Lily, aged six, leans against the metal platform of a brightly coloured playground ride. Her eyes are downcast and faraway. Her black hair is pulled back into a braid, still tightly in place from this morning, and it falls to one side as she tilts her head. Her white t-shirt with its flowered motif remains clean, her Hello Kitty jeans as crisp as if they were just out of the wash.
To see her standing there, one might think that she is sad, neglected, alone. And indeed, she has been left behind. Her mother is late again; it is well past the time that she was supposed to have been collected from the after school program. Furthermore, the girls running the after school program have all gone home.
But they did not leave Lily on purpose, and she is not sad. She was hiding behind the corrugated iron in the corner of the playground. It was easy to evade them – they were in a rush to head home or out to meet friends, to carry on their lives, and they had only swept their eyes briefly around the playground before pulling the black-framed glass door shut, passing through the office, closing the door into the street and locking it.
And now, Lily is alone in the gaily decorated playground. She has come out from behind the iron wall and is idly leaning on the twirling animal ride, moving her foot back and forth absent-mindedly, causing the carousel to turn slightly, this way and that.
Her back is to the animals that make up the ride but Lily knows these characters well, so well that she doesn’t need to look at them anymore to see them. There is a bright orange tiger, its tail jutting up at an improbable angle and bent at the tip, a sunny yellow giraffe, a white rabbit with oversized buck teeth, a smiling Winnie-the-Pooh, a small and out-of-place carousel horse, and a funny little green creature, a mix of Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket. He is her favourite.
This evening, Lily is not interested in riding on this, or any of the other rides in the playground, though she finally has them all to herself.
Lily is only interested in the silence. The peace that falls when everyone has gone home, when the noise of busy lives moves from outside to inside. She thinks of all the houses bursting with families readying themselves for dinner, children doing their homework, parents returning from work, the smell of food wafting through the air. And shaking her head slightly, her braid rocking back and forth, Lily focuses again on the silence of the playground.
Lily has been turning over a story in her head all day, and only now does she have the silence, the time to herself, to let it come to life.
She watches, a slight smile turning up the corners of her mouth, flushing her brown cheeks, as the characters in her imagination dance across her gaze.
Absently, she reaches out to try the door into the office. It is open. She pushes through and searches for a piece of paper and a pencil, and finding them, sits down at the desk. She begins to write her story, drawing little pictures beside the words. This is her best creation yet and she is very earnest about getting it all down just right. She doesn’t want to forget any of it.
The minutes pass as she unwinds the visions in her mind.
When her mother and the after school program coordinator find her, in a panic of screeching tires and doors that crash open, cracking glass, she is asleep, her head on the desk, the imprint of a pencil on her cheek.
The soft evening light has darkened into night and the noise and confusion have caught up with her. They push upon her until she wakes, groggy and confused, from her pleasant dream.