Black boots climb worn wooden stairs. Deliberately. Making just enough noise to let the inhabitants of apartment 5b know that the jig is up.
You don’t own this place, I do. And, by the way, it’s not the only thing I own.
If this were a movie, the boots would be all that you, dear one, would see: meticulously shined leather, thick ties in perfect bows, not a scuff. The camera would be zeroed in, intent upon the menace in such polished precision.
But this is not a movie and everything I’ve just described to you is only in my mind’s eye. Or, should I say, in the equally precise hollow of my ear. Singular. I have only one ear–only one that works anyhow. The right one is diminutive and deaf, a situation left over from birth and although my mother has always blamed herself for my “condition”, I assure you it is how I was meant to be. The truth is I have compassion for the little guy and I’ve never understood the apology I see on people’s faces when they encounter him. He’s always heard things inaudible to the rest of the world: the sadness inside a shade-too-bright hello; the glee of dandelion seeds unexpectedly set free by a small breeze; the yearning of a candle flame as it tangos. Cha-cha-cha. You don’t have to believe me. It’s ok. We’re used to that.
Anyhow, the left ear is the one that works in the ways that you would expect and the one with which I heard the scuffle-thud of those boots. I am the inhabitant of apartment 5b–one of them anyway–and I am waiting. Why I am waiting is not something that occurs to me just yet. After all, I am four years old and this is simply an elaborate game of hide and seek. The trick of being a good hide and seeker is not, as many assume, to not be found. The trick is to be found last.
An expert’s guide to winning hide and seek:
1. Find a good hiding place
2. Be as quiet as a mouse. Or a spoon. Or a spoon in a cup
3. When you’re sure everyone else has been found, make a little noise so they don’t forget you’re there
My sister is six and we, along with our parents, two cousins, aunt and uncle, have been waiting in this attic apartment for a long time now. Months, they say, stopping then to pause and look at one another with a knowing meant to bypass a child’s perception. Waiting. Behind the grand wooden wardrobe that slides out from the wall, the wood oil filling our nostrils while we make futile attempts at sleep. The best hiding place ever. Side by side like cigarettes. Sardines. Matchsticks. Like people waiting for a firing squad. And that’s when it occurs to me, as the black-boot-climb grows louder and nearer now, slowing to a definitive stop just outside the front door. You see, everyone else hears silence. But not us. We hear cold, precise menace. We hear pain disguised as evil. No, it’s worse than evil. It’s the intent to be evil. Yes. That’s when it occurs to me that perhaps we have not been waiting after all. Perhaps in this game of hide and seek the trick really is to not be found. Because when we are, the jig is up.