Pauls Bankovskis // Mazgalvīši spēlē mājās [Tiny-Noggins Play Houses].
-Mazgalvīši spēlē mājās [Tiny-Noggins Play Houses]. Riga: Liels un mazs (2007)
EVENING FOUR: HIDE-AND-SEEK
Hi, my name is Anna. My Dad has been abroad for several days and now he can’t get home anymore. He went away when the snow had already melted; it was quite warm outside and everybody thought winter was over for good. It had given up fighting spring, as they told us at school. Dad left his winter coat and boots at home. And then the cold set in abroad and it started to snow, and Dad can’t even leave the hotel anymore. I know that because he told me so on the phone. They don’t even get any television there because of the snow. The only thing ever on is the snow. Everything is snowed in. Even the windows are snowed in. And the planes can’t fly anymore. And that is why Dad can’t get home.
My Mum has lots of work to do so I am staying with Kārlis and Kārlis’s mum. I guess that makes Kārlis’s mum my stepmother then. She reads us fairytales every night, like the fairytale of Snow White and the seven dwarfs. I know Kārlis likes that one a lot. That’s because he likes the beautiful Snow White and because he would like to be just like the dwarfs. That’s what he said himself: he said he didn’t want to grow up – ever, and he was going to stay little forever. And he also said that if he married anyone at all, he would only marry his own mum. Except I am big enough to know things do not happen that way. Also, I don’t like the fairytale at all. That’s because I don’t like Sow White’s stepmother.
Sometimes we are playing games in the evening, either Settlers of Catan or Monopoly – or else we try and put together the big puzzle, and then I watch Kārlis’s mum. I observe her. I try to understand why it is that Dad likes her better than my Mum. And why he likes it better to live with her instead of with me and Mum. Because I love Dad very much. And Dad loves me. We love each other very much. And yet I do not understand. Kārlis’s mum must somehow know what I am thinking; she is probably angry with me. It’s just that I don’t understand, is all.
Kārlis’s mum doesn’t like it when I don’t say hello to her or forget to say thank you at the table. She probably thinks I am doing that on purpose or because I don’t like her, or am angry with her. And that is why she sometimes seems angry with me although I do know one has to say hello and be polite. It is not my fault that I sometimes forget that and sometimes I am being polite so quietly that no-one even hears me. What a mess.
It’s easiest of all when there are just the two of us, Kārlis and I. We build pillow houses then. Or else we play hide-and-seek.
I love the seeking part. I am standing in the corner of the room and counting to twenty-five.
“One, two, three... twenty-five! Ready or not, here I come!” I say.
“Not ready yet!” Kārlis yells from the other room. “Perhaps you should count from one to forty!”
So I do:
“One, two, three... forty! Ready or not, here I come!” I say.
“Not ready yet!” our tiny-noggins yell from the other room. “We haven’t hidden yet.”
Then I count to fifty and then sometimes even to hundred, and then finally I can go and start looking for them.
It is dark in the other room because someone, either Kārlis or one of the tiny-noggins, has switched off the light. I have to look for them in the dark. I stop to listen in but the only thing I hear is my own breathing and the street noise.
Wasn’t there a rustle in the wardrobe?
I open the wardrobe and find a tiny-noggin hiding behind the shirts, trousers and dresses. It is going to be easier now as there will be two of us looking for the others.
Who is making the curtain move?
Another tiny-noggin is hiding on the windowsill behind the curtain.
The third tiny-noggin is hiding in the bed under the blanket. Perhaps he was pretending to be an ordinary pillow.
All of us together find the fourth tiny-noggin hiding on top of the wardrobe. It is so high that none of us can even reach him and he just has to jump off all by himself. He rolls down the wardrobe but doesn’t hurt himself because tiny-noggins are soft and their fall is also soft.
The fifth tiny-noggin has scrambled into the toy box and buried himself in Kārlis’s Lego blocks, toy cars and car parts. The sixth tiny-noggin is also very easy to spot – he has climbed into the laundry basket.
This way all the tiny-noggins have been found now – the three which are mine and the three of Kārlis’s tiny-noggins. The one we still haven’t found is Kārlis himself.
We look again in all the places where the tiny-noggins had been hiding. We take a peek under the bed and the table, inside the wardrobe and the bookcase. Still unable to find Kārlis, we switch on the light – and yet he is nowhere to be seen. Then we do a careful search in other rooms as well, in case Kārlis has broken the rules hiding, for instance, in the bathroom, the hall or the kitchen cupboards. Nothing. Still no sign of Kārlis.
Finally we try calling him.
“Kārlis, Kārlis, come out!” I yell.
“Kārlis! Kārlis!” the tiny-noggins chime in, in their thin little voices.
No answer. Silence. No matter how long we listen, no matter how much we prick up our ears, we seem to be left alone in the flat.
“He could have gone out,” it occurs to me and I try the front door. But the door is locked.
“We must find him by all means,” the worried tiny-noggin dad says.
“How could he disappear like that?” I wonder.
“Tell her, you tell her!" the tiny-noggin dad nudges the other one.
“No, you tell her!” the other one resists.
“Stop squabbling and speak up!” I am annoyed. I don’t like this thing with Kārlis’s disappearance one bit. Kārlis’s mum could return any moment now, and she would be really mad if she found out that we had lost Kārlis and couldn’t find him anymore.
“We definitely have to find him. The sooner the better,” the tiny-noggin says.
“If we don’t find him, he can be left there for good,” adds the other one.
“Left where?” I can’t make sense of it.
“The place where all those who were never found at hide-and-seek go,” the tiny-noggin says.
“And they are not the only ones,” the other tiny-noggin adds gloomily.
“In that case, let’s go and find him,” I say. “Where exactly is the place?”
“It’s not as easy as that,” the tiny-noggin explains. “To get there, we have to hide again. We may make it there while no-one has found us.”
“What if they never find us?” I ask anxiously.
“Then we will have to stay there as well,” the tiny-noggin answers.
“But what do we do then?” I am upset.
“This is what we are going to do now,” the tiny-noggin suggests. “All of you, go and hide now. I will stay behind as the seeker. It’s just that I won’t go looking for you at once; I will wait for a while to give you time to find Kārlis. I will only start looking for you in... in... I don’t know in how long a time.”
“In an hour?” I suggest.
“What’s an hour?” the tiny-noggin is puzzled.
“An hour will have passed when the big hand of the clock will have travelled all the way around the dial and come back to where it is now,” I explain.
“What about the small hand?” the tiny-noggin asks.
“The small hand will have moved on to the next number,” I say. “Got it?”
“I guess so,” the tiny-noggin drawls.
“Now go and hide,” he says. “I may not go looking for you at once but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to hide carefully. Quite the contrary – you have to hide really, really well. Otherwise it would only be cheating, and we wouldn’t get anywhere with that.”
The tiny-noggin covers his eyes facing the wall and starts counting:
“One, two, three...”
“Count to hundred,” I call out to him and rush away looking for a hiding place.
My first thought is of crawling under the bed but then I realise it would be too easy to find. Slipping under the blanket and pretending to be a stack of pillows seems way too silly. Behind the curtains is also not a particularly good hiding place.
So I climb into the wardrobe and creep inside Kārlis’s mum’s fur coat. I drag myself up inside the coat, put my hands into the sleeves and stay suspended in the air like that, my feet not touching the floor anymore. It is dark and quiet inside the wardrobe and smells of moths. Or perhaps of moth poison, not moths. Eyes open, eyes closed – it’s all the same here, too dark to see anything anyway. And so I decide to close them.
Suddenly I feel that I am falling and open my eyes again. You get this feeling sometimes as you are falling asleep: it seems that you are falling or rolling down somewhere; then you give a start all of a sudden and wake up from the fright.
Apparently I hadn’t fallen asleep after all – which means I couldn’t wake up. I had actually fallen because I wasn’t hanging inside the fur coat anymore. I found myself in a room with a dull brownish light.
“Yoo-hoo!” I called out softly. “Is anybody here? Where am I?”
“Am I, am I...” the echo repeated.
I started to walk along the narrow and low passage until I reached a door and opened it cautiously. Behind the door there was a really huge room filled with endlessly long and high shelves. Each compartment of the shelves was lit by a tiniest little light, almost like a glow-worm. Some of the lights were bright and big, some really dim; in some shelves the little light had almost completely gone out. There was no end to the rows of shelves in sight; the weird room also seemed to have no walls and ceiling at all, going on and expanding in all directions infinitely.
“Where am I?” I repeated again.
“In the world of lost things,” someone said behind my back. Startled, I looked back over my shoulder – it was the tiny-noggin dad.
“This is the world of lost things. Everything people lose, forget and can’t find again end up here: from stray dogs and cats to clothes and carpets taken to the dry-cleaner’s and left unclaimed and left-feet shoes forgotten at the cobbler’s shop. And all the words that have entered someone’s mind and been forgotten the next moment unsaid are also here. This is where all the little rhymes and songs which people have learnt and later forgotten are stored. Here you will find jokes and funny stories which have fallen out of memory. And all the children, hidden and never found at games of hide-and-seek. It is quite similar to the world of children who haven’t been born yet – and also the world to which all those children who will never be born go.”
“What kind of worlds are those?” I asked, although I wasn’t at all sure I really wanted to know.
“They are enormous worlds existing right next to ours. Just like the world of the dead,” the tiny-noggin said. “Or, say, the tiny-noggin world. Except the tiny-noggin world is one of the smallest, almost as small as the human world. Compared to it, the world of the dead is much larger. The world of lost things is the largest of all: it has been storing lost things since people have been living in their own world.”
I shuddered; either the vastness of these worlds or the perhaps the draft meandering among the shelves made feel a bit chilly.
“You mean you don’t remember the world of the as-yet-unborn children?” the tiny-noggin asked and gave me a look of surprise with his wide drawn-in eyes. “The fact that you have forgotten it means that it has also come to this world and is stored in one of the drawers or shelves.”
“I don’t remember,” I said.
“You really do not remember floating above your house before your birth and seeing from above the roof with the chimney and the trees in the yard?” the tiny-noggin seemed surprised.
And then it felt like I was indeed beginning to remember experiencing something like that.
“How is it possible for a whole world to be stored in here anyway?” I asked.
The drawers, at least in this part of the room, were small, the shelves – short and narrow: so narrow that I would have had to struggle to put my hand inside.
“What could you possibly keep on shelves as small as these?” I asked; many of the shelves seemed empty while others revealed, for instance, a barely visible hair, grass stalk, biscuit crumb or ordinary dust lit by a tiny light – or even an almost indiscernible scent.
“The really tiny shelves store all the lost feelings and sensations,” the tiny-noggin explained. “For example, everything a person may have felt towards another and both of them have lost afterwards.”
“You mean like my Mum and Dad?” I asked.
“Yes, just like your Mum and Dad among other people,” the tiny-noggin nodded.
“What if I found the feelings they have lost...?” I was excited.
“No, that wouldn’t do any good. Lost things are just stored here. You can’t find anything. I mean, you can certainly find all sorts of things but nothing can be recovered – just like you could find anyone who has ever died in the world of the dead but no-one can ever be brought back to life.
“If you are able to take a look inside the world of the dead, it means you are at least a bit dead yourself – otherwise you couldn’t possibly enter the place. It is the same with the world of lost things. If you can peek inside, you have been lost by someone for at least a moment. Perhaps you have hidden so well that none of the hide-and-seek players are able to find you. And yet it doesn’t mean you could take away anything that belongs to this world –not at all! Otherwise anyone would be able to play hide-and-seek with themselves.”
“That’s so complicated,” I said, and the complicatedness of it all gave me headache.
“How about farther away? What’s on those larger shelves?” I asked. The shelves gradually became taller, the drawers – wider and deeper, and it almost seemed possible that they could eventually become so huge as to store real cars, buildings, perhaps even whole cities and worlds.
“Feel free to take a look, it is not forbidden,” the tiny-noggin encouraged me.
I walked among the shelves, opening and shutting the little drawers, peeking into the open shelves and examining the lost things: half-eaten butter biscuits, manicure scissors, black shoes, denim jackets, peaked caps, books with a few unread last pages, mobile phones with loads of unanswered calls, teddy-bears, umbrellas and glasses, wallets and gloves.
“There is everything here,” the tiny-noggin said. “Everything people tend to lose: things they are hoping to find someday and those long-forgotten or hopelessly lost. Buildings that are no more, streets that are no more...”
“And trees?” I asked.
“And trees,” the tiny-noggin agreed. “Even whole gardens and parks.”
“But that’s so very sad!” I said.
“What is?” the tiny-noggin was confused.
“The fact that no-one will ever find these things.”
“I am not sure if that is sad. It feels sad at the time when people realise they have lost these things will never ever find them again. That is why it is so important not to lose anything – to take care to track down anything that belongs to you, put it back in its proper place, keep an eye on it – to always find anything that is yours. It’s just like playing hide-and-seek. You may often find that the thing you are looking for is right under your nose.”
“Wait a minute, what exactly happens to the children who were not found?” I was curious. “Are they stored on little shelves as well?”
“Oh no,” the tiny-noggin laughed. “The two of us are not sitting on a shelf right now, are we? And we are just like the rest of the children who haven’t been found. Only until someone finds us. Meanwhile let’s search the shelves and find everything we have ever owned and lost. That’s an exciting game. Many of those who have visited this world and later gone back to theirs never forget it.”
“But there are so many things here! How could you find anything at all?” I was puzzled.
“Those who have found themselves here have no need to hurry. They can go on searching forever,” said the tiny-noggin.
“We do have to hurry! We have just an hour,” I remembered.
“It had slipped my mind,” the tiny-noggin admitted.
“We have to find Kārlis. We have to find him before Kārlis’s mum returns. She mustn’t know anything at all about Kārlis’s disappearance. What would I say? How could I explain? She would never believe me and get really mad at me!”
With the tiny-noggin under my arm, I started to run between the rows of shelves, checking each aisle and looking out for any movement in the distance or nearby. One by one I found the rest of the tiny-noggins, wandering dreamily between the shelves by themselves; they seemed to be lingering in worlds of lost things of their own.
“We never forget anything and never lose anything at all,” the tiny-noggin dad boasted. “That’s why there are no things which belong to us here. There may be a tiny-noggin or two perhaps, forgotten by people along with their childhood homes.”
The tiny-noggin had clearly forgotten that only a minute ago he had forgotten all about Kārlis and us having just an hour.
I have no idea how long we had been rushing about like that when we finally caught sight of Kārlis sitting motionlessly in front of a shelf with a little black kitten, curled-up and asleep.
“Kārlis?” I called him; he didn’t even turn his head.
“We have been looking for you everywhere – we just couldn’t find you. Let’s go now, we have to get back. Your mum will be home any minute; she will be really angry if she can’t find us.”
“If she can’t find us, we will have to stay here,” the tiny-noggin added.
And yet Kārlis didn’t seem to be listening at all.
“I found Tommy,” he said and gently stroked the black kitten. It didn’t move and seemed to be asleep. The tiny light in his shelf was quite dim but getting brighter now.
“Kārlis, we have to go!” I repeated.
“I want to take him back with me,” said Kārlis.
“Funny how he is just as big as he was at the time when he got lost,” he went on softly. “Mum thought Tommy could have fallen out of the window and wandered off. I know that cats always land on their feet. I knew nothing bad had happened to Tommy. I am taking him with me.”
The light above the kitten’s head grew even brighter.
“No, you can’t do that,” the tiny-noggin said.
“No, you can’t do that,” I repeated – because now I knew. “You can’t take anything from here. You could only bring home Tommy if you had found him for real, in our world – in the yard, for example, or in the staircase. This is the world of lost things and, unless someone finds us really soon, we too will become lost things just like these.”
“That’s not fair!” Kārlis objected. “I want to take him with me!”
“You can’t,” I said.
“You can’t,” said the tiny-noggin. “The only thing you can do is keep him in your memory and not forget for good.”
“But that’s just not fair!” Kārlis repeated and his eyes welled up. The little light above Tommy’s head was burning really bright now.
“I don’t know if that’s fair but I think it is right,” the tiny-noggin said. “Look, there are so many things that people have lost, haven’t been able to find again and will never get back because of that. If Tommy is here, it means that he is still lost. And only the little light in his shelf shows that you haven’t forgotten him yet.”
A bright light hits my face; I open my eyes and sort of wake up – although I know I wasn’t really sleeping. Kārlis and five of the tiny-noggins have curled up next to me in the wardrobe.
“Is there anybody in there?” Kārlis’s mum has opened the wardrobe door and found us.
A whiff of pancake aroma is coming from the kitchen. Still sleepy, we get out of the wardrobe, stretch ourselves and go to the kitchen to have our supper.
“How did you find us?” Kārlis asks his mum.
“It’s a secret,” says Kārlis’s mum. “How long did you sleep there?”
“Don’t know, an hour or so,” Kārlis answers.
I look at the clock. It seems that the tiny-noggin who was supposed to find us can’t read the clock after all. Three and a half hours have passed.
I have four pancakes, Kārlis has three and we both say:
After the supper Kārlis wants to play hide-and-seek again. Kārlis’s mum says that she is tired but Kārlis persuades her nevertheless. He doesn’t mention the world of lost things to his mum at all.
“One, two, three...” Kārlis’s mum is counting in the other room.
“Count to fifty!” Kārlis yells. He hasn’t found a hiding place where he wouldn’t be easy to find.
“Ready or not, here I come!” says Kārlis’s mum.
I am squatting behind the armchair, all curled up as small as I can.
I hear footsteps approaching. Then moving away.
“Knock-knock, Kārlis!” I hear Kārlis’s mum’s voice.
“Mu-um! Why did you have to find me first?” Kārlis complains.
The footsteps come closer again.
“Knock-knock, Anna!” I hear somewhere quite close to me. It’s Dad’s voice. While we were hiding, Dad has returned. And he has found me.
Later, before bedtime, Kārlis tells his mum that he would like to have a cat.
“I remembered Tommy today,” he says. “I had forgotten all about him but today I remembered.
“We could have a kitten, couldn’t we?” he says.
Translated by Sabīne Ozola
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