Golden yellow leaves were scattered around the ashen cement and a bright blue sky watched over the world from above. A glorious sun shone brightly from overhead and white clouds, like cotton balls, painted the heavens like watercolors. A slow, calm breeze swayed the branches of the oaks and birches and fir trees and everything was alive. Cardinals sang their songs shrilly as morning soon arrived. Crows screeched and squawked. All the lively beings joined in inside the cement-and-grass habitat. Plastic, tan tubes gazed at the creatures longingly as they waited for their own friends to come. Old and worn metal bars hung around uselessly as they anticipated the arrival of their little jumping and screaming companions. The area was empty, save a few small things which still crawled around in the brilliant daylight. Stone arches surrounded the place and the air was rank with the odor of smoke. Steel machines groaned in the distance and the city was awake, although the time was terribly early in the morning.
Feet shuffled around on the gray pathways and backpacks crashed and pounded on children’s backs as the half-asleep youths made their way up a grassy hill into an aged building titled, “Halcyon Elementary School”. Some of the youngsters seemed as tiny as an ant compared to the older kids, which loomed over them as each individual tried to push open the silver metal doors, which denoted the entrance of the school. Forenoon passed quickly, even though the interior of the building was filled with noise and the shrieks of anxious beings who thought minutes felt like hours.
“When will recess come?” a little second grader whined. “I want to go outside, Mrs. Greene!”
“Wait a little longer, Linda,” the aged, amber-haired teacher hushed. “Don’t you see? Class will end in twenty minutes and after lunch, you can go outside.”
Many children, just like Linda, anticipated the loud ding of the school bell. Soon enough, the hallway was filled with chatter and the sound of teachers shushing their insanely obnoxious students. Boys and girls of all ages entered the cafeteria and immediately proceeded to wolf down the lunches their dutiful mothers had packed. One lunch lady eyed the children suspiciously and rasped, “Eat slower. You still have time.”
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Roach!” Brady Bell and Juan Rodriguez shouted in unison. “We’re just… really hungry.”
Children waited for a teacher to pass by their manila-colored tables. They weren’t the only ones waiting for recess to come, though; a strange woman stood outside the school.
She was in her early twenties and was tall and pale. Heavy auburn curls sharpened her jaws and her dark eyes fixed themselves on the old school. A large white sticker labeled “VISITOR” was stuck on the top right of her teal cotton shirt.
Birds suddenly began to flap frantically in surprise. A crowd of seven-year-olds rushed towards the empty playground, embracing their immobile, lifeless, manmade friends. Noise, like the continuous chattering of a flock of seabirds, filled the open air. Just like the vibrant sun, energy bloomed all over the place.
The sun blazed on hot concrete as noontime passed. Bluejays and thrushes chirped and sang as they secretly watched the people on the playground jump around. One child was sitting alone, staring down at the dusty ground in wonder. His gray eyes gleamed against the sunlight and his bright, white smile matched perfectly with his skin. The woman, who was staring around, suddenly focused her vision on the lone child. Her black flats shuffled over the dirt and she flinched at the squeak of the antiquated swings as she made her way towards the boy with the chestnut brown hair. The child jolted up and turned to look at the tall woman.
“Um, hello, ma’am,” he began quietly. “Uh…”
“I’m sorry,” the woman apologized. “I just wanted to take a look at what you were doing.”
“Why?” the boy blurted. “Why are you here?” The woman, with her stern gaze and deathly aura, didn’t seem like a person he would like to talk to. She hovered over him like a huge shadow, which made her harder to approach. Her terrifying beauty was accentuated by her sharp German accent.
The woman, who noticed the boy’s unease, sighed and proceeded to explain. “You know, I went to Halcyon years ago. Fifteen years, perhaps? Time’s passed so quickly.” She paused and expected him to make a sound, but he remained quiet, his large eyes fixed on her.
“Anyways,” she continued, “I used to play on this same exact playground in my early childhood. I sat on the same red swings and played on the same grass and the same slides. I can still hear the ringing of the school bell while I was still a student here. The town’s changed a lot, though. Each day, the place has gotten busier and the air has only grown thicker and smellier. You probably don’t really care about what I’m saying, right? After all, you are of a younger generation.”
“No, go on,” he insisted. “I like your story.”
“Really,” the woman remarked. “Good. Not many kids like the stories of the earlier times anymore. Everything about this school has been almost the exact same, but some things have still changed. Look around you. Do you see that bush there?” The boy nodded. The fat shrub was surrounded by empty ground.
The woman smiled lightly and chuckled, “The area around there used to be surrounded by dozens of large oak trees. Goodness, those giant things were even taller than this two-floor school.”
The boy gasped, astonished. “Really?!” he exclaimed.
“Yes,” she grinned. “The trees were cut down and used for construction, though. Now, do you see this long tunnel running down the sand here?” She pointed to a spot right under them. “There used to be a tiny, tiny, stream that ran over this place, right here. All this sand used to be a mighty green hill. My friend Nataly and I used to always throw rocks into the old stream. The other children joined us, as well. ‘Edeline,’ Nataly would call out to me. ‘The rock-hill’s gotten bigger today!’ One day, the stream dried out. The school stopped running the poor thing and used the money to buy computers for the lab. Do you know what we did?”
“What?” the boy inquired, clueless. “What did you do?”
“All of us, not me,” the woman corrected. “Our entire class took a vote one day during recess and decided on having me and Nataly take the action. There was this shiny green rock, unlike any other, in the pile of pebbles we had in the old stream. We buried the rock in the slimy remnants of the water. Our teacher, Mrs. Greene, was infuriated when she saw our browned hands, though. She forced us to sit in time-out the next day. We were happy, though, because we fulfilled our task. I’d trade five minutes to keep an old memory. Wouldn’t you, too?”
“Of course,” the boy said quickly before asking, “And about the rock… did you mean this?” The pale child shoved his hand into the pocket of his skinny navy jeans and pulled out a worn green stone. Age had chipped the stone into funny angles and shapes, but Edeline Lenz recognized the precious treasure immediately.
“It sure is,” she breathed. “After moving to great Berlin, I never thought I would ever see this beauty again.”
Chatter was all around the two of them, but only silence played in their minds. The youth inhaled sharply as he awaited the woman to speak again. A few puffy clouds had dimmed the daylight a bit and shadows became darker as time passed.
The boy broke the silence. “I found this while digging in the sand with my friends. The rock wasn’t placed too deep in the dirt. Do you… want to keep it, Miss, um, Edeline? You can definitely have the rock if you want.”
She ignored the boy and whispered, “Hiraeth. That’s what I named this rock. Hiraeth.”
“The name’s beautiful,” he commented.
“Thank you,” she chuckled. “I’ll keep this rock if you don’t mind.”
Curiously, the boy inquired, “What does ‘hiraeth’ mean, th–”
Before he could finish his question, a loud voice crackled and broke the atmosphere. “Second graders, line up at the door right now!” A silver whistle shrieked as Mrs. Greene placed the object halfway into her mouth. Children began to sprint towards the school doors, dropping the hula-hoops and the jump ropes they had been playing with.
“Come on, Kyle!” a boy shouted at the brown-haired child. “Let’s go!” The former eyed Edeline apprehensively before veering his gaze towards Halcyon.
“I liked our conversation,” the boy, Kyle, told Edeline before leaving. “Could you come over again sometime, just as a visitor? I want to hear more of your stories.” A tinge of regret hung in his voice.
I wanted you to tell me what “hiraeth” meant, Kyle thought sadly.
Edeline beamed at him. “If I can squeeze in some valuable time, then I will come back here,” she promised. “I won’t be going back to Berlin for a while.”
A sliver of hope lit up in Kyle’s eyes. “See you, then!” he shouted.
Edeline grinned as the boy turned away from her and raced to catch up with his friends. Laughter resonated in her ears and the scent of youth and innocence sustained itself strongly around her. Soon enough, absolute silence replaced the excited cries of the children. Edeline lingered in her memories, which were soon recalled from a faraway land in her head. She fumbled around with the old green rock, which was sandy and gritty against her soft hands, unlike the smooth texture the object had in the past. A wave of nostalgia and bittersweetness overcame her as moments passed between Edeline and the hushed conversation she was having with her previous home. The world seemed to quiet down as she looked at the jade-green stone. A voice echoed in the distance.
“Edeline, the rock-hill’s gotten bigger today!”