Leave it to Measles
The warm summer sun beamed down upon a playground buzzing with activity. Schools were out and the long-awaited summer vacation had begun. Children darted about the playground in tight-knit packs, each on one quest or another, shrieking in glee. Parents and nannies watched over their wards from a reasonable distance, not wishing to intrude, whilst lounging on park benches and picnic blankets.
Nicky sat beneath the large boughs of an isolated oak, its shade reflecting how he felt. He watched the other children with downcast eyes and longing gaze. He had hoped that this year would be different, had told himself that he was going to make loads of friends. But same as last year, the few times he had tried to be friendly he had been turned down and nasty words had been exchanged. He didn’t know why the kids in his class had treated him the way they had, or what it was that they found wrong with him. All he knew was nobody wanted to be his friend.
He spotted a pebble on the floor beside him and picked it up to examine it. It was the perfect shape for skipping, he thought. He sighed, skipping wasn’t any fun when done alone. He gave a half-hearted attempt at skipping the pebble across the sea of grass, where it bounced twice before coming to a stop. Nothing was fun alone, he thought, before burying his head between his chest and drawn-in knees.
‘This stinks.’ He said as his lips began to quiver and hot tears rolled down his cheeks unbidden.
‘Why are you crying?’ A girlish voice said.
Nicky wiped away the tears and opened his eyes to find a girl of similar age crouching in front of him with an upset look etched on her face.
‘Yes, you were. I saw you.’ The girl said.
‘So what if I was?’
‘I was just wondering why is all?’ The girl looked around before saying, ‘Where are your friends?’
‘Don’t have any.’
The girl seems perplexed, as if such a thing was unheard of. She held out her hand, smiling, and said, ‘I can be your friend if you want?’
Nicky looked first at the outstretched hand and then at the girl before him.
‘Why do you want to be my friend?’
‘Because everyone needs a friend.’
Nicky sniffed hard and dried his cheeks before reaching out and clasping the girl’s hand. She helped pull him to his feet and then still holding his hand said, ‘Come with me.’
Nicky allowed himself to be dragged through the writhing mass of wild and screaming children until coming to a stop in front of the playground’s set of monkey bars. There they found two boys identical in appearance, trying to see who could make it the furthest on the bars.
The girl cleared her throat and said, ‘Hey, you two, guess what!’
The brothers stopped what they were doing and came over to where she stood with Nicky sheepishly beside her.
She smiled and grabbing Nicky’s arm said, ‘This is my new friend...’ She turned to Nicky and asked, ‘I’m sorry, what’s your name?’
‘Nicky!’ She repeated to the two brothers. She turned back to Nicky, ‘My name’s Anne, and these two are…’
The slightly taller one shrugged and said, ‘I’m Ty.’ He pointed at his brother, saying, ‘And this here is Vax.’
Vax stuck out his hand, giving Nicky a gap-toothed smile. ‘Nice to meet you, Nicky.’
Nicky shook Vax’s hand and ended up having his arm pumped vigorously.
From that moment, the four were inseparable, spending the bulk of the summer doing all the things they could think of.
The summer was drawing to a close and the group of friends had decided to spend their last day together at the park where it had all started. Nicky arrived first, eager for the day’s adventures. An hour went by and although the playground had filled with the shouts and laughs of others having fun, Nicky’s friends had still not arrived.
Nicky was quick to blame himself, it had been too good to last. As the day stretched on, it became clear to Nicky that he had been abandoned. Crestfallen, he made his way to the oak and sat beneath it once more.
The afternoon came, bringing with it his ride home. He climbed into the back seat of his mother’s car, not saying a word.
‘What happened sweetie?’ Nicky’s mother asked.
‘They never came.’ He said, the dam breaking.
‘I’m sure everything will be alright.’ She said, trying to soothe her child’s pain.
Once they reached their home, Nicky went to his room and shut himself away from the world. When he decided to come out, he found his parents talking in hushed whispers in the kitchen. They heard his approach, and stopped to look at him, Nicky could tell that they were hiding something.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.
His father said, ‘Nicky, there has been an accident.’ He paused, not sure how to proceed. ‘I’m sorry, son, your friends didn’t make it.’
‘What do you mean they didn’t make it, what didn’t they make?’
His parents looked at each other with pained expressions until his mother said, ‘They died, sweetie. On the way to the park.’
Nicky felt his world start spinning out of control, and he sunk to his knees, his tears already spent.
His father walked over to him and placed a warm, reassuring hand on his shoulder, his face a bittersweet picture. ‘Leave it to us Measles and our bad luck. Your grandpa wasn’t wrong when he said the family was cursed.’ He rose and gave Nicky a pat on the back, ‘Better luck next time sport. There will be more to come, there always is.’
Nicky frowned at his father’s words before asking, ‘Friends or back luck?
Nicky’s father sighed, ‘Both son, both.’