It’s very dark today. It is because it has been raining and raining and even at midday which is right now, there is very little light from outside. I feel nostalgic. I remember what we used to do in our childhood on dark days like this. We would play hide-and-seek. The advantage of having big, old family houses is that there were always very good hiding places. My Grandfather’s house was two storeys high. In the attic, there were several wooden trunks. They were off limits to us; the trunks were filled with woven cloths, and georgette and poplin women’s dresses from the fifties with narrow waists and baize cut skirts that looked very stylish. Aunts and older cousins were the only members who had access to the boxes. When we played hide-and-seek, we would hide in the dusty floorboards behind theseheavywooden trunks painted blue. They were the most usual hiding spots for many rounds of hide-and-seek. I remember other hiding places. The musty upstairs rooms were used by my grandparents as a storeroom for different things:one corner was for storing grain, in another corner Grandfather keptbiscuit tins and newspaper stacks, and in two of thetall almirahs Azuo Viü’s china dinner sets were kept under lock and key. All these dark corners made good hiding spots, although it was uncomfortably itchy to hide by the grain bags.
Besides these, there weremany dark and unexplored corners that older siblings warned we should not wander into for fear of disturbing the spirits who slept there by day and wandered out by night. We often heard footsteps after dark that made the wooden floorboards creak when no one was about.In the evenings, we totally avoided going upstairs by making up any number of excuses. However, Grandmother never minded making a trip upin the night to retrieve some forgotten item,and then she would need some unlucky grandchild to hold the kerosene lantern and accompany her. The more we avoided the upstairs rooms, the more mysterious they became. Who knew what beings came out of the murky corners to live out their lives when we were not invading their spaces? Who were the hiders really and who the seekers? Bit eerie when you think of it, right?
In spite of all that, hide-and seek remained one of our favourite pastimes. Being suddenly discovered was a thrill, entirely of its own. Sometimes the seeker could be as sly as the hider and the hider would be quite shocked when discovered. That thrill is what makes me a fan of this game.
The great joy of hide-and-seek was being able to hide longer than the other players. Especially if you found a place that no one had thought of, and if you could steel yourself to staying very still, then you could win the game. But timing was important and when the rest of the players shouted, ‘We give up. Come out from wherever you are, you are the winner,’ then it was best not to linger in the new hiding place. Who wants to continue hiding and risk being abandoned by the other children?
Old houses have nooks and awkward corners that are ideal for hiding. A flight of stairs may have an almirah directly beneath it. Or a bedroom might have a hidden alcove. Even something as simple as hiding behind the door can go undetected if the player remembers to tuck in his feet. Hiding under things, under beds and sofas was for beginners as those were the first places anyone would look. But finding good hiding places required imagination and a bit of detective work. Would I bother to look in the clothes basket if I were looking for someone? We had a dirty clothes basket for dumping clothes to be washed. It was woven of cane, about three and a half feet high, and quite sturdy when you consider the fact that it could carry the weight of a ten-year-old and still stay upright. The one who discovered new hiding places received the admiration of the others. So, the game was also a test of the imagination and not just an activity to let off some pent-up prepubescent energy.
Our hide-and-seek games were not entirely accident proof. One of our players found a nook on the wall where he stood undetected for quite long. He won the game. Unfortunately, he fell flat on his face when the excitement of winning washed over him, and he had to deal with a bloody nose and a few bruises afterwards.
Many of us carry scars from childhood games that we are still proud of, and they work as cues for telling a tale lying dormant in our memory bank. I’m grateful play was such a vital part of our growing up years.