Hide And Seek

Shutterstock / Natal.is © Child, hands over face, stripy long sleeve t shirt, dark background

She was sure her brother would come and find her, as he always had done before…

Mary couldn’t stop herself from coughing as she waited in the small space in the dark.

Did Tom hear her? Would he find her?

She scrunched her eyes tightly closed. When she was a toddler, she believed that if she closed her eyes she became invisible. That whoever was looking for her, mainly her older brother Tom, couldn’t see her at all.

She wasn’t two any more though – she was seven – and Tom was fifteen. But that didn’t deter Tom from playing with her whenever he had time.

Those times were getting further apart though. Grim tidings cast a pall over everyone’s lives.

Mary didn’t understand a lot, but she knew what war meant. Uncertainty and fear.

It had made her parents sad. They tried to put a brave face on for her and her siblings when food and clothes became scarce.

But that wasn’t the worst part for their family. Her mother couldn’t hide her pain when her father left to join the fighting.

That day, she had held Mary tight as the tears flowed.

“He’ll be all right, Mary, you’ll see.”

Her mother didn’t even smell the same now – the war had changed that too. But being in her arms was still comforting, even if her mum’s words weren’t.

Mary knew her mum wasn’t just trying to convince Mary that her dad would be fine, but herself, too.

It was strange how sometimes you could convince yourself of one thing, when you know another. Just as she convinced herself now that she wouldn’t have to wait long for Tom to find her.

It was the first time ever she wanted him to find her quickly.

She didn’t like this hiding place at all. It was too dark and too cold.

But she scrunched her eyes tighter. She knew she needed to stop her heart beating wildly, and to soothe the panic that threatened to overwhelm her. A game of hide and seek, that’s all this was.

She listened carefully. Was that her brother’s voice? How close was he? Did he guess where she was?

She hoped he had forgiven her for being angry this morning. Ma was upset, too, when he told her he was going to enlist and fight.

Mary had watched her mother’s face turn ashen.

“No, Tom. Please don’t. You’re too young.”

“My friends are lying about their age to get in. I could have just left, Ma, and not told you – but I wanted to say goodbye, in case I don’t come back.”

Her mother had grabbed her chest and Mary knew why – because her heart hurt. So did Mary’s. That’s when she got angry.

“You can’t go, you can’t!” she’d cried.

“I have to try, Mary – don’t you see? To protect you all here, I need to be over there.”

“No! I don’t see. You won’t come back, like Dad.”

That’s when she ran off –angry, yes, but more afraid than anything else. Tom followed her to her bedroom.

“I will come back, Mary. And we’ll play hide and seek many more times. I promise.”

And because he promised, Mary let herself believe him.

That’s why – when, hours later, she heard strange rumblings in the sky and heard explosions, and yells and screams, and suddenly found her bedroom crumbling around her, leaving her in this small cramped space, trapped – she kept believing his promise.

She closed her eyes and pretended she was only playing one more game of hide and seek.

Mary could hear something nearby.

A voice. Tom. Calling her name. But his voice was muffled.

She tried to call back, but the dust choked her words.

She heard things being shifted, moved. It seemed like forever waiting, but finally she could see it. A pinpoint of light.

The light become bigger and bigger. She squinted as light poured over her.

“Mary. Mary! Are you all right?”

She felt herself being lifted up and carried. She didn’t recognise her surroundings. Her house was gone, the street just rubble.

“You came back,” Mary whispered.

“I hoped you would. I pretended we were playing hide and seek.”

Tom stared at the pile that was once their home.

“When I saw this, I wasn’t sure I’d find you.”

“Oh, I knew you’d find me.” Mary smiled. “You always do.”

Our My Weekly Favourites series of feel-good fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.

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