It was just a game of hide and seek.
We wanted a hide-and-seek champion and whoever was lucky would get all our snack money the next day. School closed early that day and most parents did not know. That meant we had to be in school for two more hours, till the normal dismissal time.
There were eight of us, classmates – including me and Jessie, my twin brother.
Amanda, the eldest in the group – older than I was by two months – was our leader. She would be the seeker while the rest of us would hide. The last person to be found would become champion. You could sense the excitement that filled all of us as we scurried out of the class room to find hideouts.
I ran towards the Computer laboratory and shut the door quickly, but someone pushed it open, almost hitting my forehead.
It was Chike, my crush.
Flustered, my grip on the door handle weakened and he came in. He apologized for almost hurting me and I nodded, still awed by the surreality of the scene. I was in a room, with the most handsome boy in class, alone.
He asked me where I wanted to hide and I pointed towards the desk at the far end of the laboratory. I imagined Amanda would give up after scanning half of the lab and won’t search till the end. He said it was a smart idea.
We ran to the spot and squeezed ourselves under the desk. It was crampy and there were cobwebs and a spider too. I panicked but Chike held me together. When I calmed down, we started talking. I think we were there for an hour. My butt was numb but I didn’t want to tell Chike. It didn’t seem cool to talk about my buttocks to the boy I liked. Besides, I didn’t know if I would ever have such moment again.
We heard the door open and jumped. We’d forgotten we were in a game. The footsteps came closer and closer and sounded louder and louder. Chike and I glanced at each other, hoping we wouldn’t be found. After what seemed like eternity, Amanda peeked under the desk, our desk and burst into laughter.
“You lovebirds hid here! Did you guys kiss? I’ll tell everyone you kissed!”
I looked at her, then Chike, waiting for him to say something.
“We didn’t kiss please. Stop that.” I muttered.
She’d found Henry, John and Blessing already.
Jessie would become the champion.
We all split up to look for him. We searched all the classrooms. We called out his name but he didn’t reply. John’s mum came to pick him. As she waited for him to get his bag, I wondered if to tell her about Jessie. He couldn’t have gone far but I was worried. John left and we continued searching. It was almost 5pm now.
I held back my tears. I didn’t want to imagine anything bad had happened. When Chike’s father came, I told him we couldn’t find Jessie. He called my parents and helped us search before they arrived. My mum had hardly stepped into the school before she started scolding me for not taking care of my brother.
We asked the security guard if he had seen him and he said he just got to the school for his night shift. His partner who stayed in the morning had gone home already. We looked around the school again. I called out Jessie’s name with the loudest voice I could muster, sobbing and sniffling in between.
My father called the police and reported that Jessie was missing.
I hoped Jessie would run out any second and laugh at us and gloat because he won. We searched till 8pm. We searched till the only thing we could see was a few feet in front of us. I was creeped out. I’d never been in my school at night. The familiar environment now looked like a strange cluster of shadows. I was hungry but food was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
We went home after the police assured us that they would find him. My uniform was soaked in tears and sweat.
For days, weeks, months.
For Jessie to run out of his hiding spot and ask for our lunch money.
It took me ten years to accept that he was gone.
That the hide and seek champion was the one who would never be found.