He was late for school once, finding locked gates as he skidded to a halt on his rubber-soled shoes on a pavement dusted with ice and with snow.
He slings his orange satchel across his shoulders and decamps to the park across the road, climbing a piece of steel playground equipment that looks like the diagrammatic representation of an atom. Or a molecule.
He climbs to the top of the thin steel structure and with breath curling visibly from his mouth and his nose, he waits.
Behind the tall concrete walls of the school, he can hear the sounds of his classmates playing, the laughter and chatter and excitable shrieking of children the world over. He doesn’t make any sound, bar for the short puffs of his breathing in the frigid air and the occasional clang of shoe on metal, his legs swinging in lazy arcs.
The children quieten as the lessons that will teach them about words and numbers, about life and death and loving, begin. He’s beyond the walls, an outsider in a world of insiders.
Hungry, he looks through his satchel for the lunch his Oma packed him. It’s the usual bread roll stuffed with ham and cheese and a smear of mustard. He tears off half and saves the other half for later. He doesn’t know how long he will be an outsider.
He hears the bell ring signalling the end of morning classes and soon the sounds of children having fun flood the space between him and the locked gate once more. He wonders if the gate will open at lunchtime.
The bell rings once more and the children go quiet, as if they’ve been packed away in their boxes again, like little wind-up toys. His legs and his bottom feel numb from the cold and all that sitting and waiting.
He eats the rest of his roll and climbs down from the atom, his feet landing in the damp sand that surrounds the structure. A light dusting of snow begins to float from the sky, confetti in slow motion, clinging to his hair and his clothes and his eyelashes. He imagines he’s covered in a dusting of icing sugar.
He uses a stick to dig a hole in the sandpit and the work becomes an obsession. From a few centimetres deep, the hole grows with each jab of the stick and each scooped handful of sand discarded to the side, creating a growing mound that will eventually dwarf him.
Deeper and deeper he digs, sometimes stepping into the hole to see if he will fit. Up to his knees first, then hips, eventually chest, the sides of the hole crumbling each time he steps in and out, and refilling the makeshift grave with new sand. He works harder.
When the hole is up to his neck, he looks around him and sees the world from a different perspective. Everything looms larger over him, including the steel atom which looks even more imposing from ground level, like something from that TV show Lost in Space: Verschollen zwischen fremden Welten.
That’s how he feels now, lost between strange worlds, an outsider in a world of insiders.
The school bell rings and the noise of relieved children fills the air once more, the sounds softened by the falling snow.
He climbs out of the hole and dusts of his pants, hooks his satchel over his shoulder and as the steel gates of the school swing open, begins the walk home to his Oma where he will be greeted by the smell of fried potatoes and an overwhelming feeling of belonging.