There used to be a corner in our playground that we avoided. It was tucked away near an abandoned parking lot, and was marked out by four stones piled side by side like a makeshift box.
The playground itself was just a large open air area behind our residential block where most of us would hang out in the afternoon, when our parents were busy and didn’t want restless kids in the flat. This must have been about nine years ago, and we’ve all fallen out of touch. It happened imperceptibly, like a sand castle slowly crumbling away. I guess part of the reason was because none of us wanted to remind ourselves of what happened in that small corner.
We must have been around eight or nine when it happened. We were playing football really badly (as usual), when one of us noticed a soft meowing coming from the abandoned parking lot. It was a brown kitten, probably no more than a year old, and one of its legs was mashed to a pulp.
We crowded around the quivering mass of fur, curious. We were young children back then, and suffering was something that only existed on the evening news. To have it right in front of us made us feel important.
I guess that’s why none of us told any adult about it. We never agreed to do it, but it happened. It was the first time we had a chance to be responsible about something. To be adults.
We built the makeshift box out of pieces of stones and brick we found nearby, and spent the rest of the afternoon staring at the kitten in silence as if it was a newborn baby. One of us went to fetch some water and we took turns giving it a drink from our cupped hands. It stopped shivering for a while and stared at each of us. I remember feeling scared about looking at it in the eyes, as if it would ratify a contract that I might not be able to fulfil.
Once it finished looking at all of us, we felt bounded to stay longer. By the time one of us broke the vigil the sun was setting, setting a crimson hue over the kitten’s quivering limbs and dulling its contours. Momentarily, it looked eerily painless.
One by one, we left silently. When my parents asked me what we did, I just said ‘we played football and sat around.’ I guess everybody else said similar things.
The next day, we went straight to the corner. I don’t know why we seemed surprised that the kitten was still there— all of us recoiled a little when we saw that it was still alive. It might have been embarrassment at the display of life in front of us. It might have been shame.
But there we were, kneeled around the kitten— it was no longer shivering now. But one of us, I forgot whom, touched it with a stick and its head moved. That was how we knew it was still alive. All of us fished out morsels of food that we stole from breakfast— someone even managed to sneak out a small pack of milk. We never agreed on doing this, but I guess it was the first time that any of us were in love. With responsibility.
So we tried to feed it. It lapped up some of the milk, but didn’t eat anything. We shuffled around, uncomfortable, and tried to bat away the flies that were starting to nest in its mangled leg.
Like the day before, we started to leave, one by one, silently. I was the last. I left before it could look at me again.
That night I dreamt that it ate all the food we left it and we would go back the next day to find it there in the same place, and we would do the same thing again, day after day. I woke up feeling strangely hopeful, because at that age you still believed in dreams.
But we didn’t go back. We met at the playground, and someone suggested that we play football. Everybody agreed, maybe more enthusiastically than usual. At least that’s what I think. Once the ball started rolling, we never looked back.
From that day on we avoided that corner of the playground, and we’d always leave before sunset. I’d like to think that we did it out of shame, but I never asked any of the others. For some reason I still kept hiding food in my pockets till we gradually stopped going to the playground, one by one. I’d like to think the others did the same.