Ro shifts in her seated position on the ground uncomfortably. This is where Mummy left her and this is where she is going to stay until Mummy comes to find her again, she doesn’t want to move even a few feet over to the grass in case she can’t be found so instead she squirms against sidewalk.
She can’t remember a time when she’s been around this many children but there is something comforting about being alone in a group of her peers. And along with the buzzing voices, she can’t help but get excited as well when the magician steps on the stage.
Ro, ever attached to her spot, sits through an afternoon of these shows. The same show over and over. He makes a ball float between his hands, he makes silver rings attach and detach, every show he asks for a volunteer from the audience to come up and pick a card from the deck he’s holding. Every show every other hand but her own waves wildly in the air. Rosmerta does find herself leaning closer, though, to try and tell if the card he finally holds up to them is really the card the dirty hand children had shown to them excitedly a moment earlier. She watches him wave a funny looking stick that he calls a wand and flowers appear, she wonders why he calls it a wand when it really isn’t. Rosmerta watches. Again and again.
His finale is to pull a rabbit out of a top hat.
She figures that there is some kind of trap in the table he sets it on that allows him to reach in and pull the white rabbit out. She tries to tell this to the kids sitting around her in a few of the shows but she remains largely ignored. “But that isn’t real magic,” she huffs.
Through a gap between a pair of girls in front of her, she can see bright eyes looking her way. The boy looks away as soon as her gaze locks on to his, she looks nervously back to the funny looking stick the man is calling a wand.
The shows end after this. As the magician stays, taking pictures with over-excited children and parents Rosmerta turns elsewhere. That boy is talking to very buttoned up older people (his parents) about the rabbit. They are telling him no and Ro doesn’t know why that makes her feel sad for the boy so she moves closer to the makeshift stage to separate herself from that feeling. Reaching out as the man had his back turned, she touches the wand tentatively.
“Careful!” The loud, now very scary man, spins around to face her laughing.
Ro, who had jumped back several feet on the spot, stares at him with wide eyes. “Why?” she breathes, her chest rising and falling in quick succession, showcasing her terror.
“Because it’s a magic wand,” the man tells her, waving his arms wildly. This does nothing to make her less afraid. Though it does sprout up some indignation.
“No it isn’t.” Her arms wave nervously at her sides, her palms begin to sweat and Ro is practically turned around and running off by the time she manages out, “It’s just a silly looking stick, that’s not a real wand!”
She can’t stop running because now she is running away from that man, but the panic settles down eventually. Ro tosses a look over her shoulder and sees that he’s not following but can not feel comfortable enough to stop, so she circles back around and tucks herself behind the trunk of a tree that seems too tall to climb. She needs to wait until he’s gone, she needs to get back to her spot. She needs to -
There’s that boy again.
He’s crouched on the ground, lining what seems to be bits of bread out in the grass. Ro’s eyes tear away from her spot in the distance, they fixate on what he could possibly be doing.
Children around them are running and playing, they are still being very loud and nearly all of them are playing with someone. It takes her a moment to realize they might be the only two kids in the park who are on their own.
Well. He’s not on his own. She sees those buttoned up people talking to a woman with very shiny shoes. But they aren’t paying attention to him, just close by.
So he really is alone - just like she is.
Tan hands stay on the tree as she leans around, tries to get a better idea of what he is doing. She leans in closer and closer, wobbling on the root she is standing on.
When those bright eyes snap in her direction she falls back on her heels , her hands on the tree are the only thing that save her from toppling over on her side.
But her curiosity strikes again as she finds herself leaning forward. This time he doesn’t turn sharply, but she knows that he’s watching her out of the corner of his eyes. She doesn’t know how she knows this, she can just feel it. Without thinking, Ro takes a step forward. And then another. By her third she lets go of the tree. By the fourth she can crouch down close by him.
He rolls up the bits of bread of a sandwich with only a bite taken out of it and then he lays it down in a growing line. Her brown eyes follow this white dotted path all the way back to an ant hill, but she still doesn’t understand. She wants to ask him but her palms are sweating again, her mouth stays glued shut in a nervous panic.
“They can carry one hundred times their weight,” a warm voice says - a warm voice that matches bright eyes. As she chances a look in his direction, she can see he is still eyeing her out of the corners of them and she can see him move to scratch at his cheek nervously.
Ro breathes out. “They can?” she asks, feeling a bit more comfortable knowing he is just as hesitant. She leans down closer to the ants inching their way out of the hole in the ground. “I thought they did nothing.”
She keeps her eyes trained on the ant going for the first in the line of bread, that is until she hears him again. “Nothing does nothing.” When she looks up, he is smiling. Small, unsure; one she can easily return.
“I’m Ro,” she tells him.
“Archibald,” he responds.
Her nose wrinkles at the sound. “That’s a big name.”
“I don’t like it,” he confesses.
A shared smile passes between them once more.
And then, somehow, they find themselves at the jungle gym. Not as boisterous as the other kids running about but Ro is speaking now and so is he. She tells him she can climb to the very top and then she shows him, he tells her more things that she doesn’t know. Squirrels are sometimes planting trees, they forget where they buried their stash and give a whole new life. He points to a pond and tells her that there are water lillies in the rainforest that can grow to be up to six feet.
“How old are you?” she asks as she hangs upside down from the monkey bars.
“Six,” he says and even though it is an interesting fact to her, she can see even from hanging down that he’s not saying it with the same bravado. “How old are you?”
Ro laughs and shakes her head, “I dunno.”
She had a birthday a few weeks ago, she tells him, but it was her second this month. She doesn’t mind his funny look while she drops back down to the ground.
They climb under the jungle gym after that.
“D’you live around here?” he asks, hopeful.
“I live everywhere,” she tells him, honestly.
He looks puzzled again but she doesn’t know why. Then he tells her that under their white fluffy fur, polar bears skin is actually black and she laughs loudly. A laugh that comes back when she pictures it again from her hiding spot when they decide to play hide and seek. She doesn’t really mind losing because then they run over to the duck pond together.
The sun starts to fade, though, and Ro hasn’t even begun to worry about where Mummy is when she hears those buttoned up pair call for him. “Say goodbye to your friend, Archibald, you have to get washed up.”
Ro hasn’t begun worrying about where Mummy is but she really doesn’t want Archibald to leave.
With his parents close by, she figures running won’t work. Deflated, he looks to her.
“Do you want to know a secret?” she says finally, this is something he will be able to understand. He won’t be puzzled by this at all. He nods enthusiastically and tilts his head in closer to offer her an ear.
“I’ve never had a friend before,” she whispers.
When he draws back he’s smiling. Nervous, like the one he wore when they crouched over the ants, but bright. Blinding. Maybe even enough to trick his parents into thinking that the sun hadn’t faded at all. “Me either,” he tells her.
But now, they know, that isn’t true. It’s one of his facts he can say with such joy.
“Do you want to play tomorrow?” He asks. It’s her turn to nod vigorously.
“If I’m here, I’ll be at that spot,” she tells him and points.
He looks like he wants to ask her what if I’m here means but his mother reaches down and grabs his hand.
Bright eyes and the smile he flashes at her over his shoulder somehow keep her warm when she settles back in the uncomfortable spot, even as the sun disappears completely. She hopes Mummy will get her soon as the lamps flicker on, but she also hopes that there is some way come tomorrow she can find herself back in this spot to wait for her friend.
Archie, she decides as she curls her knees to her chest. She’ll call her friend Archie instead of Archibald.