, it’s almost unfair to interrupt anyone’s recess, so short is its span.