Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Déjà vu

Dé·jà vu.
An impression of having seen or experienced something before.

We've all experienced it before, one time or the other. That strange uncanny feeling of sudden clearness, of having been there or done something before. The sudden revelation bringing with it a myriad range of feelings and sensations, first and foremost amongst which is (for me at least) that extreme light-headedness, when the perception of the senses is heightened, when everything seems so clear.

And so it was when I decided to walk past that playground that lay yonder past where I used to stay, the sense of dé·jà vu that seized me was so overwhelming, my head spun and legs went weak. The chirping of crickets unnaturally sharp in the quiet night, punctuated only by the occasional happy shrieks of kids emanating from a nearby house.

The bright albeit slightly chipped and faded colours remained. The bright red swing, the mustard yellow slide and the navy blue see-saws faded to a pale sky-blue. All looking none the worse for wear, despite having suffered countless years of abuse by boisterous kids and unforgiving weather. They still stood, a little tired and forlorn perhaps, but waiting patiently for the next day to dawn when kids would come running along as they had always done.

And the memories, most immersed in some deep forgotten recess of the mind, came rushing back like a flood. Sand in hair, blood and salty tears, happy screams. And those challenges... to see who could swing the highest, invent the most unique method of sliding down and of course riding the wicked see-saws.

Unlike the modern, safer (being constrained by chunky springs) and thus decidedly more boring see-saws around in parks today, these see-saws are unfettered with the result that they slam down with a satisfying, bone-jarring 'Thunk!'. And being rambunctious kids, as most young ones are, we sought to maximise both the sound and impact. A ride on the see-saw usually meant a sore crotch and a faint ringing in the ears.

As you have undoubtedly guessed, such game play was not without its mishaps. Blood and tears were a norm. Like the time Leon slid head first down the slide at an awkward angle into the waiting embrace of the nearby concrete pavement. The sand bled that day. Or when Mei ling fell off the swing while it was nearly perpendicular to the ground; the screams and shrieks which reverberated throughout the neighbourhood have never been paralleled since.

Not all our adventures in that playground revolved around those venerable instruments of pain. A number of them involved a slightly deranged, cross-eyed old woman who with her shock of frizzy sooty white hair, looked like some demon of biblical proportions, her hair an aura of palpable insanity. All in all doubly terrifying to us kids who imagined her to be Medusa reincarnated; that if we stared at her long enough we too would be petrified into stone.

She stayed in one of the nearby town houses and would often rush out with alarming alacrity, stabbing her finger accusingly and shrieking, "You Brats are making so much noise and disturbing me! SHUT UP or I'll let the dog (a ferocious, beastly rottweiler) bite you!!"

We'd ignore her till she rushed out of the house again, her eyes ablaze with fury and charge at us, hands windmilling aggressively. Whereupon we'd scream and run hither thither in separate directions, each terrified that the crone would catch us and feed us to that monstrosity and the other abominations she kept in that dungeon of hers.

So it became a weekly ritual, one which we expected from the 'Hag', the foulest epithet we could come up with, in which we were ever the persecuted martyrs, driven from our 'castle' by this unholy demon. That was until the day Leon. felt particularly emboldened and when the Hag appeared, pompously announced, "We want to play here, go away!" and contemptuously flung a handful of 'magic' sand in her direction. (Which never hit her of course given that she was about 100 m away from us.)

Something just snapped in the Hag. She went a livid red and screeched almost incoherently, "You BAD BRATS! You ASKED for this!! Wicked children!!". Her frame visibly trembling with rage, she rushed back into the house and just as we were congratulating Leon. for chasing her off, she appeared with that growling, terrifying abomination and set it loose.

We ran, screaming our heads off in mortal terror. When you are five, huge snarling dogs with a lot of sharp pointy teeth look like something straight out of hell. Elaine. was however so petrified, she remained rooted to the spot, screaming and crying so loudly that the Hag's maid and a few neighbours rushed out and managed to drag both Hag and Beast back into the house. (The Beast we were later told was actually confounded by all the commotion, it just stood there and barked.)

So we went back and complained to our parents who in turned complained to the residential committee (At least I'm sure the others did. I was scolded for being rude) and soon we heard/saw no more of the old Hag. Kids can certainly be resourceful when they want to be.

But that was so long ago and all those memories revisited with just a single glance at this shabby playground with its tired-looking swings and pock-marked sand pit. The screams fading as they are submerged, reclaimed by the same elusive nook and cranny which had briefly yielded them.

And as I walk home, keys jangling in pocket, I wonder, not nostalgically but off handedly, where all those years had gone, whether someday, years from now I would walk along this same road and recall this very instant. The spherical moon, luminous and low, the wind rising in the trees, leaves falling to the ground in a gentle shower.

A sense of Déjà vu. Probably so.

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