I spent a large portion of my childhood playing at the playground with a bunch of neighbourhood kids. It was a wonderful time, filled with games of hide and seek, police and thief, tok ka (police and thief with the sole police roleplayer hopping on one leg) and the old classic chicken-protecting-chicks-from-the-big-bad-wolf (which children always mistakenly call “?????” despite the broken relationship premise and the wolf’s inglorious non-mention). It was a time of fun and laughter, petty child scuffles, numerous bruises, scratches and mudstains on clothes, and childhood crushes that never developed into anything more.
But the most memorable of my times in that sand-covered playground with brick and cement climbing structures and rusty metal parts was the day my parents brought me down to visit the playground for the very first time.
My father had a day off, and my mother thought it would be a good idea to spend a day with just the three of us at the playground to utilise the facilities that the government had so kindly provided for the residents in their housing developments. We dressed up as though we were all going out to a restaurant, my mother in a flower dress, my dad in his shirt and pants, and me in a button-down shirt with sleeves folded up, a pair of kid-sized jeans and my best shoes. All that effort for a visit to a playground not 10 metres away from the foot of our apartment block.
I remember my parents watching me as I tried to climb everything, from the strange-looking pelican with the holes on his beak, to the splintering seesaws that creaked under my 5-year-old weight, and the tall slide with the big steps that I struggled to put each foot on. But I was having a lot of fun, and I was being watched by the 2 most important people in my life, so I was also feeling a lot of love…
… for a good 7-8 minutes.
I was climbing up the tall slide for the second or third time. As I was reaching the top, I lost my footing and slammed my chin on the top step of the slide (which, might I remind you, was made with granite granules and cement). I started to cry, and my parents rushed over to me, carrying me down from the slide, and checking my bleeding chin.
My father decided that one accident was enough for the day, and we went home. I was crying my eyes out, but couldn’t find the words to express the pain I was feeling, and that pain wasn’t from my chin.
Many years later, I recounted this story to my wife, telling her the real reason for my tears that day, and what really haunted me. That day, I blamed myself for falling down, for cutting short the playground visit, for making my father decide that it was better for us to go home and nurse my bleeding chin. I blamed myself for ruining my father’s day off, and effectively cutting short my own personal time with my parents, a rare moment where it was just the three of us, without my sisters to distract them from showering their attention on me.
My father never did bring me down to the playground since that day.
And as I finished telling my wife about that day, I started weeping in her arms, and cried myself to sleep.