Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies"

The children jumped rope and skipped down the hopscotch squares and sang a song that went like this:

He is near and he is far.
Closest house and furthest star.
No more sadness, no more fear.
He is far and he is near.

Nobody knew what the song meant. They had all heard it from someone else. If you lined up the children in a chain and asked each one where they had heard the rhyme, they would point to each other and if you were to somehow untangle, to reach the endpoint, you would find that the first child had heard it from somebody that wasn't there, someone they had met on the way home.

But nobody asked them where the rhyme came from. The children played tag and hide-and-seek and when the bell rang, they slumped their shoulders and dragged their feet back to class where the teacher taught them that two times two is four and four times four is sixteen, but any number times zero is always zero.

There were never any snow days, but whenever winter rolled around, the children always wished there were. They wished for a day when snow would fall like in the movies, when they would be able to see a snowflake that wasn't made of white paper, when they could build real snowmen and have snowball fights and when they got tired, they would go inside to drink hot chocolate. Nobody asked the children what they wished.

Nobody asked the children anything.

And then, one day, it did snow. It was not like the snow in the movies—it was not pure white, but a shade of blue. They did not see it come down from the sky, but rather it already covered the ground when they woke up. They woke up and their dreams had come true.

There wasn't enough snow for school to be canceled, however, so each child was dutifully dropped at school and each one trudged to class, their gaze looking out at the snow-covered playground.

At recess, they hurried outside to play in the snow, but the sun had already done its work and most of it had melted, leaving only puddles and wet grass.

And then they heard the rhyme:

I am here and I am there.
With snow and skies and frosty air.
Let's go where it snows all year.
I am there and I am here.

When the bell rang and none of the children returned, the teachers all went outside and found there was nobody there. There were manhunts and rewards and tearful pleadings, but none of the children ever came back.

If you stand in the playground in the dead of winter, however, and listen carefully, you can hear singing:

They are cold and they are here.
With all their friends so near.
Always young and never old.
They are here and they are cold.

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